Soaring! … Vanderbilt enters spring riding high

Ben Cook

March 19, 2013 at 11:42 am.


Wesley Tate (24) and Jordan Matthews (87) will be to go-to players on this year's Vanderbilt team. (Don McPeak-USA TODAY Sports)

There is something different about football this spring at Vanderbilt.

The Commodores open drills last week and will conclude on April 13th with the annual Black and Gold spring game. So what’s different about these spring drills?

“I’m 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,” said head coach James Franklin.

And that’s what is different. The Commodores will be able to draw off the past season and that has not always been preferable. In fact, more times than not, it would have been discouraged. But not this year.

For the first time since 1916, the Commodores go into spring football coming off a nine-win season. They will carry an SEC-best seven-game winning streak into the coming season. The Commodores, who have only played in six bowl games in their history, are coming off a bowl victory and three bowl appearances in the last five seasons.

“I’m really excited about spring ball,”Franklinsaid. “The thing I’m excited about, for the first time 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.”

Vanderbilt will be an experienced squad this season with 16 starters and 43 letter winners back among the expected 84 players who will open spring drills. Although quarterback Jordan Rodgers and career leading rusher Zac Stacy are gone, there is plenty of talent coming back and this time that talent knows it can win. That would not necessarily have been the case in the past.

The key will be to pick up the momentum Vanderbilt had when it beat North CarolinaState 38-24 in the Music City Bowl to finish last year at 9-4.

Replacing Rodgers and Stacy will be the main objectives before the 2013 season opener, but finding more depth at all positions will also be a priority.

Redshirt senior Austyn Carta-Samuels and redshirt freshman Patton Robinette are the top two prospects to take Rodgers’ spot. Carta-Samuels played behind Rodgers and completed 14 of 25 passes for 208 yards and a touchdown in six games last season. Mid-year enrollee Johnny McCrary will also get a chance to compete for the job.

The likely replacement for Stacy will come from senior Wesley Tate, sophomore Brian Kimbrow and redshirt sophomore Jerron Seymour. Whoever wins the job will have big shoes to fill after Stacy had back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons in his final two years. Kimbrow and Tate were the team’s top rushers behind Stacy in 2012, and Seymour, who redshirted last season, was the team’s third-leading rusher in 2011 with 263 yards on 81 carries.

While those position battles will be spotlighted this spring, Franklin will have three 2012 All-SEC players back — wide receiver Jordan Matthews, cornerback Andre Hal and kicker Carey Spear.

Additionally, the Commodores will also have a lot of experience back on defense in ends Walker May and Kyle Woestmann, linebackers Chase Garnham and Karl Butler and safeties Kenny Ladler and Javon Marshall.

The Commodores will open the 2013 season versus Ole Miss on Thursday, Aug. 29 in Vanderbilt Stadium with a seven-game winning streak, longest among all Southeastern Conference teams, on the line.