Offense shines in Saturdays scrimmage

NASHVILLE, Tenn.- The Vanderbilt Commodores staged the first major scrimmage of the 2009 Football Preseason Camp on Saturday inside Vanderbilt Stadium. The team ran through over 75 plays on 20 different series from the line of scrimmage as well as several phases of the special teams including kick returns and punt returns as well as field goal and point after conversion attempts.
The Commodore offense showed a lot of promise during the scrimmage, featuring a balanced attack both on the ground and in the air. Heralded true freshmen running backs Zac Stacy, Warren Norman and Wesley Tate provided a good bit of excitement as the trio combined for well over 150 yards and accounted for three touchdowns. Stacy, a former standout at Centreville (Ala.)'s Bibb County High, had possibly the days biggest play when he took a pitch off of left tackle, eluded two tacklers and broke another on his way to a 70-yard breakaway for a touchdown. Stacy finished the day with nearly 100 yards on just five carries.
Norman, a former standout from Chamblee (Ga.), also provide some impressive runs, finishing off a 80-yard drive by the Commodores projected first team offense with a 18-yard touchdown run. The 5-foot-10 back later scored another touchdown with the "A" group when he made a nice inside cut and eluded two would-be tacklers for an eight yard score.
The other true freshman, Wesley Tate, showed some solid inside gains as well, picking up a couple of first downs during a handful of carries. Fourth-year junior Kennard Reeves, who impressed many during the Commodores regular season final against Wake Forest in 2008, also showed some solid ability and scored a 14-yard touchdown of his own. Overall, the Commodores had well over 200 yards on the ground during the tenth practice session of the camp period.
"We got a lot of live action and a lot of different situations and I think we found about a lot our guys," Vanderbilt head coach Bobby Johnson said following the practice session. "We had some good activity going on out there. I'm very pleased with the overall effort, but we can get much better, no doubt about that. But, we've got all of that practice time before our first game."
Sophomore quarterback Larry Smith and senior >Mackenzi Adams split time with the "A" group offense, with the competing duo combining for to complete around 65-percent of their pass attempts. Smith attempted more passes and threw for the most yardage on the day, but did throw a interception in the end zone towards the end of the practice. Adams did have the scrimmage's lone touchdown throw when he connected with junior receiver Turner Wimberly for a solid 26-yard score.
The Vanderbilt defense was without a few key players during Saturday's action including starting defensive tackle Greg Billinger and Steven Stone. Redshirt freshman defensive tackle Colt Nichter also suffered a ankle injury during the scrimmage and missed the majority of the action. The staff also decided to mix up the defense, injecting a number of competing reserves at linebacker with projected starting defensive linemen and defensive backs.
"We didn't have a lot of our first team defenders in there at the same time," Johnson said. "We were mixing them in, but the offense did well. I was very pleased about it. They blocked well and gave the guys some holes and some of those young guys really got up in those holes and took advantage of it. It was a very good performance by the offense. We're trying to be balanced so we've got to be able to run the ball and throw the ball obviously to be able to do that. Sometimes the defense gives you an alignment that you need to take advantage of running the ball, or sometimes you need to take advantage of it passing the ball."
Despite the offense's strong performance, the defense did make some big plays. True freshman cornerback Eric Samuels tipped a Jared Funk pass up in the air, allowing for sophomore strong safety Sean Richardson to pick off the pass and return it for a 48-yard touchdown. True freshman cornerback Eddie Foster also hauled in an interception when he picked off a Larry Smith end zone pass intended for Justin Green later in the scrimmage.
The defense, which seemed to respond in the second half of the scrimmage, forced a couple of fourth downs with big plays by junior linebacker Nate Campbell, sophomore cornerback Casey Hayward, redshirt freshmen linebackers Tristan Strong and Dexter Daniels, redshirt freshmen defensive linemen John Burrow, Johnell Thomas and Josh Jelesky and junior defensive end Theron Kadri.
Several Commodores missed the scrimmage, including Stone, Billinger and Nichter. Others that did not dress were senior tailback Jared Hawkins, senior safety >Joel Caldwell, junior linebacker Michael Garcia, and freshmen defensive backs Trey Wilson and Jay Fullam. All have injuries of differing degree except for Steven Stone, who was excused for a personal matter.
The Commodores will receive their first off day for the first time on Sunday. Though no practice is scheduled, the team will participate in Dore Jam, the squad's annual Fan Day activity. The free event starts at 4 p.m., at the John Rich Practice Facility. It includes a variety of interactive activities for kids, free football posters, music by Soul Incision, and autographs from both coaches and players.
. The Vanderbilt coaching staff is hoping to have several of the injured Commodores back later this week, including senior running back Jared Hawkins, cornerback Trey Wilson and defensive tackle Greg Billinger.
. Redshirt freshmen receivers John Cole and Akeem Dunhman were available, but saw limited snaps either during the scrimmage or in the warm up drills prior to the practice.
. Junior Reilly Lauer saw a good amount of action at right guard with the "A" group offensive line. The 6-foot-7, 275-pounder started 10 games at left tackle in 2008 but has seen action at virtually every spot of the line this preseason. Senior Eric Hensley is also competing for the right guard starting assignment after making seven straight starts there at the end of last season.
. Senior receiver Alex Washington led all Commodores in receiving with four catches for close to 50 yards. Turner Wimberly, Collin Ashley and tight end Austin Monahan had multiple receptions as well during the scrimmage.