Vanderbilt's defensive line has been the prevailing storyline during the first five days of preseason camp. The Commodores front not only looks to be one of the most versatile and athletic groups VU has ever seen, but the unit has also proved that it could be very disruptive.
One of the top defenders of the unit is fourth-year junior end Kyle Woestmann. One of the crown jewels of Vanderbilt's 2010 recruiting class, the Georgia native started to tap into his potential towards the end of the 2012 season, registering 22 tackles with eight tackles for loss, six sacks and a pair of forced fumbles.
The 6-foot-3, 255-pound prospect looks to have locked up one of the spots on the edge, though the Commodores depth at the position appears to be improving as each and every day goes by. For a veteran like Woestmann, it's hard to keep in his excitement for the unit's potential.
"Overall, we're coming along. Today was a good day for the defense but we're going to have days like that, there's going to be days where the offense whips our butt," Woestmann told VandySports.com on Monday. "I hope not and I don't plan on it, but it could happen and I'm excited because those are the days that we're really going to grow and they're going to grow. I think we're right on track for being able to come out on August 29th and be the Vanderbilt that we plan on being from there and through the season."
Woestmann was quick to point out the progress of several of his teammates, including the early favorite for MVP, fellow fourth-year junior defensive tackle Vince Taylor.
"First thing I've got to say is look at Vince Taylor. He's looking on another level, freakish, top caliber SEC player. He's got great hands, great motor, his conditioning has excelled, it's come a long way since we first got here, him and I came in together. He's just really evolved into the freak athlete and football player that he is. He's just finally getting it altogether to just dominate opponents.
"Another guy at D-tackle, Jared Morse, coming back, he just has great punch, a real hard, gritty player. He does what it takes to get it done and he does it well. Then you've got Adam Butler and Barron Dixon, two over-sized, skilled athletes. I mean, they are big boys but they both have nimble feet and they are really starting to mature along the line. Adam's becoming a nimble athlete to me. Then Barron has some of the best footwork and probably has the highest ceiling and he's just continuing to try to reach that. Once he does, he's going to be phenomenal.
"At the ends, you've got young guys like Landon Stokes. Today, he was really playing like big boy football, really getting after the quarterback, using his hands well, getting off well. Then Jonathan Wynn, yesterday, was phenomenal too, and came out today with force. He has an incredible motor. I told him that as a freshman, he's not going to know what to do, but the one thing he does need to do is go hard and he's doing that better than anyone else on this team. That dude's motor is unreal.
"Move up to Stephen Weatherly, he's always had the ability, he just needed to mature and he's really starting to come along. He's practiced consistently well for four days straight and that's been a big step for him. Jimmy Stewart's just a hard worker, that's the best way to describe him. He's got great work ethic, a good kid, just doesn't stop because he wants to play hard and be a good player in the SEC. Not just a guy that does his job, he wants to dominate. His pass rush has started to get a lot more aggressive and he's much more physical. He's really starting to become a good D-End. Even as undersized as some of us are, we play a lot bigger than we appear and he's doing a real good job of that.
"Then Caleb [Azubike] and Walker [May], Caleb is just athletically, physically gifted beyond belief and he's starting to become a student of the game, starting to understand it. That's been the difference between Walker and I and Caleb, is we've all got the tools but as a football player, he's really started to develop. He's getting the mental side to become a All-SEC defensive end. Walker gets All-SEC mentions and stuff and that's cause athletically and physically he's got it and mentally, he's a football player. His football IQ is key to everything and he's coming back strong. He looks really quick, his hands and his hips, everything is coming in good. I'm really excited for his senior year because he's going to be a force to reckon with."
"That's our defensive line in a nutshell," Woestmann continued. "In my opinion, and I know I'm biased, but we have a bunch of dogs and it's going to be a good season for us. You look at the whole defense, and I think we played pretty lights out today. We gave up a couple of big plays and that's Shoop's biggest pet peeve but the only thing we didn't do is finish. Prior to that, we were lights out, and we got to make sure that we still have that motor within us so that we finish everything the right way.
"Coach Shoop says we're not ahead of schedule or behind, we're right where we should be and I think that's a great motto because that's how we are. We've got to work on finishing, eliminating any bad communication, so there's a couple of things we need to keep correcting but there's no reason why we can't compete on a national championship level as a defense."
Though Woestmann was practically grinning from ear to ear while talking about the potential of the defensive front, he was quick to point out that the Commodore offense continues to impress as well, especially in regards to the unit directly across from the defensive line.
"[Austyn] Carta-Samuels looks great, he got me today, I don't know he did it," said Woestmann. "It was like a magic show in front of my eyes, I got faked out bad and I give it to him. He's got great arm strength and he's really whipping the ball around. J-Matt and Boyd, they dominant receivers, there's just not much more you can say about them.
"The offensive line, as well as we did today on the D-Line, the unit I'm most excited about to watch is our O-Line. You're talking about some beefed up, big country strong boys that are going to go out and road-grade some people. I couldn't be more happy to watch them. We're getting them better and they are getting us better because they're big boys. You've got Wes Johnson, who's an All-SEC tackle, makes us better every day. Andrew Bridges, I'd consider a possible All-SEC tackle too because he has incredible technique and he's one of the fastest linemen overall on the team. His ability to be quick and deep, really helps me as I get ready to go against some big, slower 320 pounder, I can work them a little bit better because I practice against such a talented tackle."
"I like our running backs too. Jerron Seymour, we call him the human joystick, I love to watch him cut people up and he's cut me up numerous times, has made me look stupid. Wes Tate, power back, he's the most explosive and incredible runner on our team. And then [Brian] Kimbrow, he's the speedster."
As one of the older players along the defense, Woestmann has noticeably asserted himself during both position drills and team portions of each practice, assisting younger teammates with encouragement as well as constructive criticism. The Marietta native feels like it's his job to help serve in more of a leadership role this year. He also believes that will in turn potentially make him a better performer on the field as well.
"Anytime you have a guy tell you that they look up to you or respect you, to me, is one of the greatest compliments you can get," said Woestmann. "It's definitely got me juiced up. That's what I strive for. The biggest thing that I bring to team, in my opinion, has not been some freakish ability, or anything like that. I mean, I plan on being one of the best players, best defensive linemen and pass rusher in the game and I've got this season and next season to make that statement, and I did okay at the end of last year by figuring out where I am effective at and what moves really aren't for me, but it's been coming into a leadership role that has really jazzed me up.
"To go and motivate with my work ethic and say to them that I did well at the end of the season because I worked hard. They have all the talent in the world and if they work hard too, they'll be 1,000 times better than me and that's what I see with Stephen Weatherly and Jonathan Wynn and Landon Stokes, these young guys. Its like, do what I do, and use your talent and in another year or two, they are going to be like All-SEC standouts. I plan to be All-SEC, but it's not going to be because I'm some freak athlete, it'll be because I'm determined to work hard and I've got these guys pushing me to be a dominant player.
"I want to do it because guys are counting on me. I want to make big plays for my teammates and my D-Line coach, Sean Spencer. The leadership role has been awesome to receive though, because last year I was playing a lot but I was a backup guy, so I really wasn't in that role until maybe at the very end of the year. Now I've been able to take that experience and try to up it a hundred times more and become a leader and respectable player and teammate.
"It just gives me that extra motivation for my teammates and God, and those are the only guys I'm working for. This has helped me see that, last year I was a guy concerned about my reps but I've learned that it's about taking the reps you have and putting it towards your best ability for the guys around you.
"I think that's going to elevate my game to the next level and it will help my teammates too because I know Walker is a hungry dude as well and if I'm getting there before him, all the sudden, I'll see him or Caleb, try to get there before me. We've got dudes that we can throw left and right, and I just can't wait to see them eat people alive. Getting a sack is great but seeing a teammate that you've helped get there too, is also one of the best feelings you can have. The celebration with teammates is better than individual celebrations."
Vanderbilt appears to be 10-11 deep along the defensive line heading into the 2013 season. Though the program lost three starters from last year's unit, it returns eight players that received substantial reps last fall. It also features seven younger players that have the physical size and skill to play this fall as well, if needed.