NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Commodore fans will get their first chance to see the 2013 Vanderbilt football team this Saturday as the program will conduct an open scrimmage inside Vanderbilt Stadium. Gates will open at 9:15 a.m., with the practice to begin around 9:45.
The event is the first of two weekend scrimmages that will be open to the public during the spring football period. The second public scrimmage will be held next Saturday, March 30th. Vanderbilt's annual Black and Gold Spring Game will also be open to the public on April 13th.
Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin hopes to see a packed stadium on Saturday as a reward for not only the Commodores success during the 2012 season, but also for the members of Vanderbilt's heralded 2012 signing class that have yet to play in front of a home crowd due to redshirting.
Franklin also hopes to see a productive day for what will be the Commodores fifth practice session of the spring period.
"I'm hoping we can have a great crowd, a bunch of people in the stands," Franklin said on Tuesday following practice. "It will be the first time where it's a legitimate scrimmage. Here so far in practice, we'll have one minute of thud, one minute its tag-off, another period its live.
"The main thing I want to see is enthusiasm, I want to see emotion, I want to see guys flying around. We're going to see guys make some mistakes, that's fine, but I want to see them play aggressive and fast and confident. When you do a live scrimmage like that, you have a chance to see it.
"When we go in that stadium, it should be a special deal. That's why we pick and choose our times to go in there. That's how I want to see them play, and that's how I want the atmosphere."
The Commodores have not been inside the stadium as a team for a football event since Vanderbilt's 41-18 defeat of in-state rivals Tennessee on November 17th of last year.
In addition to the practice, Vanderbilt will also conduct its annual Super Saturday recruiting event this weekend. Nearly 150 prospects from the 2014, 2015 and potentially 2016 classes are expected to arrive on campus on Saturday to check out the Commodores scrimmage and learn more about the program as a whole.
Last year, the Super Saturday event sparked a couple commitments for the 2013 class, including four-star middle linebacker Nigel Bowden and three-star defensive end Jonathan Wynn.
Several Rivals100 and Rivals250 prospects, in addition to many other top targets are expected to be in attendance on Saturday.
The scrimmage is expected to conclude around 12 noon CT.
Vanderbilt dons pads on Tuesday
Vanderbilt staged its first full pad practice at the John Rich Practice Facility behind the McGugin Center on Tuesday. The 150-minute session was the Commodores first chance to mix in a bit of full contact hitting along with its regular fundamentals and competition drills.
The team competed through a series of 1-on-1, 7-on-7 and full 11-on-11 drills throughout the day, but also devoted some time to instructional and position drills. As with every practice, the Commodores also spent some time on special teams drills and playbook fundamentals.
Vanderbilt's popular "Dore Wars" was also made its first appearance of the spring, as an initiation to the first full pad practice. The Commodores also devoted a few series of full-contact goal line work later in the session.
"You know, I thought for the first day in pads, with some young guys, it was good, but we don't understand how to practice just yet," Franklin said. "What we do is called a thud tempo, where you hit the guy but you don't wrap and the defense gets a pursuit drill. The defensive guys want to all make sure they get credit for the tackle, so they hold the guy. The offensive guys though are falling to the ground and we don't want anyone going to the ground cause that's when you get guys in trouble.
"So they've just got to learn how to practice, tone down the testosterone a little bit and understand that we're out here to play fast and stick to fundamentals and stay healthy. We haven't figured that out a little bit."
The Commodore offense shined during the team drills, as senior quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels hooked up with receivers Jordan Matthews and Jonathan Krause for big plays down field, as well as running back Jerron Seymour for big gains in the short passing game. Redshirt freshman passer Patton Robinette also had his moments, finding receiver Chris Boyd for a first down. Walk-on receiver Trey Wilkins and fullback Blake Gowder also produced big plays during the team drills.
Gowder was especially impressive during the Dore Wars, as he twice got past the defense on runs. On one run, the 6-foot-2, 230-pound Georgia native bulled over a defender after shaking two other arm tacklers.
The offense shined once again during goal line work as senior running back Wesley Tate powered into the end zone for two touchdowns, and Seymour added another. Converted running back Derek King also got in on the scoring with a nice run to the corner of the end zone.
The defense did have its moments during the day, highlighted with a nice interception by senior All-SEC candidate Kenny Ladler and a pair of tackles behind the line of scrimmage for redshirt freshman defensive end Stephen Weatherly. Redshirt freshman corner Torren McGaster also had a good day, registering a tackle for loss during goal line work and picking off a pass. Senior linebacker Chase Garnham sniffed out a few running plays as well during the day.
"It's hard [for the defense], because you can't tackle, and you've got to be under control. It's the first day. The goal line, it's the first day, and the balls on the four-yard line, the offense has four downs to get it in. We'll get that ironed out after we watch the tape.
"We also had some class conflicts, so we were down a defensive tackle because he had some things to do today, but we'll get that ironed out."
Vanderbilt returns 16 starters from last year's 9-4 team, as well as nearly 45 lettermen from 2012 overall.
King adjusting well at running back
Derek King was one of the Commodores top signees in 2011 as one of the southeast's top athletes. The former Brentwood Academy star played both ways for the Eagles, but was projected by many to the defensive side of the ball for college.
King spent his first two years at corner at VU, but this spring, he's moved to running back and the adjustment has be rather smooth so far, according to Franklin.
"Derek's been a pleasant surprise. Not only on the field with his ability, but also as a learner," Franklin said. "He's been picking it up pretty good. I wasn't sure how he was going to look when we put the pads on, but when we did the Dore Wars today, he ran the ball pretty good. He looks much more comfortable there."
King played running back for the Eagles as a junior, rushing for 738 yards and eight touchdowns on just 76 carries.
Throughout Tuesday, he showed not only a good mix of speed and cutting ability, but he also displayed some surprising vision, reading his blockers and finding a lane for a big gain.
He nearly broke two runs for what would've been big scores.
"King's got the athletic ability, if you just look at his numbers and things like that, he's got athletic ability and he's 205 pounds, has a chance to be 210 by camp and so, that could be a nice little pick up for us if it works out well. It's like, it's one thing to get everybody on the bus, but you've got to get everyone on the right seats on the bus and he's a perfect example of that."
King's move to running back was in hope of creating some addition depth that spot, after the graduation of the school's career rushing leader and two-time All-SEC standout Zac Stacy.
Fellow back Jerron Seymour also impressed on Tuesday, producing a pair of big plays during team drills and showing off some of his skill in other assorted drills.
"I think everybody's kind of forgot the ability that that guy has" Franklin said of Seymour. "He's a guy, that when he touches the ball, everybody on the team stops and watches because his change of direction is unbelievable and it helps that he's got great balance. It also helps that he's 5-foot-5, because of his low center of gravity helps in his balance."
The sophomore out of Hialeah, Florida, redshirted last fall after serving as the Commodores No. 2 back as a true freshman in 2011.
Pro Day on Friday
Vanderbilt will host its annual Pro Day for NFL hopefuls on Friday at the McGugin Center. Ten graduating Commodores are slated to participate in a series of conditioning, agility and position drills before many NFL GM's and player personnel scouts. Official measurements and strength tests will also be conducted.
2013 NFL Combine participant Zac Stacy as well as standout defensive tackle Rob Lohr, three-year starting offensive lineman Ryan Seymour, two-year starting quarterback Jordan Rodgers and two-year starting corner Trey Wilson, are expected to headline the event. All four appear to be on potential draft boards heading into April.
Also slated to workout is linebacker Archibald Barnes, All-SEC punter Richard Kent, tight end Austin Monahan, defensive back Eric Samuels and defensive lineman Johnell Thomas.
The Pro Day event is closed to the general public. This year's NFL Draft begins on Thursday, April 25th and will run through the weekend til Sunday, April 28th.