The Vanderbilt Commodores are well on their way to competing with the big boys in the SEC. In my visit to Nashville earlier in the spring it was obvious to me that James Franklin and his staff is building the lines of scrimmage depth that you need to be successful in the nation’s toughest conference. The numbers show that under Franklin the Dores have played good defense and improving offense. The key is developing depth and this spring went a long way towards providing that opportunity. Vanderbilt is just one of two schools with a final top 20 ranking in football, along with a top 20 recruiting class and its University that is ranked in the top 20.
Offensively Austyn Carta-Samuels has taken over for senior Jordan Rogers and by all accounts has had an excellent spring. He is a little more mobile and has plenty of experience to draw from when he played as a freshman at Wyoming. Samuels would be wise to keep feeding All-American wide receiver Jordan Matthews. The running backs have been very impressive in the spring in both the regular formations and the “wildcat” formation. Wesley Tate, Brian Kimbrow and Jerron Seymour have all been very productive. As a group this unit should more than replace the departed Zac Stacy. The offensive line is two deep for the first time under Franklin and really does a good job in the run game. Wesley Johnson anchors this unit with young guys Andrew Jelks and Barrett Gouger grabbing some his praise from Franklin this spring.
Defensively the focus has been the defensive tackle spot for defensive coordinator Bob Shoop. In the last two seasons the Commodores have had to mix in stunts and twists to get pressure up front. They hope by developing a stronger inside they can unleash the depth at defensive end on the pass rush. Vince Taylor has been the most consistent performer but this area will continue to be a concern for the Dores. The defensive end spot is in much better shape with Walker May, Caleb Azibuke Darien Bryant, Kyle Westmann and Stephen Weatherly. This group of players at the end spot could be as good as any in the conference. Chase Garnham is back at middle linebacker and Karl Butler at one outside spot. The secondary which is focusing on getting more interception has not had that many opportunities during scrimmages because of the focus by the offense on the run. Andre Hal has a shot to be one of the best in the league this year, while Kenny Ladler is back at free safety.
First I would expect the Black and Gold game to be very entertaining. James Franklin wants to put on a show for the fans, so I would not expect him to hold anything back. The depth on the offensive line will allow this to be a very competitive atmosphere. The “wildcat” formation will be featured on offense as will Jordan Matthews. Austyn Carta-Samuels who did start versus Presbyterian last year needs to have a good day in front of the big crowd. He has distanced himself just a bit from Josh Grady and Patton Robinette. Both of those guys will look to make an impression on offensive coordinator John Donovan. The defense should be fun to watch in passing situations because of the playmakers at defensive end. The Commodores forced only 18 turnovers last year, after garnering 29 the year before. There has been a major emphasis on creating turnovers this spring.