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Thursday, May 12, 2011
Vanderbilt spring wrap

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

2010 overall record: 2-10

2010 conference record: 1-7

Returning starters

Offense: 11, defense: 8, kicker/punter: 2

Top returners

QB Larry Smith, RB Warren Norman, TE Brandon Barden, OG Kyle Fischer, DE Tim Fugger, LB Chris Marve, CB Casey Hayward, SS Sean Richardson

Key losses

DE Theron Kadri, LB John Stokes, LB Nate Campbell

2010 statistical leaders (* returners)

Rushing: Warren Norman* (459 yards)

Passing: Larry Smith* (1,262 yards)

Receiving: Brandon Barden* (425 yards)

Tackles: Sean Richardson* (98)

Sacks: Rob Lohr* (4)

Interceptions: Casey Hayward* (6)

Spring answers

1. No more introductions needed. First-year coach James Franklin has already put his stamp on the program with his energy, charisma and enthusiasm. More importantly, the players understand what he expects and how this new staff goes about its business. Franklin has emphasized that it’s a new day at Vanderbilt and doesn’t want anybody associated with the program getting bogged down in what has or hasn’t happened in the past.

2. Wesley Tate emerges in the backfield. The running back stable is shaping up to be one of the strongest parts of Vanderbilt’s team next fall, especially with Tate having a big spring and showcasing a blend of size, power and speed the Commodores have lacked over the years. Now that he’s healthy, the 6-foot-2, 225-pound sophomore should complement Norman and Zac Stacy extremely well.

3. The secondary remains rock solid. The Commodores were very good in the secondary last season and should be even better in 2011. Senior cornerback Casey Hayward and senior strong safety Sean Richardson are two of the best players at their positions in the league. Free safety Kenny Ladler was one of the top freshman defenders in the league last season, and junior cornerback Trey Wilson was good enough this spring that he might beat out returning starter Eddie Foster at the other cornerback spot.

Fall questions

1. Can Larry Smith take a big step at quarterback? Now a senior, Smith feels like he’s fundamentally better and more equipped to consistently lead this offense having tutored under new quarterbacks coach Ricky Rahne and Franklin this spring. Smith still has to prove it in the games, though, after completing just 47 percent of his passes and throwing 10 touchdown passes and 12 interceptions the past two seasons.

2. How will it shake out on the offensive line? The Commodores are thin on depth and experience up front and wound up moving several guys around this spring. When fall camp opens, they will resume their search for the right combination and will be holding their breath that they don’t get anybody hurt. One or two injuries on the offensive line could prove disastrous.

3. Who are the down-the-field playmakers? A big part of Smith’s struggles the past two seasons has centered around the fact that the Commodores simply haven’t had many receivers who could consistently make plays down the field and keep defenses honest. Sophomore Jordan Matthews showed some promise this spring, but he’s going to need help.