Schedule: The Commodores open spring practice Friday afternoon and will hold their spring game on April 18 in Vanderbilt Stadium.
What’s new: The only holdover from the old staff is offensive line coach Herb Hand. Otherwise, everybody else is new, starting with head coach James Franklin, who was previously the offensive coordinator at Maryland. John Donovan, who worked with Franklin on the Maryland staff, will serve as offensive coordinator. Former William & Mary defensive coordinator Bob Shoop will run the Commodores’ defense.
On the mend: Running back Warren Norman (hand) will miss all of spring practice, while defensive tackle Rob Lohr (nasal surgery) will miss most of the spring. Defensive end Walker May (foot), quarterback Jordan Rodgers (shoulder), tight end Austin Monahan (leg), defensive end Thad McHaney (leg) and offensive lineman Grant Ramsay (leg) will be limited.
On the move: Sophomore Javon Marshall will move from cornerback to safety. Redshirt freshman Blake Gowder will shift from fullback to outside linebacker. Junior Eric Samuels, who doubled as both a running back and defensive back last season, will stay at defensive back. Sophomore Marc Panu will move from linebacker to fullback and compete for the starting job along with sophomore Fitz Lassing.
Key battle: Senior Larry Smith is the returning starter at quarterback, although the Commodores struggled to get anything going in the passing game last season. Rodgers, after missing last season following shoulder surgery, will push Smith. Sophomore Charlie Goro will also get a look, although the real competition may not begin until this summer when the three freshman quarterbacks the Commodores signed get on campus.
New faces: There are no true freshmen who enrolled early for the Commodores, but a pair of redshirt freshmen will have big opportunities this spring. Vanderbilt needs somebody else to step up at defensive end and be that finisher off the edge, which is where Kyle Woestmann comes into the picture. On offense, Chris Boyd showed a lot of promise last season on the practice field. The 6-4, 200-pound Boyd is a big, athletic receiver who could give the Commodores more firepower in their passing game.
Breaking out: Sophomore running back Wesley Tate has been plagued by injuries since he arrived, but he finally appears to be healthy and is in great shape physically. The 6-2, 225-pound Tate, the younger brother of Golden Tate, will get every chance to show what he can do this spring with Norman sidelined.
Don’t forget about: The Commodores can match up with a lot of people in the SEC when it comes to returning talent in the secondary. Senior Casey Hayward will be one of the best two or three cornerbacks in the league after intercepting six passes last season. Senior safety Sean Richardson led Vanderbilt with 98 total tackles, and sophomore safety Kenny Ladler returns after starting in nine games and earning Freshman All-SEC honors. Sophomore safety Jay Fullam is transferring to Air Force, and cornerback Jamie Graham has also decided not to return for his senior season.
All eyes on: The Franklin era begins at Vanderbilt, and this spring gives us our first real chance to see what kind of stamp he puts on the program. He inherits a ton of returning starters – 19 of 22. That includes all 11 back on defense. In addition, both specialists are back. But with the Commodores struggling through back-to-back 2-10 seasons, what does it really mean that so many returning starters are back? It will be interesting to see how much he shakes up things. He’s already said there won’t be a lot of sure things, meaning there should be some fierce competition this spring.