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Friday, April 15, 2011
Exiting the spring: Vanderbilt

By Chris Low

Spring game: 7 p.m. ET on Sunday.

Larry Smith
Vanderbilt needs more consistent play out of quarterback Larry Smith.
Questions answered: One of the things first-year Vanderbilt coach James Franklin and his staff made sure to do this spring, especially with the slate wiped clean, was to experiment a little. They looked at several different players in several different spots to get a better feel for their personnel and what the depth chart would look like once preseason camp begins. Senior quarterback Larry Smith still has to prove it in the fall after completing just 47 percent of his passes and throwing 10 touchdown passes and 12 interceptions the past two seasons, but he made major strides from a fundamentals standpoint this spring under the tutelage of quarterbacks coach Ricky Rahne. Smith said he also feels more equipped to handle what defenses will throw at him next season thanks to the work he’s put in the film room with Rahne.

Questions unanswered: Other than senior All-SEC performer Chris Marve in the middle, the Commodores are still trying to sort things out at linebacker. Juniors Tristan Strong and Archibald Barnes and sophomore Chase Garnham are the leading candidates to line up alongside Marve, but some of the incoming freshmen could factor into the equation as well. The Commodores are also frighteningly thin in the offensive line. For much of the spring, they only had eight or nine healthy bodies up front to practice with and not much experience. One of the things they looked at was sophomore Wesley Johnson shifting from left tackle to center. Senior Kyle Fischer, Vanderbilt’s most-experienced offensive lineman, got some work at right tackle after starting all 12 games at right guard last season.

Spring stars: From a size/speed combination, sophomore running back Wesley Tate was one of Vanderbilt’s most-impressive offensive performers this spring. The big thing with the 6-foot-2, 225-pound Tate was that he was finally 100 percent healthy and gives the Commodores a dimension in the backfield they haven’t had the past few seasons. Sophomore Jordan Matthews emerged as the Commodores’ go-to receiver and showed a penchant for making big plays down the field, something they sorely missed a year ago. And on defense, junior cornerback Trey Wilson played his way into a potential starting job opposite Casey Hayward and looks to be one of the more improved players on the team.

Of note: Don’t be surprised if the Commodores have five defensive backs on the field for much of the time next season. The secondary is clearly the strength of this team. Safeties Sean Richardson and Kenny Ladler have also been impressive this spring. … Franklin is eager to get a closer look at junior quarterback Jordan Rodgers in the fall. Rodgers, the younger brother of Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, was still recovering from shoulder surgery this spring and wasn’t able to throw much, but Franklin likes his demeanor and presence. … Defensive coordinator Bob Shoop was known for his innovative schemes at William & Mary. In his four seasons there, William & Mary averaged 14 interceptions per season. … Junior running back Warren Norman, Vanderbilt’s leading rusher each of the past two seasons, missed the entire spring while recovering from wrist surgery. … Franklin has gone out of his way to promote Sunday’s Black & Gold spring game, which will include a fireworks show after the game and live music and an autograph session prior to the game. He said about 50 former Vanderbilt players are also scheduled to be on hand.