- Edward Aschoff, ESPN Staff Writer
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Schedule: The Commodores' first practice is on Thursday, and their first day in pads is on Aug. 7. They open the season on Aug. 30 at home against South Carolina, which will air at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN.
Returning starters: Nine on offense, eight on defense and the place-kicker and punter on special teams.
Star power: Running back Zac Stacy returns this fall as the SEC's top statistical back from a year ago after he broke Vanderbilt's single-season rushing record with 1,193 yards and single-season rushing touchdown record with 14.
New faces: The Commodores welcome in six true freshmen offensive linemen. That's big for Vanderbilt, considering the depth issues along the offensive line. The coaching staff will be looking to expedite the learning process for them, as they'll all be expected to compete for some sort of time this fall. Also, the staff is especially excited about incoming frosh Brian Kimbrow, who could lineup at running back and return punts for the Dores. And don't forget that former Montana QB and Mountain West Freshman of the Year Austyn Carta-Samuels is eligible to play this fall and will continue to push Jordan Rodgers in camp.
Don’t forget about: Running back/return specialist Warren Norman is back and should be healthier than he's been since his sophomore year. Norman was Vandy's top rusher back in 2009 and was also one of the league's best kick returners. Injury cut his 2010 season short and he missed all of 2011 with a bad knee. If he's back at 100 percent, he'll not only bolster Vandy's return game but he should add another solid weapon in the running game.
Big shoes to fill: Linebacker Chris Marve wasn't just a tremendous player out on the field for the Commodores, he was the unquestioned leader of this team inside the locker room. This spring, Chase Garnham did a pretty good job of filling in for Marve on the field, but growth is still needed for him to become an impact player on defense. The staff has been happy with Garnham in the leadership department, but more is expected during camp and when the season starts.
Key battles: Vandy returns two starters on the offensive line -- Wesley Johnson and Ryan Seymour -- and there is still a lot of inexperience that offensive line coach Herb Hand will have to deal with. One interesting battle should be between sophomores Spencer Pulley and Joe Townsend for the center spot. The third receiver spot is also up for grabs, with juniors Wesley Tate and Jonathan Krause battling redshirt freshman Josh Grady.
Rising star: Grady made the move from quarterback to wide receiver and shined this spring. The staff has always been excited about his potential because of how athletic of a player he is, and it seems as though he has the best chance to be a big-play threat at receiver. He showed his versatility this spring by lining up receiver, running back and as the Wildcat quarterback.
Bottom line: James Franklin turned Vandy around during his first year, after the program underwent a major attitude adjustment. There was more confidence and excitement surging through the program last year, and it has spilled over into Year 2 of Franklin's tenure. The Commodores have to replace some key defensive weapons and are thin on the offensive line, but there are enough offensive playmakers returning to make the Commodores' offense fun to watch. And if the defense holds up like last year, the Commodores could go bowling for a second straight year.
16hSam Khan Jr.
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