George Smith seemed to come into his own late last year, catching 11 balls for 178 yards in the team's final two games against Kentucky and Tennessee.
The sophomore has taken the momentum from the end of 2005 and translated it into success this fall. Not counting players named Earl Bennett, Smith has had more big plays than perhaps any player in camp.
Monday night, Smith snagged a long touchdown over the middle, drawing the loudest ovation of the night from teammates and onlookers. Earlier, Smith took a ball away from safety Turner Wimberly, who had Smith well-covered but was unable to out-muscle Smith for the ball.
"It's exciting to think what he can do," said receivers coach Charlie Fisher before the start of practice last week.. "He's just, really, with the extra year he got, a redshirt sophomore, and it's exciting to think what George can do because again, he's another guy who continues to improve and has gained a lot of confidence."
Smith has good speed, but where he really excels is in using his strength to get balls in traffic. Smith and Marlon White give the Commodores a pair of tall, physical wideouts to compliment the smaller Bennett and Alex Washington, who have worked the middle of the field well throughout practice.
Should the group stay healthy, the Commodores should have one of the Southeastern Conference's best groups of receivers.
Bennett, Langford held out of practice
Bennett and safety Reshard Langford both missed Monday's practice after suffering leg injuries on Monday evening.
Both players spent much of the evening stretching out along the sidelines. Coach Bobby Johnson elaborated little on the condition of each.
"Day-to-day," said Johnson when asked about the pair's health. "We're not in any big hurry to try to rush them, either. We want to make sure they're well when they come back, and both of them are too valuable to try to rush back, when they know what to do and are very capable of doing it.
"It's just a leg injury," and, quipping after a long pause, "Hey, I'm not a doctor. I didn't even stay at the Holiday Inn last night!"
Johnson was asked if he was concerned about either injury.
"Oh, I'm concerned," Johnson replied. "You can't predict. That's why we want to be careful. The worst thing you can do, in my opinion—and again, I'm not a doctor—but in my opinion, you bring them back too early, then you try to get them well again, it's a vicious cycle. So to me, you get them well, make sure they're well, then get them back in the lineup."
Defensive tackle Ray Brown returned to the practice field for the first time. Brown missed the first three practices after returning home due to a death in the family.
Brown looked as if he hadn't missed a beat. The senior defensive tackle leveled an upperclassman in a pass-rushing drill in one of the night's more-impressive moments.
Steady Reinert practicing well
Walk-on Chris Reinert has the misfortune of playing at what is, by far, Vanderbilt's deepest and talented position. Otherwise, the redshirt freshman receiver might be in the mix for some playing time at wideout.
At just 5-foot-9, Reinert isn't physically-imposing. What he does, however, is run good routes and catch nearly every single ball he can reasonably catch. Reinert isn't a burner, but with his other skills, is fast enough to make a contribution at the division one level.
Unfortunately for Reinert, he entered camp as Vandy's ninth receiver. Redshirt freshmen Larry Simmons and Justin Wheeler are in the same boat with Reinert. The pair are VU's seventh and eighth receivers, respectively, heading into camp. Both have been solid and should contribute in the future, but right now, are looking up the depth chart at a number of upperclassmen.
Johnson gets creative with pass rush
With the team short on quality, experienced defensive linemen, Johnson is trying some different tactics to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
"One thing we're trying to do is get a pass-rush team," said Johnson. "People like Funtaine Hunter and those kind of guys—linebacker-type guys going in there and running, Quavian Lewis—those guys can be ends in certain situations and rushing the passer.
"We're looking at moving some of our ends, when we do that, to an inside position to take the nose and the tackles out. So, we'll be faster in there in certain situations.
"You can't do that all the time, obviously, or they'll run it down your throat. We'll pick our times and be selected, and we'll try to out-number them sometimes and get some blitzes or some pressure or some zone-dogs, maybe, to just make them think a little bit."
Johnson was asked if Vandy could generate pressure with its base defense.
"Well, you've got to be able to do that, because you've got to be able to match personnel. If they've got a personnel grouping in there, you're going to have your base guys in there. If they put an extra receiver in there, you're going to go to a nickel package, or if there are two of them, a dime package.
"You've got to be able to run all of your zone dogs and things out of different personnel groups of yours."
As is always the case at Vanderbilt, depth on the defensive line appears to be an issue.
"If I could go out and draft a few, or sign them off the free-agent list, I'd do it," said Johnson. "But we have to develop what we've got, and work hard to make them as good as they can be, and go from there. That's the only choice we've got."
True freshmen finding way
Several freshmen entered camp with a chance to contribute on either side of the ball. Johnson says the staff's getting a better feel for where each belongs.
"We're looking at several of them at just one place right now. We might give them another look elsewhere, like Adam Smotherman. We sort of like him at defensive line right now. Turner Wimberly, we like him at safety. Myron Lewis, we like him at safety right now.
"They're doing well. I don't think we'll move anybody right now. Matt Quinn's playing wide receiver, but probably his quickest way to the field is long-snapping. He's doing a great job of that."
Fellow freshman wideout Steven Goulet also made a pair of impressive catches during drills.
Wimberly, playing safety, registered a nice interception late in practice on a deep sideline pass. D.J. Moore registered a pick as well.
One freshman who might contribute immediately is Greg Billinger. The former Georgia commitment looks physically ready to play now, and seems to hold his own in practice work.
On the other side of the ball, the staff is converting Reilly Lauer from defensive end to offensive tackle.
Lauer is at least 40 to 50 pounds from being ready to play tackle in the Southeastern Conference, but runs extremely well (he and Joey Bailey consistently lead the linemen in end-of-practice sprints. Lauer also shows promise with his form and technique.
Caldwell pleased with Hood
Offensive Line Coach Robbie Caldwell is one of the more critical coaches on the Commodore staff, but one player he's had few issues with of late has been Elliot Hood.
Hood seems to be developing into one of the more valuable, versatile linemen on the squad. He can play either tackle or guard, and right now, seems situated as the top reserve behind All-Southeastern Conference candidates Brian Stamper and Chris Williams.
Hood seems to have come a long way in the last year. He's strong, has good feet, and does not easily give up the outside lane to pass-rushers.
Check VandySports.com daily for all the latest news and notes regarding spring practice. We will also be bringing you the best coverage around of Vanderbilt's opener against Michigan in Ann Arbor.