- Chris Low, ESPN Senior Staff Writer
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Schedule: The Commodores open spring practice on Friday at 5:30 p.m. ET and will conclude the spring April 13 with their Black & Gold spring game at 2 p.m. ET at Vanderbilt Stadium. Two Saturday practices, on March 23 and March 30, will be open to the public.
What’s new: Vanderbilt’s coaching staff returns intact. Head coach James Franklin, who fielded his own inquiries this offseason, said members of his staff received anywhere from seven to nine major offers to go elsewhere, but turned them all down. Brent Pry, Vanderbilt’s co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach, has added the title of assistant head coach to his duties.
On the mend: Junior defensive tackle Barron Dixon (shoulder) will miss the spring. Senior defensive tackle Jared Morse, meanwhile, is not in school this semester after a violation of university rules. The Commodores are hopeful that both players will be back in the fall.
On the move: Sophomore Josh Grady is moving back to quarterback after playing receiver last season. He came to Vanderbilt as a quarterback. Sophomore Derek King will move to running back from cornerback, while sophomore Jacquese Kirk will move to cornerback from receiver. Three redshirt freshmen are also switching positions. Torey Agee is moving to defensive tackle from defensive end. Cory Batey is moving to strong safety from receiver and Adam Butler will work at defensive tackle this spring after spending his first year on campus as an offensive lineman.
New faces: The Commodores have two early enrollees who will go through spring practice as true freshmen -- quarterback Johnny McCrary and offensive tackle Sean Dowling. Several redshirt freshmen could work their way into the rotation on the offensive line. Among them: Barrett Gouger, Andrew Jelks, Kevin McCoy, Blake Fromang and Will Holden. Agee and Butler, two more redshirt freshmen, will get a lot of work at defensive tackle this spring.
Key battle: Senior Austyn Carta-Samuels and redshirt freshman Patton Robinette are the top candidates to replace Jordan Rodgers as the Commodores’ starting quarterback. Carta-Samuels, a starter at Wyoming before transferring to Vanderbilt, played in a backup role last season to Rodgers and started and played the whole way against Presbyterian. Grady will also re-join the quarterback battle this spring.
Breaking out: Zac Stacy was the heart and soul of Vanderbilt’s running game the last two seasons. Now that he’s gone, senior Wesley Tate is next in line. At 6-foot-1 and 224 pounds, Tate has the size and speed to give the Commodores a 1,000-yard rusher for the third consecutive season. If he gets it rolling early, he could be one of the top breakout players in the SEC. On defense, keep an eye on junior defensive end Kyle Woestmann. He had all five of his sacks last season during Vanderbilt's season-ending seven-game winning streak and was a terror in the Commodores' 38-24 victory over North Carolina State in the bowl game. He's one of the hardest workers on the team.
Don’t forget about: The Commodores finally have some real depth (and size) in the offensive line, and it’s a group led by senior left tackle Wesley Johnson. One of the SEC’s more underrated players, Johnson has made 38 career starts. The only position on the offensive line that he hasn’t started at is right guard. He’s played 2,462 snaps in his career at Vanderbilt and has never been flagged for a holding penalty.
All eyes on: Receivers Jordan Matthews and Chris Boyd return in 2013 after establishing themselves as the SEC’s most productive receiving duo last season. They combined to average 161.3 receiving yards per game. Matthews set a school record with 1,323 receiving yards. They combined to catch 13 touchdown passes.
12hMark Schlabach and Sharon Katz