SEC: Barron Dixon

Opening spring camp: Vanderbilt

March, 15, 2013
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.
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."

Senior Austyn Carta-Samuels and redshirt freshman Patton Robinette are the front-runners to replace Jordan Rodgers at quarterback. Carta-Samuels was Rodgers' backup last season.

Opening spring camp: Vanderbilt

March, 16, 2012
Schedule: Vanderbilt begins spring practice Friday at 5:15 p.m. ET and concludes with the Black and Gold Spring Game on April 14, in Vanderbilt Stadium. Coach James Franklin has decided to open all 14 of Vanderbilt's spring practices to fans.

What's new: Franklin added two new assistants during the offseason. George Barlow comes over from New Mexico to coach the Commodores' defensive backs and serve as the defensive recruiting coordinator, while Josh Gattis left Western Kentucky to coach Vandy's wide receivers and will serve as the offensive recruiting coordinator. Vanderbilt will also see more of transfer quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels, who came from Wyoming last season, after being the Mountain West's Freshman of the Year in 2009. After sitting out 2011, Carta-Samuels will compete with Jordan Rodgers for the starting quarterback spot. Joining the battle is early enrollee Patton Robinette.

On the mend: Running back Warren Norman sat out all of the 2011 season with a knee injury and will be limited for most of the spring. Offensive linemen Ryan Seymour and Chase White, safety Javon Marshall, fullback Marc Panu, linebacker Tristan Strong, and running back Jerron Seymour won't go through contact this spring. Offensive lineman Mylon Brown, who was suspended due to violation of team rules and wide receiver Brady Brown, who decided not to return to the team, are not on the spring roster.

Questions: Vanderbilt must replace four key starters and leaders from last year's defense. Gone are linebacker Chris Marve, cornerback Casey Hayward, defensive end Tim Fugger and safety Sean Richardson. Marve, Richardson and Hayward were Vandy's top three tacklers last year, while Fugger led the Commodores with eight sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss. Hayward is also tied for first in school history with 15 career interceptions. Vandy will also enter spring with a thin offensive line, with only nine healthy bodies to work with up front. With Seymour and White rehabing and Brown suspended, the Commodores likely won't have two full lines to work with. Also, can the Commodores continue to play and practice with the new confidence Franklin instilled in last year's team? That will be key for Vandy because the Commodores will likely receive more attention this spring, so keeping that edge will go a long way.

On the move: Outside linebacker Chase Garnham is expected to move inside and play at Marve's spot at middle linebacker. Josh Grady is moving from quarterback to wide receiver, while Kris Kentera is also moving from the quarterback spot and will work at tight end/H-back this spring.

Key battle: Rodgers had his ups and downs last year as the Commodores' quarterback, but his downs stuck out in Vandy's bowl loss to Cincinnati. He completed 4-of-14 passes and threw an interception in the first half. Now, Rodgers will have a fight on his hands this spring with Carta-Samuels and Robinette. Carta-Samuels proved he has the talent to push Rodgers after some success at Wyoming, while Robinette will certainly benefit from enrolling early. Vanderbilt returns most of its offensive production from last season, including running back Zac Stacy and wide receivers Jordan Matthews and Chris Boyd, but the quarterback play has to be more consistent in 2012. Rodgers made the offense go for most of the year, but his struggles held Vandy back at times.

Don't forget about: Vandy has one of the most productive running backs in the SEC from a year ago lining up in its backfield once again. Stacy was third in the league in rushing last season (1,193) and was second with 14 rushing touchdowns. He was Vandy's most consistent offensive player last year and really helped add big-play ability when the Commdores had the ball. Stacy broke Vandy's single-season rushing record in the final game of the regular season when he rushed for 184 yards against Wake Forest. He will enter the season eighth on the school's list in career rushing yards (2,002) and trails career leader Frank Mordica by 630 yards.

Breaking out: The Commodores have a few players who could turn some heads this spring. Sophomore defensive tackle Barron Dixon has a big lower body and is built like your typical SEC defensive tackle. He didn't play much last year, but with holes up front, he'll have a chance to grab a spot this spring. Also, redshirt freshman Derek King has a chance to really compete in Vanderbilt's secondary. He sat out last season, but with Hayward and Richardson gone, he has a shot to earn some playing time. Keep an eye on offensive guard Jake Bernstein because Vandy needs a lot of help on the offensive line and the redshirt freshman will be called upon often this spring.

All eyes on: There will be a lot of attention paid to the quarterback spot this spring. Rodgers is the favorite heading into spring, but he'll really have to show improvement in his composure and his decision-making in order to leave spring as the starter. He's extremely talented and athletic, but he has to get the mental side down in order to develop heading into the 2012 season. The good thing is that Vanderbilt returns enough weapons to help in that department. Also, Norman should get more attention paid his way as well. He was one of Vandy's best offensive and special teams weapons when he was healthy, so making sure he makes improvements in his speed this spring will be key. Adding him back to the offense this fall will be big for the Commodores.