Nashville, Tenn. - First impressions can often go a long way, so if Vanderbilt's first full-contact scrimmage of the spring indicated anything, its that Commodore fans will have lots to look forward to during the 2013 football season.
The Commodores impressed with balanced effort on both sides of the ball with a few hundred diehard Commodore fans in attendance during the 150-minute, 61-play scrimmage.
Starting quarterback hopeful Austyn Carta-Samuels completed 5-of-7 passes for 70 yards including a touchdown to running back Wesley Tate. The senior from California looked poised and accurate throughout the scrimmage.
The touchdown was one of three on the day for Tate, as the senior rushed for two more scores including a 69-yard breakaway run against the Commodores first team unit.
The Commodore defense rose the occasion on several other drives, stalling a few red zone plays, and staggering the offense on a few 4th down conversion attempts. Junior defensive tackle Vince Taylor, defensive ends Kyle Woestmann, Stephen Weatherly and safety Kenny Ladler were among the defenders to turn in big plays on the day.
"We talk about coming into the stadium and elevating our level of how we play, taking pride in our home and our stadium, and our turf. I think we did that for the most part," Commodore head coach James Franklin stated after the practice. "I thought it was good for our guys to practice in front of a crowd, and we had a decent crowd of fans come out, and recruits as well, so that was really good for us, we're excited about that.
"There's obviously still some things we've got to clean up, but there's some young guys getting some reps right now that they didn't get in the fall, and I think it's really good for us. I feel good about the progress we're making."
The Commodores feature 16 returning starters as well as nearly 45 lettermen from last season's 9-4 team.
Much of Saturday's focus centered around the running game as the Commodores attempted just 17 passes. VU was, however, a combined 11-of-17 on those attempts.
"We've got great depth at every position now, except wide out," Franklin said. "We're really thin at wide out this spring, partly because we've moved some guys to defense. It might not be in the best interest for spring ball, but I'm not worried about that, I'm worried about what's the best interest for this fall, especially since we've got those five incoming freshmen coming in, that we feel good about. So that problem will solve itself in time, but that's also why we are emphasizing running the ball right now."
Franklin was pleased with the production of Tate in particular, as the Commodores look for someone to replace the production of all-time leading rusher and two-time All-SEC performer Zac Stacy.
"We hope to lean on him, that's the ideal situation," Franklin said. "You want the one guy that you really feel like you can lean on, and then you have a bunch of other guys that you want to come in and rotate and do a bunch of things. He's ready, he's been in this program for a long time, he's seen it all, and it's time for him to step up. I have all the faith in him that he's going to do that."
Vanderbilt scored four touchdowns overall on the day, including three while working on red zone situations. Steven Scheu's catch off of a Patton Robinette in the corner of the end zone was the other score.
The Commodores will return to the practice field on Tuesday with a closed session at the John Rich Practice Facility.
Vanderbilt's next open scrimmage to the public will be next Saturday at 9:45 a.m. CT inside Vanderbilt Stadium.
The Commodores annual Black and Gold Spring Football Game will take place on April 13th at 1 p.m. CT.