Fans glimpse the future at Black & Gold Scrimmage

Saturday was one of the more enjoyable days I've experienced in a long time. On an absolutely gorgeous spring afternoon at <!--Default NodeId For Vanderbilt is 744,2005--><A HREF=http://vanderbilt.TheInsiders.com>Vanderbilt</A> Stadium, a crowd estimated at somewhere between 1,500-2,000 showed up to see <!--Default NodeId For Bobby Johnson is 391050,2002--><A HREF=[PlayerNode:391050]>Bobby Johnson</A>'s team conclude spring practice with the Black & Gold scrimmage.

Never mind that there was a war on. Never mind that there was NCAA Tournament action on TV. This day was just too nice, too perfect not to spend outdoors.

Never mind, either, that no one was keeping score, and that Coach Johnson just decided to make this into a glorified scrimmage where people were allowed to watch. Hey, this is still the South, and it's still college football (sort of). The crowd simply showed up to take the pulse of the Vanderbilt football program, and to see what the fall might hold for their beloved Commodores.

Hey, give the Athletics Department credit. It was "Fan Appreciation Day"-- admission was free, and all concessions were only a buck. (Some fans, I won't name any names, took full advantage.) An announcer called out the ball carrier, just as though it were a real game, and replays were shown on the JumboTron. First class!

Word filtered in just before the start of the scrimmage that Melanie Balcomb's Commodores had won their game in Norfolk. Also just before the festivities the 2003 captains were introduced-- sophomore quarterback Jay Cutler, junior lineman Justin Geisinger, and sophomore defensive lineman Jovan Haye. (Two sophomores and a junior as captains? The program showed only four scholarship seniors on the roster, and only one-- tight end Nick Getter-- looks to start.)

All three quarterbacks-- Jay Cutler, Benji Walker and Steven Bright-- got equal opportunities to move the team. Cutler, clearly the number one quarterback emerging from spring practice, showed the most poise, but had a tough day throwing the ball, completing just 5-of-15. Walker showed off his ability to create in the pocket with a couple of nice scrambles.

Freshman Steven Bright may have had the best passing day of the three, hitting on 5-of-12 passes including a 39-yard catch-and-run to Erik Davis for a touchdown. Much like Cutler and and Walker, Bright looked very agile in the pocket. Bright was also responsible for the offense's other touchdown, scoring it himself on a four-yard keeper play.

Jordan Pettit, who missed last season with an injury, sat out the scrimmage with tightness in his leg, and freshman Steven Brent worked with the first unit at center. Brandon Smith and Erik Davis started at the wideouts, with Chris Young also getting plenty of reps. Davis, who's had an outstanding spring, led the receivers with three catches and the day's only touchdown catch.

As in most spring games the defense carried the day, and lots of different players got the chance to impress Defensive Coordinator Bruce Fowler. Defensive end Jovan Haye, who has won the gold jersey three times this spring, led the team in tackles with seven total, and one sack. The linemen kept good pressure on the quarterbacks and batted a number of passes back to the backfield.

Among the new faces on defense-- Otis Washington appears to have won Hunter Hillenmeyer's spot at middle linebacker... Cheron Thompson and Dominique Morris started at corners... Kelechi Ohanaja and Andrew Pace started as the safeties. Ohanaja, a promising sophomore, probably delivered the day's hardest hit, on Cutler, and came up with an interception.

"The guys have had a better sense of urgency, and pride in their team this spring," said a pleased Johnson afterwards. "You've got to have that. To get it going, to instill in them to work and all the things they've got to do to be successful in the fall, it's got to start in January and go on through the whole year. You can't just crank it up in August and expect to be good."

Johnson's biggest concern going into the fall? "Depth at every unit, to tell you the truth," he said. "Right now we're pretty thin at offensive line and defensive line. Linebackers, every place is thin. Hopefully some of our freshmen signees will come in and provide depth at those positions."

A good number of those 2003 signees and their families were on hand, as well as a large group of impressive-looking high school recruits. Immediately after the scrimmage the recruits and signees and their families were invited to a dinner with the players and coaches at Memorial Gym.

The fans, meanwhile, were allowed to drift over to Charles Hawkins Field to watch Tim Corbin's baseball team take on Ole Miss. (Ah, more of the great weather, more of those $1.00 concessions.)


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