NASHVILLE, Tenn. - A evening storm front that featuring a few strikes of lightening may have delayed the start of Vanderbilt's practice session on Tuesday, but it was the Commodores that brought some thunder during the team's first full-contact period of the summer.
The session started with the Star Drill, a variation of the Oklahoma Drill that is designed to test players blocking and tackling ability in small areas. It's also used to introduce younger players to full contact after months of no contact. Instead of the traditional defensive lineman matched up against a blocker, the Star Drill also includes a linebacker and defensive back as well as receivers and tight ends. A number of the Commodores freshmen offensive and defensive linemen were impressive during the exercise as were a few of the receivers and linebackers.
The Commodores also focused on individual instruction, position development, one-on-one matchups, and skeleton drills. Unlike Monday's practice, the increased humidity and constant rotations did not seem to effect the team's offensive or defensive execution during Tuesday's period. Vanderbilt finished off the practice with about 30 minutes devoted to full contact football.
"They played very well," head coach Robbie Caldwell said after the practice. "I think yesterday, when it was 7 p.m., it said feel like 111 (degrees) and so today, I think it was just 103. So it's been pretty taxing on them but they've handled it well. We might be a little slower, soreness is setting in there but if you played the game, you know that's going to be a part of it."
One the biggest areas of concern for the Commodores this season is the development of its young offensive line. The Commodores currently feature just four players with any playing experience and seven available freshmen and sophomores. Though the group is still learning to the ropes and trying to build cohesiveness, Caldwell says he saw real progress in his former unit on Tuesday.
"The defense has more depth over there, up front, and Coach Hand's trying to get five freshmen ready, so that makes it pretty difficult," Caldwell said. "It looks ugly sometimes but they looked pretty good today."
The session ending short scrimmage, featuring A and B team units, produced no touchdowns but did see the Commodores drive the ball to the red zone on the final of four series. Senior quarterback Jared Funk contacted on consecutive passes to redshirt freshman Brady Brown and John Cole to progress the Commodores down the field, but the drive stalled as Funk was unable to contact on three straight passes.
Sophomore running back Zac Stacy gained an unofficial 35 yards on four carries, including two first downs. Local walk-on running back Reece Lovell also recorded first down gains twice, including one long run that was sprung by blocks from true freshmen linemen Chase White and James Kittredge. Freshman receiver Trent Pruitt also provided a second level block to help Lovell gain a few more yards.
The defense also had its moments during the "live" action as freshman defensive tackle Jared Morse broke through the line to pressure quarterback Charlie Goro, allowing fellow freshman defender Thomas Ryan is registering a sack. Freshman corner Andre Hal also stripped receiver Jordan Matthews following a catch against the sidelines. The ball did go out of bounds though, allowing the offense to keep possession.
Junior safety Sean Richardson and sophomore corner Eddie Foster made interceptions during 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills.
Tate gets some rest
Vanderbilt received some good news earlier on Tuesday when X-rays on redshirt freshman Wesley Tate's foot came up negative. The promising 6-foot-2, 225-pound runner missed all of the spring practice period due to a foot injury, and had felt a pain in the same foot during practice on Monday.
Tate sat out Tuesday's practice despite the good news and is expected to rest for the next couple of days as well.
"He seems to be well, you know, it's time for us to rest him a little bit," Caldwell said. "He's got a sore spot on his foot still, he's got a screw in it but he feels good. He was not wearing his orthotic, which he's got to do that. It's just like most young people, they're hard headed sometimes, they don't believe cow horns will hook you, until they find out. He found out the hard way. He should've been wearing it all summer and he didn't, but that's just part of it."
Several other players were also held out of Tuesday's action, including a trio of linebackers: Nate Campbell, DeAndre Jones and Blake Southerland. All of the injuries are considered minor and the defenders are expected to be back soon. Defensive back Javon Marshall missed his third straight day and may not be back until a later date. Offensive linemen Chris Aaron and Justin Cabbagestalk remained sidelined with injuries as does senior defensive captain Adam Smotherman. Smotherman, who's recoverd from a ACL injury in the spring, worked out on the sidelines during the practice and continues to make progress towards a early return.
Senior running back Kennard Reeves and senior offensive captain Joey Bailey were held out of the second half of practice due to unspecified reasons. Bailey had been dealing with a stomach flu earlier in the week.
Don't forget about Tray just yet
Junior receiver Tray Herndon has quitely made several big catches during the first few days of camp. The 5-foot-10, 182-pound Jacksonville native caught a handful of passes on Tuesday including a jump ball against the sideline among two defenders. It may have been the catch of the day.
A transfer from the University of Minnesota two years ago, Herndon struggled to make an impact in the Commodore lineup last season, playing in only five games and catching one pass for 17 yards against Western Carolina.
While a lot of early focus has been centered around the Commodores four true freshmen receivers, Herndon seemed to be overshadowed coming into camp. However, he may now be making a case for more playing time this fall at the X or Y position.
Defensive line looking to build depth
While a lot of focus is on the offensive line, the Commodore defensive line continues to look like a position of strength for the Commodores. Senior defensive ends Theron Kadri and Teriall Brannon look to be on the verge of their best seasons since arriving on campus and junior defensive end Tim Fugger appears to have a starting role locked up as well. Sophomore Johnell Thomas and redshirt freshman Walker May also look to have significant roles while redshirt freshman Thad McHaney and true freshmen Thomas Ryan and Kyle Woestmann are competing for playing time as well.
The Commodores are hoping to generate a better pass rush this year and both Kadri and Brannon have made several plays in the offensive backfield so far this summer. Fugger, the strongest of the group, also appears to be quicker off the line than in previous years.
Despite being without Smotherman, the defensive tackle position appears to have more depth than a year ago with the development of four sophomores, Rob Lohr, Colt Nichter, Taylor Loftley and Josh Jelesky. Each has made plays during the Commodores first five practices. The emergence of the four, as well as true freshmen Vince Taylor and Jared Morse, has allowed decreased reps for projected starter and co-defensive captain T.J. Greenstone.
The Commodores featured just a four-man rotation at defensive tackle last season, and wore down as the season progressed and the defense was left on the field more and more. Vanderbilt would like to be able to rotate six players or more on the interior in 2010.
Defensive line coach Rick Logo is currently on leave from the staff due to a death in the family. He's not expected back until next week.