Jared Morse, Vanderbilt's most experienced returning defensive tackle, is currently not in school and won't be a part of the team this semester after a violation of university rules.
Coach James Franklin said Tuesday he's hopeful that Morse will be able to return in the fall, but added, "It's out of our hands, and we'll see how things play out." The Commodores open spring practice on Friday.
Depth at defensive tackle is a concern for the Commodores, who lost seniors Rob Lohr and Colt Nichter in the middle. Morse, a rising senior, started six games last season and was fourth on the team with nine tackles for loss.
One of the moves the Commodores are making this spring to help bolster the middle of the defensive line is moving redshirt freshman Adam Butler from offensive line to defensive tackle.
"That gives us another 6-3 plus, 300-pound guy inside," Franklin said. "The game of football, and in the SEC, is played up front. We're starting to finally see some legitimate SEC depth along the offensive line, and this will give us the ability to provide more SEC depth on the defensive line."
The Commodores are also moving redshirt freshman Torey Agee from defensive end to tackle. Defensive coordinator Bob Shoop is eager to see junior Vince Taylor on the practice field this spring. Shoop said the 305-pound Taylor bench-pressed 450 pounds and ran under 5 seconds in the 40-yard dash this winter.
Junior Barron Dixon is recovering from an injury and also won't be going through contact this spring. He will be a major factor at defensive tackle in the fall, and prized freshman signee Jay Woods arrives this summer. Woods was ranked by ESPN as the No. 17 tackle prospect nationally and among the top 20 prospects in the state of Georgia.
Some other position moves that Franklin announced Tuesday were sophomore Josh Grady moving back to quarterback from receiver, redshirt freshman Cory Batey moving to safety from receiver, sophomore Derek King to running back from cornerback and sophomore Jacquese Kirk to cornerback from receiver. Grady was recruited as a quarterback, but played last season as a slot receiver. He's an exceptional athlete.
"He wanted an opportunity to go back to quarterback and be able to compete for the position, and from an intelligence standpoint and mentality standpoint, he's a winner," Franklin said. "It wouldn't surprise me what he could do there."