NASHVILLE, Tenn.- Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin addressed the media on Tuesday night as the Commodores prepare to kick off its 2013 spring football practice period on Friday.
After back-to-back bowl seasons under the third-year head coach, the Commodores come into the new year with even higher expectations, for both on the field and within the program, according to Franklin.
"I'm really excited about spring ball," Franklin said. "We've talked about with our players a little bit, and some of you have heard us talk about this before, that first year, we thought we could be successful. I thought that, our players thought that. Last year, they believed that we could be successful, and I think this year there's an expectation from within our program and with our players.
"I think the thing I'm excited about is that for the first time this spring and for fall camp, everyone in the program everybody in the program understands the expectations, how we do things, how practices are run, how we meet and how we conduct ourselves on and off the field. I'm really excited about the freshmen that have come in and the freshmen that are coming this summer because for the first time I feel comfortable enough to tell those guys that they can look at the veterans and model their behavior after the veterans."
Nearly 85 players are expected to participate in spring drills, including 16 returning starters and 43 letter-winners from Vanderbilt's 2012 Music City Bowl championship team that went 9-4 and finished ranked in the Top 25. The nine-win season was the first for VU since 1915 and the Top 25 finish was the first for the program since 1948.
"Right now, this isn't really Vanderbilt. As a team, this is really about the offense and defense competing, fiercely, against each other. It's always in the big picture about Vanderbilt, but my point is, in spring ball, it really should be about a battle between the offense and defense, on special teams or "wefense", we come together as a whole group and family, and then there should also be fierce competition at each position and we're finally getting to a point where we have that.
"You know, last year, if you guys remember, we had 7 offensive linemen for the spring ball. This year, I think we have, 15. And we have a two-deep that we feel really, really good about. Last year, we had a hard time developing a No. 2 QB because he didn't have a No. 2 line to protect him. We've got some of that at receiver, depth wise, and that's why we've got those receivers coming in.
"That's what I think people don't understand with depth, it's not just problems at that position, but at other positions. It can effect what Bob Shoop and John Donovan call. You know, we're a little thin at D-tackle right now, so we might have to call a little more 3-4 in the spring, and all of these different things and challenges that come with not having depth."
Due to depth issues at certain positions, several members of the team have made moves this off-season to different spots.
Quarterback turned receiver Josh Grady, has moved back to quarterback. Redshirt receiver Cory Batey has moved to safety, while fellow sophomore receiver Jacquese Kirk has moved to corner. Additional changes include redshirt freshman Adam Butler moving from offensive line to defensive tackle, and sophomore Derek King moving from defensive back to running back.
"We've made some position changes this spring, and probably the two that are the biggest is Cory Batey is going to move to safety, and that's been kind of a issue since we were recruiting him," Franklin said. "He wanted to play wideout, and we recruited him for both and gave him a opportunity there. He felt like it was in his best interest and the team's that he move to safety. We expect him to have an impact there and on special teams as well.
"The other one is Adam Butler. He's a kid that we thought had a chance to be special along the offensive line, but his movement is so good and his size is so good that he's going to play defensive tackle for us. That gives us another 6-3 plus, 300 pound guy inside. You guys know, as well as we do, that the game of football and in the SEC is played up front. We're starting to finally see some legitimate SEC depth along the offensive line and this will give us the ability to provide more SEC depth on the defensive line. So we're excited about that move and what he's going to be able to do for us."
"The other guy that I'd say is significant news with us is Josh Grady moving back to the quarterback position," Franklin added. "Part of the discussion with him the year before was that he wanted to play quarterback but too good of an athlete and too good of a winner to not be on the field, and felt like he could help us at wideout. He wanted an opportunity to go back to quarterback and be able to compete for the position and from an intelligence stand point, mentality stand point, and he's a winner, it wouldn't surprise me what he could do there.
"And another move to mention is Derek King. He played corner last year and he was getting bigger and bigger, and he's almost now at 210 pounds now. So we felt like he could go to running back and have an opportunity and perhaps create some depth at that position. We're a little thin there too. Athletically, he has the ability to do it. Now it's just how natural will the position come to him."
Despite the added depth at other spots, Franklin said that the staff won't change the program's approach when it comes to contact in practice.
"I think the most important thing is that we get to that first game as healthy as we can," Franklin said. "So we'll have live periods and we'll scrimmage, and those types of things, but we're going to take our approach like we have in the past. A lot of our stuff will be teach tempo, or thud where we don't go to the ground. Everything we'll do will be about staying off the ground except for when we scrimmage."
Vanderbilt will begin practice on Friday afternoon at 4:30 p.m. at the John Rich Practice Complex. The Dores will hold another session at the end of the week on Saturday, starting at 9:45 a.m. Per NCAA rules, teams can practice only 15 times during the spring. Vanderbilt plans to stage sessions every Tuesday, Thursday and Friday over the course of the next four weeks.
All sessions will be closed to the public with the exception of two Saturday morning scrimmages on March 23rd and March 30th. Both sessions will start at 9:45 a.m.
Vanderbilt's annual Black and Gold Spring Football Game on April 13th inside Vanderbilt Stadium will also be free to the public. Franklin encouraged fans to pack the stands for the spring finale. Tailgating is also encouraged and Vandyville will be open hours before the slated 1 p.m. CT kickoff.
"I anticipate selling the spring game out. When I say that, we obviously don't sell tickets to the game, but the stadium should be packed. We have a big baseball game going on that night too, so it should be packed and be a really good environment as well. I think that's important, for us to make a statement with a stadium full people to support, wear the Black and Gold, and having a great day with their family."
Some media outlets have already projected the Commodores as an early Top 25 team with the return of several standouts including All-American candidate Jordan Matthews, All-SEC performers Andre Hal, Carey Spear and Wesley Johnson, and other highly regarded standouts like Chris Boyd, Chase Garnham, Kenny Ladler, Walker May, Javon Marshall and Kyle Woestmann.
Spring ball will also give the fans the first chance to see a real extended look of the talented 2012 signing class including redshirt linemen Barrett Gouger and Andrew Jelks, defensive end Stephen Weatherly, linebacker Jakarri Thomas and defensive back Torren McGaster.
Class of 2013 members Johnathon McCrary, Vanderbilt's first U.S. Army All-American quarterback prospect, and Semper Fidelis All-American offensive line prospect Sean Dowling, will also participate in spring drills.
. Junior defensive tackle Jared Morse is currently off the team due to a violation of team rules, James Franklin stated on Tuesday. The Alabama native was a key contributor to the interior of the defensive line in 2012, making several starts in the place of the injured Colt Nichter. Franklin stated that there is hope that Morse is able to come back to the program by this fall.
. Rising junior defensive tackle Barron Dixon is not expected to participate in contact drills during the spring due to a minor, undisclosed injury. The Georgia native is expected to be ready for contact by August and challenge for a starting position.
. Approximately 23 walk-on, non-scholarship players, are listed on the 2013 spring roster. Most are veterans with the exception receivers Erik Allen and Alex Grecco, as well as kicker Xavier Morse. Allen is a 5-11 sophomore from Charlottesville (Va.). Grecco is a 5-10 sophomore from Warwich (R.I.). Xavier Morse is a 5-9, 165 pound kicker from Buckingham Browne Nichols High, the same school that produced promising freshman Rhett Wiseman on the Commodores baseball team.