2010 Vanderbilt Preview - Defense
Vanderbilt SS Sean Richardson
Vanderbilt SS Sean Richardson
Posted May 13, 2010

CollegeFootballNews.com 2010 Preview - Vanderbilt Commodore Defense

Vanderbilt Commodores

Preview 2010 - Defense

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What You Need To Know: After a special 2008, the defense was a major disappointment considering all the returning starters. The front seven couldn't stop the run, the secondary came up with good overall stats but had problems with anyone who could throw, and the defense went from carrying the team to a bowl game to failing to come up with enough big stops to make a difference. To be fair, the offense provided absolutely nothing in the way of help, but that might be the case this year, too. Defensive coordinator Jamie Bryant has to get more out of the defensive front that failed to get into the backfield enough, while Chris Marve and the linebackers can't spend all their time again cleaning up messes. Even with the loss of all-star playmaker Myron Lewis, the secondary should be a major plus with the expected emergence of safety Sean Richardson and corner Casey Hayward as stars.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Chris Marve, 121
Sacks: Theron Kadri, 3
Interceptions: Eddie Foster, Jamie Graham, Casey Hayward, 2

Star of the defense: Junior LB Chris Marve
Player who has to step up and be a star: Senior Teriall Brannon
Unsung star on the rise: Junior DT T.J. Greenstone
Best pro prospect: Marve
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Marve, 2) SS Sean Richardson, 3) CB Casey Hayward
Strength of the defense: Secondary, Athleticism
Weakness of the defense: Run Defense, Pass Rush

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: The run defense was a disaster last season, and getting just two starters back isn't a plus. Making matters worse, the lone returning regular, senior Adam Smotherman, suffered a torn ACL and is iffy, at best for the start of the season. A 12-game starter last year, the 6-4, 295-pounder made 31 tackles and three tackles for loss and was one of the team's most active tackles, but he can't stay healthy. Before the knee problems, he struggled through led problems earlier in his career and still managed to fight through them. Extremely tough and very strong, he'll fight hard to get back on the field.

Stepping in at the open defensive tackle spot, abandoned by Greg Billinger, is junior T.J. Greenstone, a 6-3, 285-pound veteran who made 38 tackles two sacks and 4.5 tackles for loss. A strong interior pass rusher, he's a star in the making with tremendous quickness and good toughness against the run. He got a little bit of work as a starter last year, getting the call vs. LSU, and he has the potential to be a major factor with a bigger role.

Junior Tim Fugger was a great recruit for the program but hasn't done nearly enough yet. A 10.8 100-meter sprinter in high school, he has the speed and the athleticism to be a statistical star, and at 6-4 and 255 pounds he has the size to hold up well against the run. Even though he started eight times last year he only made 21 tackles with a sack and two tackles for loss.

6-3, 245-pound senior Teriall Brannon will take over for Broderick Stewart on the end after making 12 tackles with a sack in a reserve role. The veteran got a little bit of starting time two years ago and has been a regular in the rotation, but he hasn't done much as a pass rusher despite his great athleticism and quickness off the ball.

Projected Top Reserves: Redshirt freshman Walker May is the pass rushing star of the future. A scout team superstar last year, he showed flashes of potential greatness this offseason and could push Teriall Brannon hard for a starting job. He added a few pounds on his 6-4 frame to get to get up to 230, and now the speedster looks the part with a motor that goes full tilt all the time.

Senior Theron Kadri got a little bit of starting time over his career and has fought through an ankle problem to be a regular in the rotation. He made 24 tackles with three sacks, and now the 6-4, 255-pounder will fight to with Tim Fugger to take over on one end. A good athlete, he could be used as a pass rushing specialist if he doesn't take over the starting gig outright.

6-4, 288-pound sophomore Rob Lohr saw time in every game as a redshirt freshman making 14 tackles with a tackle for loss. He has decent size and could grow into a devastating interior pass rusher with a little bit more work and some more playing time. He'll get it with Adam Smotherman trying to come back from a knee injury, and while he's not the same run defender, he'll get into the backfield. The former high school tight end and pass rushing terror has a world of upside.

Watch Out For … May. On a line full of quick players, May was faster than everyone this offseason and looks the part of a dangerous outside pass rusher. He might not be an every down defender, but he'll be a major factor when he gets the opportunity.
Strength: Quickness. While the Commodores were just okay at getting into the backfield last year, the potential is there to do far more with good pass rushing options at all four spots. Everyone can move and there's plenty of talent across the front.
Weakness: Run defense. Despite the size, the athleticism, and the experience up front, Vandy got ripped up against the running game. The defense was gouged by Georgia Tech for 404 yards and six touchdowns and got gashed by Kentucky for 308 yards and three scores.
Outlook: A tremendous disappointment last year, the line was supposed to be among the league's best, or at least a step below the truly elite like Florida and Alabama, the Commodore line now has to do some rebuilding. There's plenty of experience returning, but all the athletic options have to do far more and have to start playing up to their potential. There's a chance to get far, far more out of this group.
Unit Rating: 6.5


Projected Starters: Vandy might have had a rough year on both sides of the ball, but junior Chris Marve wasn't part of the problem. The 6-0, 230-pounder was tremendous in the middle leading the team with 121 tackles with a sack, 6.5 tackles for loss, and three forced fumbles. With 206 tackles in his first two years, he's a machine who comes up with big hits and has the range to make plays from sideline to sideline. He's not huge, but he bulked up enough to hold up even better against the power running teams to go along with the speed to be used as a pass rusher from time to time. Good enough to play any of the three linebacking spots, he'll earn All-SEC recognition no matter where he plays.

Taking over for Patrick Benoist on the weakside will be sophomore Dexter Daniels, an intriguing 6-1, 230-pound speedster who made five tackles in a limited role. Mostly a special teamer so far, he has great mobility with the potential to become a solid pass defender with the space to roam and fly to the ball. He'll be a part of a rotation and he should be one of the team's leading tacklers if he gets the full time gig.

6-5, 232-pound John Stokes saw plenty of playing time last year including starts against Rice and Ole Miss, and now he'll get the starting strongside job to himself. The senior made44 tackles and two tackles for loss, and he has the raw skills to do far more with a great combination of quickness, athleticism and size. He had problems with a shoulder injury last year, but he's 100% and could come up with a monstrous final year with all the plays certain to come his way.

Projected Top Reserves: Sophomore Tristan Strong is neck-and-neck with Dexter Daniels for the starting weakside job. At 6-1 and 230 pounds he has decent size, but he has to hold up after only seeing time in six games and making three tackles. Trying to get past a knee injury that cost him the second half of last year, he'll be a major part of the linebacker rotation on the outside if he doesn't win a starting spot outright.

6-1, 235-pound sophomore DeAndre Jones is a polished, fluid defender who was a tackling machine in high school and was a good special teamer last year. He only made four tackles in his limited role, and now he appears to be ready to be a big part of the defensive front seven working in the middle behind Chris Marve.

Sophomore Archibald Barnes was a dangerous high school running quarterback who took over a bulk load of the reserve time last year once Tristan Strong got hurt. The 6-4, 225-pound strongside defender made 15 tackles and showed a great upside, and now he could be use as a pass rusher from time to time in the rotation with John Stokes.

Watch Out For … Stokes to come up with a big year. He produced when he got his chances, and now he could be a threat to flirt with 100 tackles as Marve's running mate. He has the experience and the size to be a stat-sheet filler.
Strength: Marve. One of the SEC's best all-around defenders, he's the type of star the rest of the defense can work around for the next few years. He tried to clean up everything the mediocre front seven couldn't get to, and he came close to doing it.
Weakness: Pass rushing. The linebackers have tremendous quickness and good athleticism, but they haven't been able to get into the backfield nearly enough. They had to do too much against the run to worry about getting to the quarterback, but it would be nice if they could make more plays behind the line.
Outlook: Losing Patrick Benoist and Brent Trice would be a problem on the outside if Stokes wasn't so good and if Daniels and Strong weren't so promising. Having a playmaker like Marve in the middle makes everything better. There's good young depth and plenty of athleticism across the board to come up with plenty of tackles, but more meaningful stops are a must against the run.
Unit Rating: 7


Projected Starters: Step one is to replace all-star corner Myron Lewis, and the versatile Jamie Graham should be able to do it. The 6-0, 195-pound junior made 27 tackles and two picks. Offensively, he caught four passes for 35 yards, ran for 12, and served as a solid special teamer. Extremely fast, he has the raw skills and the size to be a shut-down SEC corner, and now he'll stick in one spot needing to hold down one of the corner jobs.

Back at his starting corner spot is junior Casey Heyward after making 58 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, and two interceptions with seven broken up passes. He took advantage of teams testing him and staying away from Myron Lewis. Now he's the team's top corner option with all-star skills and the talent to be even deadlier when the ball is in the air. A tough tackler, he's willing to make the big stop against the bigger ball carriers and has no problem getting into the backfield when sent. Versatile enough to be used as a safety, he started two times at free safety, he'll now stick at corner.

6-2, 210-pound junior Sean Richardson took over for Reshard Langford at strong safety and finished third on the team with 84 tackles with 4.5 tackles for loss and two broken up passes. A big hitter with intimidating size, he's a smart playmaker who brings the lumber when he gets a free shot at a reserve. With enough speed to be used at free safety if needed, he needs to do more against the pass after failing to pick off a pass and not providing quite enough help for the corners.

Redshirt freshman Jay Fullam was supposed to be a part of the safety rotation when he arrived on campus but he suffered a hand injury and missed the year. He was able to work on the scout team and now will hit the ground running at free safety. At 6-1 and 200 pounds he has decent size with phenomenal athleticism and great smarts for his young age. He should be a big-time playmaker against the pas and he'll be all over the field against the run.

Projected Top Reserves: Sophomore Eddie Foster started two games at corner late in the year and was a key nickel back throughout the season finishing with 17 tackle and two interceptions with a sack. The 5-10, 170-pounder will once again be used in a variety of roles and will combine forces with Jamie Graham at one corner spot, but he'll spend most of his time as a fifth defensive back.

Mostly a special teamer so far, sophomore Al Owens made three tackles in his limited action last year. Now he'll be a part of the rotation at safety and will work behind Sean Richardson at strong safety with 6-2, 215-pound size and track speed tearing off a 10.9 100 and 22.13 200 in high school.

True freshman Kenny Ladler will get instant work at free safety after getting to school early. The 6-1, 195-pounder is an interesting prospect with good open field tackling ability and the maturity to be a big factor right away. He could be used as a nickel and dime back when he's not seeing time in the rotation with Jay Fullam.

Watch Out For … Fullam. The young prospect was good enough to have been considered for major playing time last year before he suffered his bad hand injury, and now at free safety he could end up as one of the team's top five tackles and a key playmaker when the ball is in the air.
Strength: Production. The Commodores finished ninth in the nation against the pass and picked off 12 passes, and while a lot of the positive stats came because offenses chose to run the ball on the porous front seven, the secondary really was fine and now three starters are back.
Weakness: The misleading stats. Yeah, the Commodores finished in the top ten in pass defense, but it's a mirage. Having Army, Mississippi State, and Rice on the schedule helped the stats, while Georgia Tech and Kentucky didn't throw much because they were ripping off huge chunks of yards on the ground. Tim Tebow, Jevan Snead, Jonathan Crompton, and Stephen Garcia had few problems throwing on the Commodore DBs.
Outlook: Even with the loss of Myron Lewis, the secondary should be one of the team's strengths with Hayward about to turn into a star and Richardson growing into a special safety. As long as Fullam comes up with a big year and Graham is strong as a full-time corner, the pass defense will finish in the top 20.
Unit Rating: 7.5

Special Teams

Projected Starters: Sophomore Ryan Fowler came up with a strong first season making 16-of-21 field goals and all 20 of his extra points, and he was sensational after a rocky start. He missed four of his first nine kicks, and then connected on everything else except a 25-yarder against South Carolina. He has a big enough leg to be used from just inside the 50, and he'll get more chances.

Sophomore Richard Kent will take over the punting duties from Brett Upson, who averaged 43.1 yards per kick and put 23 inside the 20. The walk-on has shown enough promise to eventually be the same type of bomber with a big time leg. Now he has to prove he can be consistent.

Star running back Warren Norman is one of the SEC's elite kick returners averaging 26.2 yards per try last year with three scores. He took kicks back for scores in back to back weeks against South Carolina and Georgia Tech, and he also kept the team in the game with a big return against Army.

Sophomore running back Zac Stacy was fine when he had his chance averaging 9.2 yards per try on his four punt returns. He should be great now that he'll get more work.

Watch Out For … Stacy to shine as a punt returner. Alex Washington struggled last year averaging 4.7 yards per try, and Stacy, with a bigger role, could double that.
Strength: Fowler. If he can come up with a full season as good as the second half of last year, he'll be an all-star. The team needs him to be consistent as he could be the offense's most dangerous weapon.
Weakness: Punt returns. Again, Stacy should change that, but for an offense that needs the best field position possible, averaging 4.8 yards per try isn't going to cut it.
Outlook: If the offense is going to continue to be so bad, the special teams has to be far better. Fowler will be great and Kent is a promising punt who'll bail the team out of several jams, and the return game has tremendous potential with the team's two most dangerous players, Norman and Stacy, unleashed. Getting more out of the coverage teams is a must.
Unit Rating: 6.5

- 2010 Vanderbilt Preview | 2010 Vanderbilt Offense
- 2010 Vanderbilt Defense | 2010 Vanderbilt Depth Chart
- Vanderbilt Previews  2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006