Vandy slows down to learn on Thursday

After two weeks of emphasizing tempo and hustle during team drills, the Vanderbilt coaching staff slowed down the team's seventh official practice on Thursday with a slight change in focus in mind.

"Practice today was a little bit different – we did more of what I like to call ‘teach tempos,' kind of like a pro practice," said Vanderbilt Head Coach James Franklin after the session had ended on Thursday night. "We have some depth issues, we have a couple guys banged up, and what I want to make sure is that we have an opportunity to learn and get better and be able to scrimmage well on Saturday."

With redshirt junior Josh Jelesky and redshirt senior T.J. Greenstone joining the growing ranks of the injured players wearing red jerseys during practice Thursday, the Commodores went through practice with an extremely limited number of defensive linemen in particular. Defensive end Thad McHaney has not participated in drills all spring due to injury.

Several players stepped up and responded well on Thursday on the shortened roster, including sophomore defensive back Andre Hal. During 1-on-1 drills, Hal closed in to take the ball right out of the hands of receiver Brady Brown as he struggled to gain control of a quick pass and returned his interception for a touchdown. Later on in 11-on-11 drills, Hal came very close to making a great play for a diving interception and could be seen right around the ball-carrier as a result of good ball pursuit after several repetitions throughout practice.

Redshirt junior defensive end Johnell Thomas drew praise from defensive line coach Sean Spencer and the rest of the staff when he broke free multiple times during pass rush drills that featured individual and paired matchups between offensive and defensive linemen.

And cornerback Casey Hayward led off 11-on-11 drills with an interception on the first play from scrimmage, jumping an underthrown fade intended for Jordan Matthews.

Quarterback Larry Smith saw plenty of opportunities for his team to benefit from the slower-paced "teach tempos" throughout practice, noting that players were able to save their legs and work on details, among other things.

"For the offensive line and defensive line, that was huge for them to kind of get their legs back under them," said Smith, a redshirt senior. "And the receivers are learning just to read the coverage and stuff like that. I think it was real key for us to kind of slow down practice instead of have everything fast paced to get a better look and a clear picture of what's going on around us."

During a route-running drill for the receivers, Smith hit redshirt freshman receiver Chris Boyd in stride with a great pass over forty yards down the middle of the field with limited coverage. Smith connected with some of his other receivers for shorter completions during the live portions of 11-on-11 drills, including Udom Umoh.

The quarterbacks struggled to connect with the running backs on several pitches and exchanges during option plays that were in Thursday's practice.

"Today we had a couple bad pitches," Smith said. "It was just rust, being that we haven't run the option since last year, but I think we'll do fine on Saturday. That's why we're out here getting a little extra work, trying to fine-tune those things."

The Commodores head inside Vanderbilt Stadium on Saturday morning for their second scrimmage of the spring. Top Stories