SEC: Brandon Barden
On to the league's wide receiver/tight end groups:
1. Tennessee: The Vols are equipped with two of the top wideouts in the league with Da'Rick Rogers, who was second in the SEC in receiving last year, and Justin Hunter, who might be the SEC's top deep threat. It sounds like Hunter will be 100 percent this fall after his ACL injury last year. Junior college transfer Cordarrelle Patterson is big, fast and possesses the big-play gene. The speedy Zach Rogers is back and is so is talented tight end Mychal Rivera.
2. Arkansas: Cobi Hamilton is now Arkansas' primary receiver, and he might be the league's most complete wideout. He can make the big-play and elude defenders along the way. While Marquel Wade's status is still unclear, if he does return, he'll be a major lift for this offense because of his playmaking ability in the slot. Julian Horton and Javontee Herndon have always impressed coaches in practice and now will get their chances to in games. Tight end Chris Gragg should be even more involved and is the league's top tight end.
3. Georgia: While Malcolm Mitchell could go back and forth between receiver and corner, when he's at receiver he's Georgia's top offensive threat and was one of the league's best as a rookie. There are vets behind him, starting with reliable senior Tavarres King, who had a very good spring, senior Marlon Brown, who seemed to take a big step in his game this spring. Sophomores Michael Bennett and Chris Conley combined for 48 catches for 608 yards and seven touchdowns last year. Unproven tight ends Arthur Lynch and Jay Rome will replace Orson Charles and Aron White.
4. Texas A&M: This isn't the fastest group out there, but there are some pretty reliable weapons, starting with star Ryan Swope, who could have left for the NFL after catching 89 passes for 1,207 yards and 11 touchdowns last year. Uzoma Nwachukwu was third on the team with 50 catches for 639 yards and three tight ends -- Nehemiah Hicks, Michael Lamothe and Hutson Prioleau -- return. Keep an eye on junior Nate Askew, who could be a downfield threat this fall.
5. LSU: Odell Beckham Jr. was one of the top rookies last year and could be even better in Year 2. He'll be joined by potential deep threat and big-play target Jarvis Landry, who developed some good chemistry with quarterback Zach Mettenberger this spring. Russell Shepard is talented, but he's been wildly inconsistent. Keep an eye on junior James Wright and incoming frosh Avery Johnson, who is the younger brother of Patrick Peterson. Also, tight end Chase Clement is on the John Mackey watch list.
7. Alabama: There is more speed out wide in Tuscaloosa, but there's a lot more youth. The Tide could turn to freshmen Chris Black, Amari Cooper and Eddie Williams to help develop a more downfield passing game. More will be expected from veterans Kenny Bell and Kevin Norwood, while sophomore DeAndrew White possesses a ton of speed. Still no word on Duron Carter. Tight end Michael Williams was solid last year, but will be used even more this fall.
8. Mississippi State: There is a lot of experience here, but this group has still underperformed at times, especially senior Chad Bumphis, who has yet to live up to all the hype that followed him from high school. Seniors Chris Smith and Arceto Clark combined for 65 catches last year, while the staff is very excited about the big-play potential redshirt freshman Joe Morrow possesses. Tight end Malcolm Johnson serves as a very reliable tight end target, as well.
9. Missouri: The Tigers lost two starting receivers and stud tight end Michael Egnew, but three of the top five pass catchers are back, including inside threat T.J. Moe, who led Mizzou in receiving last year. Big things are expected from Marcus Lucas, who can stretch the field with his speed and physicality, and the coaches think L'Damian Washington can also be a downfield threat. Also, Dorial Green-Beckham, last year's top recruit, should make an immediate impact. Eric Waters is replacing Egnew, but has just two career catches and suffered a knee injury this spring.
10. Auburn: Emory Blake is one of the league's top downfield threats and has been one of Auburn's most consistent offensive weapons. So has tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen, who should be more of a passing threat with the addition of transfer fullback Jay Prosch. There is a lot of depth, but it's unproven. Trovon Reed was supposed to be a star, but had a lackluster second year. Seniors Travante Stallworth and DeAngelo Benton have 15 and 14 career catches, respectively. Quan Bray has shown potential and could have a bigger role this season and keep an eye on freshman Ricardo Louis.
11. Florida: The Gators have struggled here since 2009 and still lack proven playmakers. Andre Debose is probably the best bet to be one, but he's been very inconsistent. Quinton Dunbar has the speed to be an outside threat, but caught just 14 passes last year. And the coaches are still waiting for senior Frankie Hammond Jr. to turn things up. True freshman Latroy Pittman had a great spring and the coaches are excited about his potential. Tight end Jordan Reed is one of the most athletic players in the league and will be a bigger target with two young quarterbacks throwing the ball.
12. South Carolina: Now that Alshon Jeffery is gone, the Gamecocks have questions and inexperience here. The fast, athletic Ace Sanders is the only returning pass catcher with at least 20 catches from last year (29). The hope is Bruce Ellington will be more of a factor this fall. Tight ends Justice Cunningham and Rory Anderson combined for 26 catches and four touchdowns. Damiere Byrd has blazing speed, but caught just one pass last year. DeAngelo Smith had a solid spring, and the coaches hope he can be a downfield threat. A lot will be expected from incoming freshman Shaq Roland.
13. Ole Miss: Sophomore Donte Moncrief is a budding star in this league and thinks he'll be even better in Hugh Freeze's spread offense. Ja-Mes Logan caught 20 passes last year, but had a very good spring. But Nickolas Brassell was an academic casualty and Randall Mackey had to move over from quarterback. The coaches are looking for consistency from Terrell Grant and Vince Sanders, who are both pretty unproven. Tight end Jamal Mosley is expected to do more in the spread and averaged 13.8 yards per catch last year.
14. Kentucky: Joker Phillips' goal this spring was to find more playmakers and he thinks he did with sophomore Demarco Robinson, who had five receptions last year, and redshirt freshman Daryl Collins. The hope is that they'll take some pressure off of La'Rod King, who is really the only proven receiving threat on the team. Tight ends Ronnie Shields and Tyler Robinson did well this spring, but combined for just 10 catches last year.
2011 conference record: 2-6
Returning starters: Offense: 9; defense: 7; kicker/punter: 3
WR Chris Boyd, WR Jordan Matthews, QB Jordan Rodgers, RB Zac Stacy, OG Ryan Seymour, C Wesley Johnson, LB Archibald Barnes, Chase Garnham, DT Rob Lohr, CB Trey Wilson
TE Brandon Barden, OT Kyle Fischer, DE Tim Fugger, LB Chris Marve, CB Casey Hayward, S Sean Richardson
2011 statistical leaders (*returners)
Rushing: Zac Stacy* (1,193 yards)
Passing: Jordan Rodgers* (1,524 yards)
Receiving: Jordan Matthews* (778 yards)
Tackles: Chris Marve (91)
Sacks: Tim Fugger (8)
Interceptions: Casey Hayward (7)
1. Finding more leaders: Vanderbilt coach James Franklin wanted to leave spring with more leaders than started with. By his accounts, a few veterans stepped up with guys like Marve, Fugger, Hayward and Fischer gone. Franklin said that if the Commodores were going to build off of last season's success, some veterans had to step up and take hold of the team. Guys like Jordan Rodgers, Chase Garnham, Walker May, Trey Wilson and Zac Stacy really expanded their roles as leaders and will be leaned on even more this fall.
2. Marve's replacement: Finding someone to take over for Marve in the locker room was one thing, but filling his position on the field is another. Exiting the spring, Franklin thinks he found the perfect player for the job in Garnham. He moved from the outside to the middle and really excelled at Marve's old position. Garnham was one of the Vanderbilt's most consistent defensive players this spring and the coaches expect to perform this fall.
3. More playmakers: The Commodores return much of their offense this season, but it sounds like the coaches found a few more players. People know about Stacy and receivers Jordan Matthews and Chris Boyd, but a few other players caught the coaches' eyes like redshirt freshmen Josh Grady and Kris Kentera, who were former quarterbacks. Grady showed his versatility by playing all over the field at receiver, running back and as a wildcat quarterback. It looks like Kentera earned some playing time at H-back this fall, helping to take pressure off Matthews and Boyd.
1. Offensive line: Spring practices have not addressed any of the issues the Commodores have on the offensive line. Ryan Seymour and Chase White began spring by rehabbing injuries, leaving Vandy with just nine healthy bodies up front. As spring went on, Franklin said there were times when his team sometimes had just seven linemen to work with. It was bad enough that Vandy rarely went through practices with a full offensive line taking reps. Six true freshmen linemen will enroll at Vandy this fall, but there's no question this unit is the biggest worry for the Commodores.
2. Quarterback consistency: While Rogers made improvements to his game, he still showed the inconsistency that frustrated Franklin last season. There's no question he has the athletic ability to be a solid starter in this league, but he sometimes fails to stand tall in the pocket and deliver solid throws when things collapse around him. That kind of play really hurt Vandy's offense last season. He was pushed by 2009 Mountain West Conference Freshman of the Year Austyn Carta-Samuels during the spring and the battle is expected to continue through fall camp.
3. Warren Norman's health: After missing all of the 2011 season with a knee injury, Norman returned to the practice field this spring. Though he was non-contact, he showed some improvement in his mobility. It's still unclear how healthy Norman will be and if really complement Stacy in the running game. Rising sophomore Jerron Seymour is the one other returning running back that registered carries last season.
Cincinnati dropped the SEC to 1-1 in bowl play with a 31-24 win against Vanderbilt, in what was a pretty exciting AutoZone Liberty Bowl.
After a bit of a sluggish first half from both offenses, each team found more ways to find the end zone in the last two quarters, combining for 34 points. The Bearcats put more of an emphasis on the running game, pounding Vandy's defense with Isaiah Pead, and another costly turnover doomed the Commodores.
How the game was won: Defenses led the way in the first half, as the offenses combined for 292 yards and 21 points. But things were very back-and-forth in the fourth quarter. There were three lead changes before two minutes passed in the quarter. Cincinnati took the lead for good when Ralph Abernathy took a kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown immediately after Vanderbilt took a 21-17 lead on a 68-yard touchdown reception by Chris Boyd. Pead sealed the Bearcats' win with his 12-yard touchdown run, three plays after a costly interception thrown by Vandy quarterback Larry Smith.
Best call: With Vanderbilt's offense stumbling through the first two quarters, coach James Franklin made the decision early in the third to permanently sit starting quarterback Jordan Rodgers after Rodgers suffered an injury. Smith replaced him, and the Commodores compiled 183 yards and 17 points with Smith under center. Rodgers appeared to be healthy enough to return, but Franklin stuck with Smith.
Turning point: Vanderbilt's offense was much more efficient with Smith at quarterback, but he made a fatal mistake with less than four minutes remaining in the fourth when he threw behind receiver Jordan Mathews and into the hands of Cincinnati's Nick Temple, who returned the ball 12 yards to Vandy's 31-yard line. Three plays later, Pead's touchdown run made it 31-21 Cincinnati.
Stat of the game: The teams combined for 15 punts for an average of 42.5 yards per kick. Four punts went for 50-plus yards and three were down inside the 20-yard line.
Player of the game: Pead was an absolute workhorse for the Bearcats. He carried the ball 28 times for 149 yards and scored the go-ahead touchdown.
Unsung hero: Cincinnati quarterback Zach Collaros returned from his broken ankle and showed good game management late. He was far from great and was shaky early, but he limited his mistakes for the most part. He did have just 80 passing yards and two interceptions, but for as rusty as he looked early, he could have been a lot worse.
Second guessing: With the score tied 7-7 with less than three minutes remaining in the first half, Franklin decided to go for a fourth-and-2 at the Cincinnati 44-yard line. On the play, running back Zac Stacy took the handoff, but then tried a jump pass to tight end Brandon Barden. The pass was way off and Cincinnati took over. The Bearcats then drove 56 yards for a touchdown and a 14-7 halftime lead.
What it means: Cincinnati, which might have been in a BCS bowl game if not for Collaros' injury, heads into the offseason with a ton of momentum following a 10-win season. Vanderbilt will have to deal with losing another big game because of costly mistakes. Still, things feel different at Vandy, and even with the loss, the Commodores have to feel good about Franklin's first year.
Record performance: With his two interceptions Saturday night, Vanderbilt senior cornerback Casey Hayward tied Leonard Coleman for first all-time in Vanderbilt history with 15 career interceptions.
Instead of going with the traditional gold helmets and white jerseys and pants, the Commodores are sporting black helmets on top of their white uniforms.
Will it add some extra energy for the lovable Commodores tonight? Probably not, but they are fun to look at.
The Gamecocks seem pretty relaxed before the game, but expect Marcus Lattimore to continue to carry much of the offensive load tonight. Backup Kenny Miles, who hurt his hand against Georgia, isn't dressed. That means the Gamecocks could look to get some carries out of junior Eric Baker and/or freshman Brandon Wilds.
Miles hasn't been much of a factor this season, carrying the ball once for 1 yard, but neither of the other backs have recorded any stats this year.
As for Vanderbilt, it looks like senior tight end Brandon Barden will miss his second straight start with an ankle injury. He was injured in Vandy's win over Conneticut in Week 2. His injury doesn't appear season-ending, but with next week being the bye for the Commodores, it makes sense to rest him now.
We might not see much -- if any -- of Vandy running back Warren Norman, either. Norman has yet to play this season and still seems to be recovering from last year's knee surgery.
The Commodores have been pretty successful with the running duo of Zac Stacy (29 carries for 262 yards and touchdown) and Jerron Seymour (28 carries, 145 yards and two scores), so not having Norman is nothing new for this team, but he does have big-play ability that the Commodores would love to have tonight.
Pregame festivities are almost done and the the smoke from the fireworks has cleared, so that means it's time for some nighttime football.
Should be a fun one in Columbia.
The last two winners of the award, which honors the top tight end nationally, have been from the SEC -- Arkansas' D.J. Williams last season and Florida's Aaron Hernandez in 2009.
Vanderbilt's Brandon Barden, Georgia's Orson Charles, Auburn's Philip Lutzenkirchen and Alabama's Michael Williams were the four SEC players on the 2011 preseason watch list.
Barden, a senior, is the SEC's active leader among tight ends in receptions (91) and receiving yards (991). Lutzenkirchen had 15 catches last season and five of those were for touchdowns.
The fun thing about the H-back is that your more athletic tight ends can line up in the backfield to add yet another dimension to an offense.
This year’s crop is a little younger, but could contain budding stars in the league.
Here’s a look at some of the top players at these positions:
1. Orson Charles, Georgia, Jr.: Charles has the nice combination of strength and speed to give defenders fits and could flex out to wide receiver if needed. He’s elevated his game throughout each of his two seasons with the Bulldogs and should be a star in the league this fall. He’s not as fast as receiver Tavarres King, but should eat into his production.
2. Brandon Barden, Vanderbilt, Sr.: Barden was Vanderbilt’s leading pass catcher a year ago. He hauled in 34 catches (nine more than the leading wide receiver) for 425 yards and three touchdowns. He’s easily the best option in the passing game for the Commodores and should continue to put up solid numbers at the tight end position.
3. Philip Lutzenkirchen, Auburn, Jr.: He didn’t have the most exciting stats a year ago, but he’ll be a major factor in the Tigers’ offense this fall. He took over as a leader for the young offense this spring and will be used in and out of the backfield as an H-back. He’ll be a very reliable target for whomever takes over at quarterback.
4. Jordan Reed, Florida, So.: Reed did most of his damage last fall at quarterback, but people around Gainesville think he could be the Gators’ most athletic offensive weapon now that he’s back at tight end. He’s a big target, at 6-3, 237 pounds and he doesn’t lack speed. In fact, he used most of the offseason working on becoming more fleet-footed.
5. Deangelo Peterson, LSU, Sr.: Like Charles, Peterson has the athleticism to flex out to wide receiver as well. He grabbed 16 passes for 198 yards in 2010, but had a solid spring and should get more attention in the offense this fall.
6. Chris Gragg, Arkansas, Jr.: Gragg actually moved from receiver to tight end, so he’s already a headache for linebackers with his speed. Backing up D.J. Williams, Gragg only caught eight passes last season, but one of them went 57 yards for a touchdown.
7. Trey Burton, Florida, So.: Florida was short on offensive playmakers last year, but Burton definitely made that short list. He’s no longer lining up at quarterback, but will be Florida’s H-back. Burton caught 32 passes as a freshman and has good speed and a little elusiveness to continue to be a reliable target for quarterback John Brantley.
8. Marcus Green, Mississippi State, Sr.: Injuries have been his downfall, but if he’s healthy, he’ll be a valuable weapon for quarterback Chris Relf. He was only healthy enough to catch three passes last year, but hauled in 27 catches for 306 yards in 2009, so the talent is there.
9. Mychal Rivera, Tennessee, Jr.: There’s no secret that Tennessee is going to air it out this fall. Rivera backed up Luke Stocker last season, so his numbers weren’t great, but the staff is confident that he’ll be a reliable target in the offense. He’ll be a good third option with the talent at receiver.
10. Michael Williams, Alabama, Jr.: Williams was overlooked because he was staring up at Preston Dial on the depth chart. But he’s far from inexperienced. Williams has appeared in 27 games, making 14 starts. He’s a good run blocker and is athletic enough to challenge most linebackers opposite him.
Let’s take a look at what we came up with:
2. LSU: The Tigers might have lost Terrence Toliver, but they’ll still have weapons at receiver. Junior Rueben Randle is expected to be the go-to guy in LSU’s offense and is coming off a season where he caught 33 passes for 544 yards and three touchdowns. Russell Shepard was right behind him last season, catching the same amount of balls, but only totaled 254 yards and one touchdown. He looked sharper this spring and is looking to break out this fall. Tight end Deangelo Peterson should also get more attention this fall. He only caught 16 passes, but that number should increase.
3. South Carolina: For starters, the Gamecocks have the league’s best receiver in Alshon Jeffery. The 6-foot-4, 233-pound freak snatched just about everything that came his way last fall and registered 1,517 yards and nine touchdowns. He’s nearly impossible to stop in one-on-one situations. Senior Jason Barnes didn't make a major impact in 2010, but he does have 60 career receptions under his belt. The smaller Ace Sanders should be even better after bursting onto the scene with 25 receptions for 316 yards and two touchdowns. D.L. Moore, who caught 17 passes in 2010, should have a more expanded role as well.
5. Tennessee: Neither Justin Hunter nor Da'Rick Rogers had a ton of catches last fall, but that will change with a strong passing game in 2011. Hunter caught 16 passes, but registered 415 yards and seven touchdowns in the process. He’s a solid deep threat and playmaker. Rogers also only caught 16 passes, and while he didn’t have the yardage Hunter had, he made tremendous strides this spring. Tight end Mychal Rivera caught 11 passes in 2010 and with Luke Stocker gone he takes over as the Vols’ weapon at tight end.
6. Alabama: There aren’t a lot of questions surrounding the Crimson Tide, but receiver isn’t Alabama’s best area. Seniors Marquis Maze and Darius Hanks should get the brunt of the catches. They combined for 70 catches for 1,013 yards and six touchdowns last season. There is a long list of other inexperienced players who should grab some catches as well and former Ohio State receiver Duron Carter, who just transferred in, could be a factor this fall.
7. Florida: The Gators have talent at wide receiver, and Florida should have a more pass-friendly offense, but the group is very unproven. Frankie Hammond Jr. could be Florida’s best weapon at receiver with his speed and athleticism. Omarius Hines has the size and speed to be a major mismatch for defenders in the slot and on the outside. Freshman Quinton Dunbar was Florida’s top deep threat this spring and should get ample playing time. At tight end, Jordan Reed was called Florida’s best athlete and could end up being the Gators’ top playmaker. Trey Burton should catch a few more passes as well.
9. Auburn: There is still some talent left on the Plains at receiver. Sure, Darvin Adams and Terrell Zachery are gone, but the Tigers will look to Emory Blake and Trovon Reed to make up for their departures. Blake is the leading returning receiver, while Reed will be used all over the field by Auburn’s coaches. He can be a threat in the slot and on the outside. Philip Lutzenkirchen will be more of a staple in the offense as the Tigers’ trusted H-back.
10. Ole Miss: Athletically, the Rebels are fine. However, this group is very inexperienced and was inconsistent this spring. The incoming freshmen will have every opportunity to take a starting spot and Tobias Singleton could be the best option of Ole Miss’ youngsters. Of the returners, Melvin Harris did the most in 2010, catching 30 passes for 408 yards and three touchdowns. Redshirt freshman Vincent Sanders will also get a chance to heavily contribute after making strong strides this spring.
11. Vanderbilt: Four of Vanderbilt’s five receiving leaders return, but the group wasn’t tremendously productive last fall. The Commodores didn’t have a receiver go over 320 yards last season and tight end Brandon Barden caught a team-high 34 passes for 425 yards. Vanderbilt's top two wideouts -- John Cole and Jonathan Krause -- are back, but the Commodores might have to turn to their youngsters for help.
12. Kentucky: The Wildcats lost a lot when do-everything Randall Cobb left early for the NFL and things didn’t get any better by losing No. 2 wideout Chris Matthews. Now, it’s back to the drawing board in Lexington. La'Rod King should be the top target for quarterback Morgan Newton, but he disappointed at times this spring. Matt Roark and E.J. Fields will compete for time, but both need vast improvement. The top athlete could be Brian Adams, but he spent spring playing for Kentucky’s baseball team.
But the Commodores, who didn’t have a bye a year ago and had to play 12 straight weeks, are idle this Saturday.
The more Caldwell surveys the situation, the better off he thinks the Commodores will be to have an open date before traveling to Connecticut on Oct. 2 and then coming home to face Eastern Michigan on Oct. 9.
As bleak as it looked for Vanderbilt following that 27-3 home loss to LSU the second week of the season, it’s not outlandish to think the Commodores could be 3-2 overall going into that Georgia game on Oct. 16.
Caldwell, who on his worst day could manage a few folksy jokes, said what he’s really looking forward to this Saturday is lying on the couch all day, doing nothing and watching football.
“Of course, my wife won’t let me do that,” Caldwell said. “I’ve got all them honey-dos. I’ve got to aerate the yard and throw out some grass seed. But believe you me, I’m going to throw me something on the grill and watch me a little bit (of football) and laugh at everybody else having all the pressure on them that day.”
Caldwell said this week will be especially beneficial for the Commodores’ running backs to get healthier. Warren Norman had some fluid drained from his knee.
“We hope that helps him pick up some quickness and a step he hasn’t had,” Caldwell said.
Norman had arthroscopic knee surgery in late August. Zac Stacy (knee) and Wesley Tate (foot) have also not been 100 percent because of injuries.
Even with the extra week off, Caldwell isn’t optimistic the Commodores will get back defensive tackle T.J. Greenstone (ankle) and tight end Brandon Barden (foot). Both players were injured in the 28-14 win over Ole Miss last Saturday.
What’s new: Bobby Johnson decided he’d had enough of football a few weeks before the start of preseason practice, and veteran offensive line coach Robbie Caldwell was chosen to succeed him. Caldwell was initially named the interim coach, but Vanderbilt officials have since removed the interim tag. Caldwell brought in former Tulsa offensive coordinator Herb Hand to take Caldwell’s place as offensive line coach. Before he retired, Johnson had already announced that quarterbacks coach Jimmy Kiser would call all of the offensive plays this season after sharing that role with Ted Cain, who remains on the staff as tight ends coach and special teams coordinator. Mike Pelton is in his first season as defensive ends coach.
Sidelined: Senior offensive guard Chris Aaron will not return because of an inner ear problem.
Key battle: The Commodores are set at two of their linebacker positions with Chris Marve in the middle and John Stokes at one outside spot. If Triston Strong is healthy, he could be the starter at the weak side spot, but will have to fend off challenges from Dexter Daniels, DeAndre Jones and Archibald Barnes.
New on the scene: Redshirt freshman Wesley Tate joins an already talented running back stable that includes Warren Norman and Zac Stacy. Redshirt freshman Wesley Johnson is in line to be one of the starters at offensive tackle, and the same goes for redshirt freshman Jay Fullam at free safety. Redshirt freshman defensive end Walker May had a strong spring and will provide pass-rushing help. The Commodores are looking for all the help they can get at receiver, which is where redshirt freshman Brady Brown and true freshmen Chris Boyd and Jordan Matthews come in.
Breaking out: Junior tight end Brandon Barden has All-SEC potential. He led the nation two years ago in catches by a freshman tight end. If he avoids the key drops, he could develop into the Commodores’ top receiving threat this season.
Don’t forget about: Jamie Graham has played a little bit of everywhere during his career. He even played on the Commodores’ basketball team at one point, but looks like he’s settled in on the defensive side of the ball at cornerback where he’s the front-runner to be a starter opposite Casey Hayward.
All eyes on: Junior quarterback Larry Smith. The Commodores have to get better play out of the quarterback position after completing just 48.3 percent of their passes last season. It goes much deeper than just throwing the ball, too. Vanderbilt needs a leader at quarterback, whether it’s Smith, junior college newcomer Jordan Rodgers or senior Jared Funk.
Quoting: “You have to earn everything you get in this league. We saw that last year. It can get away from you in a hurry. The only way to get it pointed back in the right direction is to go to work every day, and that’s what we’ve done.” -- Vanderbilt linebacker Chris Marve
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
I was prepared for the onslaught of responses (some nice, some not so nice) to my list Thursday of the 15 freshmen most likely to have the biggest impacts this season in the SEC.
Going into the project, I knew there would be some oversights, and South Carolina's Charles Whitlock was an obvious one. There's a reason everybody in the SEC wanted the Chester, S.C., native.
And to be honest, there will be a handful of freshmen that come out of nowhere to surprise even their coaches this season. There will also be a few that we're all expecting big things from that never get close to the field during a game.
Anyway, here's a few more that warrant mention as likely impact freshmen this season, and remember it can be true freshmen or redshirt freshmen. They're listed alphabetically:
Akeem Auguste, CB, South Carolina: The Gamecocks are deep and experienced in the secondary, but senior cornerback Carlos Thomas had better not get too comfortable. Auguste, a prep school player from Fork Union, looked more than capable in the spring.
Brandon Barden, TE, Vanderbilt: Originally signed with Virginia Tech, but transferred after a semester there. A quarterback in high school, Barden was impressive as a scout team tight end a year ago.
Mark Barron, LB/S, Alabama: Rated by some as a defensive back in high school, Barron may grow into a linebacker at Alabama and brings the kind of speed Nick Saban is looking for in that unit. He also rushed for more than 1,000 yards as a senior running back in high school.
Quindarius Carr, WR, Auburn: After redshirting last season, Carr raised his stock with a productive spring. He's bigger, more in tune with what's expected of him and more consistent. The Tigers are counting on him to be a part of their rotation this season.
Jeffrey Demps, RB, Florida: There's fast, and then there's Jeffrey Demps fast. He ran a 10.01 in the 100 meters last month at the U.S. Olympic Trials, the fastest time ever for an American teenager. Urban Meyer is drawing up plays as we speak to get Demps the ball.
Jamie Graham, WR, Vanderbilt: A redshirt freshman, Graham was a defensive stopper on the Commodores' basketball team last season. He'll move from defensive back to receiver in football and should be one of the most explosive athletes on the team.
Tavarres King, WR, Georgia: Most of the hype has centered around A.J. Green, but King went through spring practice and didn't take long to make an impression on the Georgia coaches with his ability to get open and make plays.
Janoris Jenkins, CB, Florida: The Gators were painfully young in the secondary last season, but Jenkins is physical and can cover. What's more, Florida will take any help it can get in the secondary this season.
Tyler Love, OT, Alabama: The Crimson Tide will be looking for some help along the right side of their offensive line, and Love has what it takes as a true freshman to step in there and contribute this season.
Ahmad Paige, WR, Tennessee: The Vols don't really have a deep threat at receiver right now, and the wiry Paige might end up being that guy. He redshirted last season for the Vols and needed the extra year in the weight room.
Tristan Strong, LB, Vanderbilt: With Marcus Buggs now trying to make an NFL team, there could be a spot at outside linebacker for a freshman. The 220-pound Strong is a leading candidate.
Courtney Upshaw, LB, Alabama: Anybody who can play linebacker is going to have a chance this season with the Crimson Tide, and Upshaw was one of the most heralded outside linebacker prospects in the country last year.
Charles Whitlock, WR/CB, South Carolina: He went through the spring at receiver after graduating high school early. He can also return kicks and has shown great closing speed at cornerback, which may wind up being his future home.
O'Neal Wilder, WR, Miss. State: A world-class track athlete, Wilder brings some of that speed the Bulldogs are desperately seeking on the offensive side of the ball. He was also able to go through spring practice after graduating high school early, so the coaches know what he can do.
2:00 PM ET Washington State Colorado State 3:30 PM ET 20 Fresno State 25 USC 5:30 PM ET Buffalo San Diego State 9:00 PM ET Tulane Louisiana-Lafayette
6:00 PM ET Pittsburgh Bowling Green 9:30 PM ET Utah State 23 Northern Illinois
2:30 PM ET Marshall Maryland 6:00 PM ET Syracuse Minnesota 9:30 PM ET Brigham Young Washington
12:00 PM ET Rutgers Notre Dame 3:20 PM ET Cincinnati North Carolina 6:45 PM ET Miami (FL) 18 Louisville 10:15 PM ET Michigan Kansas State
11:45 AM ET Middle Tennessee Navy 3:15 PM ET Ole Miss Georgia Tech 6:45 PM ET 10 Oregon Texas 10:15 PM ET 14 Arizona State Texas Tech
12:30 PM ET Arizona Boston College 2:00 PM ET Virginia Tech 17 UCLA 4:00 PM ET Rice Mississippi State 8:00 PM ET 24 Duke 21 Texas A&M
12:00 PM ET Nebraska 22 Georgia 12:00 PM ET UNLV North Texas 1:00 PM ET Iowa 16 LSU 1:00 PM ET 19 Wisconsin 9 South Carolina 5:00 PM ET 5 Stanford 4 Michigan State 8:30 PM ET 15 UCF 6 Baylor
7:30 PM ET 13 Oklahoma State 8 Missouri 8:30 PM ET 12 Clemson 7 Ohio State