The Robertson Report

[Premium article] Will the Vanderbilt Commodores break their bowl less streak this season under new coach Bobby Johnson? Read what Steve Robertson writes in his pre-season Vanderbilt preview.

If nothing else you have to admit the Commodores are consistent. They added another notch to their unimpressive bowl less streak of 19. As expected, Coach Woody Widenhofer was relieved of his coaching duties. In 1999, Vandy was a win over UK away from a bowl berth. Before 2000, Woody guaranteed a bowl game to the 'Dores faithful fleeting flock but, sadly, didn't deliver. 2001 was pretty much over from the start after a loss to in-state up and comer Middle Tennessee State. The team limped across the finish line, but nearly pulled a late season upset over Ole Miss in attempt to give Woody one to retire on.

Welcome new coach Bobby Johnson. Johnson comes in after an impressive run at Furman that included two very impressive runs through the playoffs. Johnson has his work cut out for him and has some talent, but outside of Dan Stricker, they are all very young and inexperienced. The season will be a building block for things hoped for, but it could be painful again this season. Another year in the streak!

The first task for Johnson and staff is replacing Greg Zolman, who was arguably the best signal caller in Nashville of the modern era. My money is on redshirt freshman Jay Cutler, but it may be late in the season before he wrestles the starting nod from Junior Benji Walker. Cutler is the future, but Walker could be the transition guy to insure that Cutler doesn't get too much too fast. Both have strong arms, but Cutler has the better long term potential. Considering that Johnson is not on a win right now at all costs program, he will be able to bring Cutler along slowly.

The starter at Vandy will have a luxury that no other QB in the SEC has ever had. Dan Stricker is poised to become the SEC's 2nd 3,000 yard receiver. Stricker needs just over 700 yards to accomplish the feat and should easily become the SEC's all-time career leader in receiving yards. The current record is 3001 yards. Now be honest, who ever thought a WR from Vandy would be in position for that type of record?

The pickings get real slim after Stricker all over the offense. M.J. Garrett returns to play the opposite bookend of Stricker, but a host of underclassmen will be counted on for depth. This should pay dividends down the road, but there will be some growing pains.

The running game should be by committee, with Norval McKenzie penciled in as the chairman. McKenzie is the leading returner. Mike Adam should be the fullback of choice, but Matthew Tant will see action as well.

The offense line, which was extremely average a season ago, returns three starters. The center and the right side of the line return pretty much in tact while the left side is still up for grabs heading into the fall. The early favorites are Jordan Petit at LG and Kenan Arkan at LT, but a host of other underclassman await their turn in the wings. This unit will determine the development of whomever the starter becomes as well as how successful Stricker's record season becomes.

The defense returns seven players who started at least one game a year ago. DT Brett Beard leads a pretty thin front wall. The competition should be pretty thick as no one has really separated themselves from the pack. Senior Chuck Losey should be solid at DE, but outside of that your guess is as good as any. Several redshirt freshmen should plug the gaps and take their turns in the trenches.

The linebacking corps should be decent. Hunter Willenmeyer should be the man in the middle of the newly revamped 4-3. The bookends are up for grabs, but I still like Canton, MS product Marty Morgan. He will be a solid performer before he is done and after a redshirt year to put some girth on an already pretty solid frame, Morgan should be a force even as a 1st year player. Pat Brunner who played a year ago should see some action in obvious running situations. Doug Wolford should be the man on the weakside, unless Brandon Walthour shows some strides in fall practice.

If there is a group Coach Johnson should feel good about it is his secondary. Three starters return among a group that was decent at times, but was victimized when QBs were given all day to throw. With more pressure from the 4-3, this group should improve. Aaron McWhorter is about the closest thing the Dores have as a cover corner. He can't take away his side of the field, but he can keep opposing WRs honest. Rushen Jones has ability and doesn't tackle like a corner. If he can improve his cover skills a bit and not put the safeties in tough spots, he should be a good one. Justin Giboney will duke it out with fellow Senior Mike Martin for the starting spot as strong safety, but the position is Giboney's to lose.

The special teams are all new with two freshman kickers and backup tailback Ronald Hatcher doing the bulk of the returning duties. You could have former 2nd teamers emerge as the kickers, but that outlook is doubtful. Look for Johnson to go young all the way around the horn especially in obvious situations.

SCHEDULE
========
@ GA Tech
Furman
@ Auburn
@ Ole Miss
South Carolina
Middle Tennessee
@ Georgia
Connecticut
Alabama
Florida
@ Kentucky
Tennessee

This season will be ugly for the Vanderbilt faithful. With 12 games on the schedule, 9 losses look like a real possibility. The good news is that seven games are played at home; the bad news is that Vandy will go 0-5 on the road. The Dores will have to go 6-1 at home just to break even and that just won't happen with Florida and UT coming to town. The Dores used to always give Bama fits early in the conference schedule each year, but now Bama should be in full stride by the time these two meet in week 8. The Furman game has taken on new meaning with the coaching change. Johnson should know how to beat his old chums, but you better believe the folks at Furman would like nothing more than a win in Nashville.

Coach Johnson will make the Dores respectable before he is done, but this ain't the year for that. He will look to get these young kids some experience and have a good showing against his in-state rivals to aid in recruiting. Sooner or later the law of averages has to swing the Dores' way doesn't it? Maybe a juco kid or two could make an impact in years to come. Wouldn't that be a sight at Vandy, a juco transfer? Wonder what my old buddy Fred Smoot would think?

By the way, Vandy voted in favor of the "artificial" noisemaker's rule!

Until next week,

Steve Robertson
Matthew 7:13-14


Steve Robertson is a free-lance correspondent who writes The Robertson Report for the premium site portion of Gene's Page. Steve's email address is therobertsonreport@hotmail.com.

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