SEC: Joe Townsend

Another day, another two college football award watch lists arrive.

Today we have the lists for the Mackey Award, which goes to the nation's top tight end, and the Rimington Trophy, which goes to the top center.

The SEC well represented on both lists, with seven players on the Mackey list and 11 on the Rimington. Here is a rundown:

Mackey
Rory Anderson, South Carolina
Evan Engram, Ole Miss
Hunter Henry, Arkansas
O.J. Howard, Alabama
Malcolm Johnson, Mississippi State
Jay Rome, Georgia
C.J. Uzomah, Auburn

Rimington
David Andrews, Georgia
Evan Boehm, Missouri
Dillon Day, Mississippi State
Reese Dismukes, Auburn
Max Garcia, Florida
Ryan Kelly, Alabama
Mike Matthews, Texas A&M
Elliott Porter, LSU
Jon Toth, Kentucky
Joe Townsend, Vanderbilt
Cody Waldrop, South Carolina
Change might be in the air at Vanderbilt, from a new head coach to a new coaching staff to a new 3-4 defensive scheme to several new faces in key roles, but there’s one thing everyone associated with the program insists won’t change.

And that’s winning games.

Derek Mason is entering his first spring as Vanderbilt’s head coach. The Commodores, coming off their best two-year stretch in school history, start practice Tuesday afternoon, and if anything, they’re hungrier than ever.

“I’ve loved every interaction I’ve had with Coach Mason and the great staff that he’s brought in,” sophomore quarterback Patton Robinette said. “He’s a very confident guy, and that’s spreading to us.

[+] EnlargeDerek Mason
AP Photo/Damian DovarganesMuch like he did as defensive coordinator at Stanford, Derek Mason plans to win conference titles at Vanderbilt.
“I know everybody else is worrying about the previous staff leaving and saying we’re going to have a drop-off. I feel like we’re going to be that much better next year. I really do, especially with the guys [Mason] has brought in and the changes he’s made so far.”

The translation: Vanderbilt’s players appreciate what James Franklin did in steering the program to nine-win seasons in back-to-back years, but they’re not wallowing in the fact he’s gone.

For that matter, they knew it was probably inevitable he would bolt at some point.

“We watch TV and read the Internet,” senior center Joe Townsend said. “It was talked about in the locker room, but we didn’t let it distract us from what needed to be done. He told us to control what we could control, going to class and playing football. We knew it was very possible that he would go somewhere else.

“So, when it happened, we weren’t surprised.”

Townsend said a standard of winning (and knowing how to win) has been set at Vanderbilt, and the players reminded each other of that even before Mason was announced as head coach.

“We have guys who know how to work hard and are selfless and know how to win,” Townsend said. “Coach Franklin taught us how to win, and that’s not going to change. We talked about it as a team when the whole coaching search was going on, that no matter who we get or who comes in here, one thing that will never change is us winning because we know how to win.

“The only people who can control that is us. No coach can control if we win or not. They supplement it and help us grow as players. But when it comes to winning, we’re the ones on the field who get it done.”

Mason is obviously no stranger to winning, either. Stanford won 11 or more games each of his three seasons as defensive coordinator in Palo Alto.

There was also a time when the idea of Stanford winning Pac-12 championships seemed far-fetched, sort of like Vanderbilt winning nine games in back-to-back seasons and sweeping Florida, Georgia and Tennessee.

The expectations at Vanderbilt have reached a whole new stratosphere, and for those who insist the Commodores reached their ceiling under Franklin, Mason offers a confident shrug.

“The one thing I’ve learned over time is that you can’t get mired in people’s expectations,” Mason said. “You have to tear it down and build it up every year. So with that being said, 2013 has no effect on 2014. What we have to do is put our cornerstones in place.

“If you go back and look at what we’ve done defensively and offensively, it comes back to you being able to play a 60-minute ballgame, whether that’s 2013 or 2014. It’s about taking teams into the fourth quarter and winning ballgames. There’s no expiration date on that. That’s a day-to-day, week-to-week process.”

And it’s a process that started the day Mason was introduced in January.

“This program, whether anybody believes it, is going to win championships,” Mason said. “We’re already on the clock. This spring is important for laying that foundation, and then we’re going to go one fall practice at a time, one week at a time, and make our march toward the SEC East title.”

Video: Vanderbilt center Joe Townsend

March, 3, 2014
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SEC reporter Chris Low talks with Vanderbilt center Joe Townsend.

Lunchtime links

October, 24, 2012
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Checking out the SEC with a round of links and PB&J:
Vanderbilt offensive line coach Herb Hand has no time to ease his group of wide-eyed freshmen into the mix this fall.

He wants to chuck anything and everything at the six true freshmen in order to give them every single opportunity to show him that they aren’t ready to play this fall.

“We want to throw them right in the mix,” Hand said.

“I want to throw everything at them; not just give them the easy stuff to do.

“We have thrown the kitchen sink at them. A lot of those guys probably feel like they’re drinking out of a fire hose right now.”

Add in the big screen TV and the dining room table and Hand has the recipe for finding out which guys won’t be able to cut it this fall. The ones who withstand the pounding earn the opportunity to play.

Knowing there would be depth issues in 2012, coach James Franklin and his staff made the offensive line a priority in the 2012 class. Six was a good number for the Commodores because bodies were needed.

Vandy’s staff spent most of the spring trying to keep the offensive line together with tape, as injuries and procedures sidelined some of the big guys throughout spring practice. At one point this spring, Franklin and Hand could only use seven offensive linemen during practices because so many injuries piled up. It also didn’t help that center Logan Stewart and Mylon Brown were both dismissed, after combining for 14 starts in 2011.

What was one of the most improved groups in the SEC last year now enters the fall with questions surrounding it. The good news for Hand is he feels very confident in eight core players, including projected starters Wesley Johnson, Ryan Seymour, Spencer Pulley, Josh Jelesky and Andrew Bridges, who, outside of Pulley, all have starting experience.

Redshirt freshman Jake Bernstein and sophomore Joe Townsend will also get their shots at playing time this fall, Hand said.

To Johnson, who is Vandy’s most talented and versatile lineman, getting the freshmen acclimated quickly was a priority during summer workouts. He and the other vets made sure they hit the playbook with the youngsters as much as possible in order to pound the plays and schemes into their brains before real practices began.

Though there have been plenty of hiccups and setbacks from the newbies, Johnson said he’s confident a few will end up stepping up and contributing this fall in order to make this line as strong as it was last year.

“We pretty much know we can get it done,” Johnson said.

Hand still isn’t ready to say which freshmen he can count on yet, but Adam Butler and Andrew Jelks have made the most progress in his eyes. Both were highly regarded coming out of high school. Hand is also happy that each of his new linemen were blessed with ideal genetics, as he considers each one “long” when it comes to their arms and legs and heavy enough to hold up in this league.

“We don’t have the 250-pound guy that you’re trying to build up,” he said. “Not that we wouldn’t take a guy like that, but with this particular class we feel like we’ve got some length and we’ve got some girth.”

He added that each is pretty athletic on their feet, which helps as they adapt to the speed of the college game.

Hand won’t know where his freshmen stand until after 15 fall practices, which essentially equates to them going through spring. After that, he’ll have a much better understanding of where his line stands.

Fortunately for Vanderbilt, the vets are getting healthier and are much more comfortable with the offense, which is something Johnson said will help as they continue to prep the youngsters.

“Now, we pretty much have most of the playbook in, as opposed to last year where we were still learning plays and trying to figure everything out,” he said. “There’s a much better understanding of what we have to do.”
Schedule: The Commodores' first practice is on Thursday, and their first day in pads is on Aug. 7. They open the season on Aug. 30 at home against South Carolina, which will air at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN.

Returning starters: Nine on offense, eight on defense and the place-kicker and punter on special teams.

Star power: Running back Zac Stacy returns this fall as the SEC's top statistical back from a year ago after he broke Vanderbilt's single-season rushing record with 1,193 yards and single-season rushing touchdown record with 14.

New faces: The Commodores welcome in six true freshmen offensive linemen. That's big for Vanderbilt, considering the depth issues along the offensive line. The coaching staff will be looking to expedite the learning process for them, as they'll all be expected to compete for some sort of time this fall. Also, the staff is especially excited about incoming frosh Brian Kimbrow, who could lineup at running back and return punts for the Dores. And don't forget that former Montana QB and Mountain West Freshman of the Year Austyn Carta-Samuels is eligible to play this fall and will continue to push Jordan Rodgers in camp.

Don’t forget about: Running back/return specialist Warren Norman is back and should be healthier than he's been since his sophomore year. Norman was Vandy's top rusher back in 2009 and was also one of the league's best kick returners. Injury cut his 2010 season short and he missed all of 2011 with a bad knee. If he's back at 100 percent, he'll not only bolster Vandy's return game but he should add another solid weapon in the running game.

Big shoes to fill: Linebacker Chris Marve wasn't just a tremendous player out on the field for the Commodores, he was the unquestioned leader of this team inside the locker room. This spring, Chase Garnham did a pretty good job of filling in for Marve on the field, but growth is still needed for him to become an impact player on defense. The staff has been happy with Garnham in the leadership department, but more is expected during camp and when the season starts.

Key battles: Vandy returns two starters on the offensive line -- Wesley Johnson and Ryan Seymour -- and there is still a lot of inexperience that offensive line coach Herb Hand will have to deal with. One interesting battle should be between sophomores Spencer Pulley and Joe Townsend for the center spot. The third receiver spot is also up for grabs, with juniors Wesley Tate and Jonathan Krause battling redshirt freshman Josh Grady.

Rising star: Grady made the move from quarterback to wide receiver and shined this spring. The staff has always been excited about his potential because of how athletic of a player he is, and it seems as though he has the best chance to be a big-play threat at receiver. He showed his versatility this spring by lining up receiver, running back and as the Wildcat quarterback.

Bottom line: James Franklin turned Vandy around during his first year, after the program underwent a major attitude adjustment. There was more confidence and excitement surging through the program last year, and it has spilled over into Year 2 of Franklin's tenure. The Commodores have to replace some key defensive weapons and are thin on the offensive line, but there are enough offensive playmakers returning to make the Commodores' offense fun to watch. And if the defense holds up like last year, the Commodores could go bowling for a second straight year.

SEC East post-spring notes

May, 8, 2012
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Now that you've seen some SEC West notes delivered by the SEC office, here are some SEC East notes for your viewing pleasure:

FLORIDA
  • Florida returns 10 starters on defense where the Gators ranked eighth nationally in total defense (299.5 yards per game) in 2011. The Gators ranked second in the nation in third-down defense in 2011, holding opponents to 48-for-176 (.273).
  • Florida returns 14 of its top 15 tacklers for the 2012 season, including leading tackler senior linebacker Jon Bostic, who tallied 94 total tackles, 10 tackles for a loss and three sacks. Also returning for the Gators are their second and third leading tacklers, junior safety Matt Elam who recorded 78 tackles, a team-leading 11 tackles for a loss and a team-high-tying two interceptions, and junior linebacker Jelani Jenkins who totaled 75 tackles and a team-best six pass break-ups.
  • Last year marked Florida’s FBS-leading 32nd-straight season with a winning percentage of .500 or higher. With the win over Ohio State in the Gator Bowl, the Gators have had 24 consecutive winning seasons, the longest active streak in the country. Additionally, with the trip to the Gator Bowl, Florida made its 21st straight bowl appearance, which ranks first in the SEC and second nationally.
GEORGIA
  • Sophomore outside linebacker/defensive end Ray Drew and redshirt freshman receiver Justin Scott-Wesley are splitting time between track and football. Drew has competed in three discus competitions during the outdoor season, taking second and third in separate competitions. Scott-Wesley competed indoors and already ranks in the top 10 on the school’s 60-meter dash list.
  • The Bulldog defense returns nine starters and 12 of the 14 leading tacklers after posting a No. 5 national ranking in 2011. All-American junior outside linebacker Jarvis Jones and All-American senior free safety Bacarri Rambo headline the unit.
KENTUCKY
  • The line should be a strength of the UK defense in 2012. All three regular starters return, senior end Collins Ukwu and junior tackles Mister Cobble and Donte Rumph. Senior end Taylor Wyndham, a starter when Kentucky goes to a four-man line, also will be back.
  • Junior linebacker Avery Williamson continued his improvement in the spring and is expected to anchor the defense at middle linebacker. He led all players in the spring game with eight tackles, featuring two tackles for loss and a sack. He made 49 tackles last season as a reserve and is ready to step into a leadership role.
  • The Wildcats did not appear to have any major new injuries in the spring. Six players sat out the contact portions of spring drills, including quarterback Morgan Newton, tailback Josh Clemons, wide receiver Gene McCaskill, offensive lineman Tyler Davenport, Ukwu and linebacker Jabari Johnson. All six are expected to be ready to go in time for preseason practice.
MISSOURI
  • Mizzou comes to the SEC after seven consecutive winning seasons under coach Gary Pinkel, who will be in his 12th year on the Tiger sideline. Mizzou has won 48 games in the past five seasons, which ranks as ninth-most in the nation from 2007-11 among BCS-AQ conferences. Mizzou is one of only six schools from BCS-AQ leagues to have won a minimum of eight games in each of the last six seasons (2006-11).
  • Pinkel enters the 2012 as the eighth-winningest active coach in the FBS ranks, with his 158 wins. In 21 years as a head coach (1991-2000 at Toledo, 2001-present at Mizzou), Pinkel has a 158-91-3 overall record (.633). With an 85-54 mark in 11 seasons at Mizzou (.612), Pinkel stands 3rd alltime in wins, trailing only College Football Hall of Famers Don Faurot (101 wins from 1935-42, 1946-56) and Dan Devine (93 wins from 1958-70).
SOUTH CAROLINA
  • The Gamecocks will open the 2012 season on a four-game winning streak. They had not finished a season with four consecutive wins since 1958 prior to last season’s finish, which included wins over Florida, The Citadel, Clemson and Nebraska.
  • Connor Shaw is the first Gamecock quarterback in the last 40 years to win eight of his first nine starts.
  • The Gamecocks have signed the last four “Mr. Football” winners in the state of South Carolina -- Stephon Gilmore (2009), Marcus Lattimore (2010), Jadeveon Clowney (2011) and Shaq Roland (2012).
  • The Gamecocks are a perfect 8-0 over the last two seasons over their top four rivals -- division foes Florida, Georgia and Tennessee, and in-state rival Clemson.
TENNESSEE
  • Tennessee is slated to open a new training center this summer. The 145,000-square foot building includes an amphitheater-style team room, coaches offices, position meeting rooms, a dining hall, players' lounge, a 7,000-square foot locker room, a 22,000-square foot, multi-level weight room as well as a new training room and hydrotherapy area.
  • For just the fourth time in school history, Tennessee will enter October with five games under its belt (2006, 1995, 1990). In the previous three campaigns, the Vols won at least nine games, highlighted by a 1990 SEC Championship.
  • Eight of Tennessee’s opponents earned a bid to play in a bowl game last season: NC State (Belk), Florida (Gator), Georgia (Outback), Mississippi State (Music City), Alabama (National Championship), South Carolina (Capital One), Missouri (Independence) and Vanderbilt (Liberty). All but Georgia and Vanderbilt were victorious.
  • For the second consecutive year, Tennessee’s opponents compiled an overall record of 81-71 the previous season. Seven of Tennessee’s opponents had winning records in 2011: NC State (8-5), Florida (7-6), Georgia (10-4), Mississippi State (7-6), Alabama (12-1), South Carolina (11-2) and Missouri (8-5).
VANDERBILT
  • Among the most impressive offensive players during spring practice for the Commodores were redshirt freshmen Josh Grady and Kris Kentera, both recruited out of high school as possible quarterbacks. Grady, from Tampa, Fla., impressed as a wide receiver and wildcat quarterback during the Black & Gold Spring Game. Kentera, from Colorado Springs, Colo., has athleticism and excellent hands and made a strong case for playing time this fall at H-back.
  • For the second straight spring, the Commodores were limited with potential offensive linemen. During the spring game, only eight linemen participated. The limited numbers allowed three young prospects to showcase their talents to the staff: sophomore center/guard Spencer Pulley and Joe Townsend, and redshirt freshman guard Jake Bernstein.
  • The Commodores introduced a "rover" position on defense during spring drills. Junior Karl Butler was one of Vanderbilt's defensive standouts during the spring working exclusively in the hybrid linebacker-safety role.

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