For the second straight year, academic shortcomings have sidelined a key offensive player for Vanderbilt.
The university announced on Wednesday that junior offensive tackle James Williams, projected to be the starter on the right side, would not be a part of the football team in 2010 for academic reasons.
A year ago, it was receiver Terence Jeffers who didn’t make it academically after transferring from Connecticut. Jeffers was easily the Commodores’ best receiver in the spring, but didn’t have enough transferable credit hours to be eligible in the fall.
It goes without saying that the Commodores can ill afford to keep losing some of their most talented offensive players.
Last season, they averaged just 8.9 points against SEC opponents and never scored more than 16 points against any league foe. Nationally, they finished 110th in total offense.
Williams was one of the Commodores’ most promising offensive lineman a year ago and opened the season as a starter before breaking his ankle in the second game against LSU. He was unable to go through the spring while still recovering from his surgery, but the plan was for him to return to his right tackle spot.
Vanderbilt’s other projected starting tackle, Ryan Seymour, also missed most of the spring after injuring his shoulder the second practice and undergoing surgery.
Veteran offensive line coach Robbie Caldwell is one of the best in the business, but this may end up being his greatest challenge.
The Commodores struggled mightily up front last season and will have even less experience in 2010.
Depending on how quickly Seymour recovers, sophomore Caleb Welchans and redshirt freshman Wesley Johnson will probably open preseason practice as the starters at tackle.
Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson would prefer to leave junior and two-year starter Kyle Fischer at guard, even though he’s started at both positions during his career. The other guard spot is wide open. Senior Joey Bailey steps in to replace Bradley Vierling at center.
Seymour wasn’t the only offensive lineman to get hurt during the spring. Redshirt freshman guard Justin Cabbagestalk injured his knee, although he should be back in time for the preseason.
It’s never ideal for true freshmen to have to play on the offensive line, but the Commodores may need both Grant Ramsay and Logan Stewart to come in and be contributors right away.
Obviously, this preseason will be critical as Caldwell tries to mix and match and get his best combination on the field.