Vanderbilt offensive line coach Herb Hand has no time to ease his group of wide-eyed freshmen into the mix this fall.
He wants to chuck anything and everything at the six true freshmen in order to give them every single opportunity to show him that they aren’t ready to play this fall.
“We want to throw them right in the mix,” Hand said.
“I want to throw everything at them; not just give them the easy stuff to do.
“We have thrown the kitchen sink at them. A lot of those guys probably feel like they’re drinking out of a fire hose right now.”
Add in the big screen TV and the dining room table and Hand has the recipe for finding out which guys won’t be able to cut it this fall. The ones who withstand the pounding earn the opportunity to play.
Knowing there would be depth issues in 2012, coach James Franklin and his staff made the offensive line a priority in the 2012 class. Six was a good number for the Commodores because bodies were needed.
Vandy’s staff spent most of the spring trying to keep the offensive line together with tape, as injuries and procedures sidelined some of the big guys throughout spring practice. At one point this spring, Franklin and Hand could only use seven offensive linemen during practices because so many injuries piled up. It also didn’t help that center Logan Stewart and Mylon Brown were both dismissed, after combining for 14 starts in 2011.
What was one of the most improved groups in the SEC last year now enters the fall with questions surrounding it. The good news for Hand is he feels very confident in eight core players, including projected starters Wesley Johnson, Ryan Seymour, Spencer Pulley, Josh Jelesky and Andrew Bridges, who, outside of Pulley, all have starting experience.
To Johnson, who is Vandy’s most talented and versatile lineman, getting the freshmen acclimated quickly was a priority during summer workouts. He and the other vets made sure they hit the playbook with the youngsters as much as possible in order to pound the plays and schemes into their brains before real practices began.
Though there have been plenty of hiccups and setbacks from the newbies, Johnson said he’s confident a few will end up stepping up and contributing this fall in order to make this line as strong as it was last year.
“We pretty much know we can get it done,” Johnson said.
Hand still isn’t ready to say which freshmen he can count on yet, but Adam Butler and Andrew Jelks have made the most progress in his eyes. Both were highly regarded coming out of high school. Hand is also happy that each of his new linemen were blessed with ideal genetics, as he considers each one “long” when it comes to their arms and legs and heavy enough to hold up in this league.
“We don’t have the 250-pound guy that you’re trying to build up,” he said. “Not that we wouldn’t take a guy like that, but with this particular class we feel like we’ve got some length and we’ve got some girth.”
He added that each is pretty athletic on their feet, which helps as they adapt to the speed of the college game.
Hand won’t know where his freshmen stand until after 15 fall practices, which essentially equates to them going through spring. After that, he’ll have a much better understanding of where his line stands.
Fortunately for Vanderbilt, the vets are getting healthier and are much more comfortable with the offense, which is something Johnson said will help as they continue to prep the youngsters.
“Now, we pretty much have most of the playbook in, as opposed to last year where we were still learning plays and trying to figure everything out,” he said. “There’s a much better understanding of what we have to do.”