SEC Preview: Vanderbilt

It's a pretty strong testament to the SEC East division that its weakest team is still good enough to contend for a winning record and a bowl berth. That's the case for the Vanderbilt Commodores in their sixth season under coach Bobby Johnson.

This is arguably the strongest team that VU has fielded under his tenure, with All-SEC caliber players in Earl Bennett, Jonathan Goff and Chris Williams. But the depth of the division will take its toll. The road slate includes trips to Auburn, South Carolina, Florida and Tennessee. And there's no doubt that when the Georgia Bulldogs come to Nashville they'll be looking for revenge after losing to the Commodores last season. The season finale against reigning ACC champion Wake Forest should be an exciting non-conference matchup.

Head Coach:
Bobby Johnson, 15-43 in 5 years
Offensive Coordinator: Ted Cain
Defensive Coordinator: Bruce Fowler

Projected Depth Chart (returning starters in bold):
QB Chris Nickson Jr.
Mackenzi Adams So.

RB Cassen Jackson-Garrison Sr.
Jeff Jennings Jr.

WR Earl Bennett Jr.
Alex Washington So.

WR George Smith Jr.
Bryant Anderson Jr.

WR Sean Walker Jr.
Justin Wheeler So.

TE Brad Allen Jr.
Jake Bradford So.

RT Brian Stamper Sr.
Thomas Welch So.

RG Merritt Kirchoffer Sr.
Ryan Custer So.

C Hamilton Holliday Sr.
Joey Bailey So.

LG Josh Eames Sr.
Bradley Vierling So.

LT Chris Williams Sr.
Eric Hensley So.

DE Curtis Gatewood Sr.
Quavian Lewis So.

DT Greg Billinger So.
Gabe Hall Sr.

DT Theo Horrocks Sr.
Brandon Holmes Jr.

DE Steven Stone So.
Broderick Stewart So.

SLB Marcus Buggs Sr.
Nathan Campbell Fr.

MLB Jonathan Goff Sr.
Chris Johnson So.

WLB Brandon Bryant So.
Patrick Benoist So.

SS Reshard Langford Jr.
Brent Trice So.

FS Ryan Hamilton So.
Joel Caldwell So.

LCB Myron Lewis So.
Josh Allen So.

RCB D.J. Moore So.
Darlron Spead So.

Special Teams
K Bryan Hahnfeldt Jr.
P Brett Upson So.
KR Earl Bennett Jr.
PR Earl Bennett Jr.

Offensive Breakdown:

Key Returners:
WR Earl Bennett, LT Chris Williams
Key Losses: FB Steven Bright, WR Marlon White
Key Newcomers: RB Jermaine Doster, QB Larry Smith

In Earl Bennett, the Commodores have an offensive threat that can challenge the defense of any team they play the season. The junior is already on pace to break several SEC receiving records this season. Chris Nickson returns for his second season as the starter and should be solid. Last year, he improved significantly as the season progressed. He's no Jay Cutler, but has the talent as a passer and runner to make the offense successful. The offense will also be bolstered by an offensive line that features five senior returning starters, led by tackles Chris Williams and Brian Stamper. Stamper returns after missing last season with a back injury and receiving a medical redshirt.

Defensive Breakdown:

Key Returners:
MLB Jonathan Goff, DE Curtis Gatewood
Key Losses: WLB Kevin Joyce, DT Ray Brown
Key Newcomers: DE John Stokes, RCB Jamie Graham

In years past, the defense has been a weakness for the ‘Dores, but this year's group is surprisingly stout. Defensive end Curtis Gatewood and Jonathan Goff key a strong front seven. Goff will play alongside fellow senior Marcus Buggs and a promising sophomore ‘backer in Brandon Bryant. The secondary is less encouraging, but Reshard Langford is a talent at strong safety. With seven underclassmen in the two-deep, inexperience will again make an impact.

Special Teams Breakdown:

The Commodores return both their starting kicker in Bryant Hahnfeldt and punter in Brett Upson. Special teams play has been very poor over the past couple years so hopefully a year of experience helps the cause. Bennett will again return kicks and punts.

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