SEC: Bradley Vierling

Commodores riding wave of momentum

July, 22, 2009

Posted by's Chris Low

HOOVER, Ala. -- It's been a while (a long while) since Vanderbilt's football program has enjoyed this kind of momentum.

Coming off their first bowl victory in 53 years, the Commodores are beating SEC rivals for recruits. They're pointing toward a second straight winning season, and they've generated the kind of involvement in their offseason program that's been unprecedented under Bobby Johnson.

"We've had more players here this summer working than we've ever had," Johnson said.

And that's not by accident, according to senior center Bradley Vierling.

"We're going to ride that high as long as we can," said Vierling, a team captain for the second straight season. "The confidence level at Vanderbilt is as high as it's ever been. The competition at Vanderbilt is as high as it's ever been, because we have better players than we've ever had.

"We also have a lot of older guys, a ton of seniors, and we put pressure on these younger guys to be down here in the summer and working to get better and working to win more games. That's how we got seven victories last year, doing it in the weight room, doing it in the summer, doing it on the practice field and competing against one another."

Wise choices by Vanderbilt players

June, 15, 2009

Posted by's Chris Low

It's no secret that Vanderbilt's players hit the books as hard as they do opposing ball-carriers on Saturday afternoons.

They're also pretty astute when it comes to choosing captains.

The Commodores' players voted last week, and the three guys tabbed were exactly the three I would have chosen.

Senior center Bradley Vierling, also a captain last season, will join senior safety Ryan Hamilton and senior linebacker Patrick Benoist as the captains of the 2009 team. All three are excellent players, and all three have the kind of can-do attitude that wears off on everybody else.

Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson has told me that Hamilton is one of the smartest players he's coached. Maybe that's why Hamilton always seems to be in the right place at the right time. He almost single-handedly beat Ole Miss last season.

Benoist is one of the SEC's most underrated players. He had a team-high 109 tackles last season.

It's telling that Vierling was elected as a captain last season by his teammates before he'd ever started a game for the Commodores. His leadership will be crucial in 2009 as Vanderbilt tries to build on what it did a year ago.

Vierling has made it clear that nobody is settling for status quo.

Near the end of spring practice, he said unabashedly that the Commodores, if anything, underachieved last season.

So while the bowl victory might have been historic, it was hardly the end-all for this group of players.

"Yeah, we're a winning program now, but we had to work our tails off to get to where we are, and we're just going to keep on going," Vierling said.

Centers galore in the SEC

May, 20, 2009

Posted by's Chris Low

The Rimington Trophy Spring Watch List is out, and six SEC centers made the cut.

South Carolina's Garrett Anderson, Mississippi State's J.C. Brignone, Ole Miss' Daverin Geralds, Kentucky's Jorge Gonzalez, Florida's Maurkice Pouncey and Vanderbilt's Bradley Vierling all made the list.

Vanderbilt spring wrap-up

May, 5, 2009

Posted by's Chris Low

Vanderbilt Commodores
2008 overall record: 7-6

2008 conference record: 4-4

Returning starters

Offense: 8; Defense: 9; Kicker/punter: 1

Top returners

QB Mackenzi Adams, QB Larry Smith, RB Jared Hawkins, C Bradley Vierling, DE Broderick Stewart, LB Patrick Benoist, LB Chris Marve, CB Myron Lewis, S Ryan Hamilton

Key losses

QB Chris Nickson, WR George Smith, WR Sean Walker, CB D.J. Moore, S Reshard Langford

2008 statistical leaders (* returners)

Rushing: Jared Hawkins* (593 yards)
Passing: Mackenzi Adams* (882 yards)
Receiving: Sean Walker (520 yards)
Tackles: Patrick Benoist* (109)
Sacks: Broderick Stewart* and Myron Lewis* (5)
Interceptions: D.J. Moore (6)

2009 Schedule
Sept. 5 Western Carolina
Sept. 12 at LSU
Sept. 19 Mississippi State
Sept. 26 at Rice
Oct. 3 Ole Miss
Oct. 10 at Army
Oct. 17 Georgia
Oct. 24 at South Carolina
Oct. 31 Georgia Tech
Nov. 7 at Florida
Nov. 14 Kentucky
Nov. 21 at Tennessee
Spring answers

No contentment: As historic as last season was for the Commodores, nobody on West End is satisfied. In fact, senior center and team captain Bradley Vierling said this spring that Vanderbilt underachieved last year in his mind. Obviously, winning seven games (including a bowl game) was just a start for this bunch.

Attacking defense: Don't look for Vanderbilt to change its style on defense. The Commodores were one of only two teams in the SEC last season (Florida was the other) to have 30 sacks and 20 interceptions. Speed is the name of their game on defense, and Vanderbilt will continue to pressure every chance it gets.

Jeffers makes splash: Having led Connecticut in receiving two years ago, Terence Jeffers was exactly what Vanderbilt needed at wideout. Packing 225 pounds, he has the strength to break tackles and turn short passes into big gains and also has the speed to get deep. He was the Commodores' most consistent playmaker this spring.

Fall questions

Smith or Adams? For the second year in a row, Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson wasn't ready to make a call on his starting quarterback situation coming out of the spring. Sophomore Larry Smith and senior Mackenzi Adams will continue their duel in the preseason. Smith is probably the better pure passer, but Adams led the Commodores to some key wins last season.

Passing game: Regardless of who wins the quarterback job, the Commodores have to find a way to generate more of a passing game than they did a year ago. Much of that falls on the shoulders of the receivers. Alex Washington had a nice spring, but Justin Wheeler tore his ACL and will miss the 2009 season. The biggest key is making sure Jeffers passes enough credit hours to be eligible.

New faces in secondary: D.J. Moore made so many plays for the Commodores the last few years, and Reshard Langford's leadership at safety was equally invaluable. Sophomores Casey Hayward and Sean Richardson are next in line to step in for those two and got plenty of work this spring. Jamie Graham is also making the move from receiver to defensive back.

Vanderbilt's Vierling: We underachieved in 2008

April, 2, 2009

Posted by's Chris Low

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- They passed out fancy rings at Vanderbilt's team banquet last Sunday night.

And with good reason, too.

The Commodores accomplished things last season that hadn't been done on West End Avenue in more than 50 years, namely winning a bowl game.

There's a sense of pride, confidence and a feel-good attitude that has permeated the program, and it's been obvious this spring.

But when it comes to contentment or somehow being satisfied with what they accomplished a year ago, the Commodores exit spring practice Thursday saying nothing could be further from the truth.

"Yeah, we went to a bowl game. Yeah, we won it. Yeah, we got seven wins, the first winning season in I don't know how long," said senior center Bradley Vierling, a team captain. "That's great. But we underachieved in our opinion -- immensely.

"We lost our homecoming game to Duke. We lost to Mississippi State. We lost to UT. We should have won all three games, and we were in the Georgia game. There's four games right there that not only in my opinion should we have won, but I don't think we played nearly as well as we could have. There's a lot to build on here."

The Commodores return 18 players who started in the 16-14 win over Boston College in the Music City Bowl last season. But more importantly, they return that same swagger, that same work ethic ... and a taste for winning.

"Everybody's enjoyed the success. They want more," Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson said. "They know what it takes to get it. I think there's a lot more peer pressure among our guys now. It's more, 'Hey, if you want to be a part of this team, you've got to work and work hard, do the right things and be available to your teammates.' "

Johnson hasn't picked up on any complacency with the players during the offseason conditioning program or the spring.

That's a good thing, too, because the days of the Commodores catching some of their SEC foes napping are long gone. Only four teams (Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Ole Miss) had more league wins than Vanderbilt last season.

"It took an awful lot of hard work last year, and the league hasn't gotten any easier," Johnson said. "In fact, it will probably get harder. We're going to have to fight and scratch and claw just to try to hang onto the ground we've made up."

Commodores looking for more consistency up front

April, 1, 2009

Posted by's Chris Low

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- This time a year ago, Vanderbilt was faced with having to replace all five starters on the offensive line.

This spring, everybody who played a meaningful snap on the offensive line a year ago is back.

That experience has made a huge difference, according to senior center Bradley Vierling.

"I think we're further ahead than we've ever been," said Vierling, a returning captain. "The way we are now is that we don't have to make nearly as many calls. We just know what each other is going to do, and to be able to do that is a tremendous help to one another with us doing some things differently on offense this year."

Transitioning to a no-huddle attack is as difficult on the offensive linemen as anybody, but Vierling said there's no substitute for continuity up front.

"Having that game experience with each other and going through the entire season with pretty much seven guys ... you have that core of guys who've been in there and been through some battles together," Vierling said. "We've made great strides this spring. I think we're tougher than we were last year and a lot more aggressive, and that just comes with being a lot more comfortable."

The other thing the Commodores have going for them up front is veteran offensive line coach Robbie Caldwell.

"He's the best coach I've ever been around," Vierling said. "He can relate to players. He knows how to coach people, and you can go and talk to him like he was one of our parents. To have that ability to go and talk to him on a real level really helps. He's the man. We love Coach Caldwell. We know he's going to ride us harder than anybody, and he expects more from us than anybody else. You're not going to just get by under Coach Caldwell."

Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson thinks the Commodores will be able to lean on their offensive line more than they did a year ago when they were all first-year starters.

"We need to be improved, and I think they will be more consistent next year," Johnson said. "We've tried to do some things scheme-wise to help them out, but they need to be a lot more consistent on how we do certain things. That will help them tremendously and give us a chance to run the ball better. We weren't bad in pass protection. If we can keep Jared (Hawkins) healthy and get some other running backs to step up and give us some good play, we should be able to run the ball much better."

The Commodores signed three freshman running backs -- Zac Stacy, Wesley Tate and Warren Norman -- and Johnson said all three would get a chance to show what they could do right away.

DWIT: Vanderbilt's winning mentality

October, 4, 2008

Posted by's Chris Low

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- They're the four most popular letters on Vanderbilt's campus right now.


Vanderbilt officials in the press box are sporting white shirts with those four letters, and players, coaches and anybody else connected to the football team have been wearing bracelets all season bearing those four letters.

Do Whatever It Takes.

It's the brainchild of Vanderbilt junior center Bradley Vierling, one of the Commodores' captains. His father has been drilling those four words into him since Vierling started playing football as a youngster just outside Philadelphia.

"It's more a mentality than it is anything else," Vierling said. "So when I was in high school and we put our names on top of our helmets at the start of camp, I put "DWIT" on mine. It kind of stuck, and I brought it with me to Vanderbilt."

It's a mentality the Commodores obviously take seriously. They're tied for first nationally in fewest penalties per game (2.75) and interceptions (10). They lead the SEC in turnover margin (plus-9) and sacks per game (2.75). They're tied for the SEC lead with Georgia in red zone offense (scoring on 16 of their 17 chances) and are second in the SEC in red zone defense (allowing only four touchdowns in 11 chances).