Vanderbilt warms to contact in cold practice

On Thursday evening, Vanderbilt discovered a new advantage to the constant motion and tempo that new head coach James Franklin demands out of his team's spring practice sessions. With Nashville mired in an unwelcome cold snap, adhering to Franklin's fast-paced standards became the best way to stay warm.

"I saw a few coaches with their hands in their pockets, including myself," said Franklin after practice. "Most of these coaches, we thought we were moving south, and it didn't really feel like it today."

The Commodores continued to build on the basics throughout their second full-pads practice of spring ball, and as they adjusted to the flow of the drills, the team's playmakers stepped forward to make some impressive plays.

During 11-on-11 drills, quarterback Larry Smith connected on a back-shoulder throw to Udom Umoh down the left sideline for a 30-yard reception despite tight coverage. A few plays later, rising sophomore receiver Jordan Matthews left his feet to snag a quick pass from Smith along the same sideline.

On the other side of the ball, defensive tackle Colt Nichter and safety Eric Samuels each squared up ballcarriers on two separate instances for what would have been two huge hits if the drill had been run at full contact. Later in the drill, cornerback Trey Wilson jumped in front of a deep ball for an interception and weaved his way back down the field for a long touchdown return. Running back Zac Stacy noted how encouraging it was to see both defensive and offensive units "flying around" in Thursday's practice.

"We're just getting faster each and every day, getting in and out of the huddle, and the defense is flying around like they're supposed to," said Stacy. "First couple days, we were kind of out there like chickens with our heads cut off, but we adjusted well and got the feeling and the tempo of what practice needs to be."

The players also split up by positions for a period of blocking drills. Stacy and the rest of the running backs practiced 1-on-1 blocking and picking up linebackers on the blitz, while the receivers and cornerbacks simulated downfield blocking by going head to head in small formations.

Once again, Smith and Charlie Goro split the vast majority of the repetitions at quarterback, as Jordan Rodgers continued to limit his throws while recovering from the surgery he underwent in January.

The coaching staff brought in an officiating crew for the first time all spring to oversee several live drills and call penalties as they were committed.

"We're just getting their input in terms of things that we're doing well and things we need to improve on and making sure our hand placement on the offensive line is in the right place," Franklin said. "We're going to try to get them out here as much as we possibly can. Obviously they'll be here for the scrimmage on Saturday and some of the stuff we're going to do then."

Former Vanderbilt head coach Bobby Johnson was in attendance on Thursday and watched practice from the sidelines. Johnson retired in July of last year, leaving offensive line coach Robbie Caldwell in charge of the Commodores for the entirety of the 2010 regular season.

Vanderbilt's Pro Day will take place on Friday afternoon. Among others, linebacker John Stokes is expected to work out for scouts as a long snapper. The Commodores will hold a practice which is open to the public in Vanderbilt Stadium on Saturday morning, starting at 10:15 a.m. The practice will be one of two open to the public this spring, the second one being the Black & Gold Game on April 17th.

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