Vandy runs final scrimmage before spring game

Judging from the growing number of players in red non-contact jerseys watching practice from the sidelines as Vanderbilt has progressed through spring drills this past month, it appears the Commodores may be literally limping into their Black & Gold Spring Game next Sunday.

Injuries and depth issues dampened Vanderbilt's 11th session of spring practice and final scrimmage held inside Vanderbilt Stadium on Saturday morning, and just a few days after head coach James Franklin expressed his concerns about creating the game-like atmosphere next Sunday that he had been hoping for, he looked ahead to summer workouts as a period when the lost progress this spring must be made up.

"One of the biggest things that we're going to have to do a great job with this summer with Coach Galt and in summer camp is still build the mental toughness that I'm looking for and how we're going to practice," said Franklin on Saturday. "The problem is I've had to cut practices back because of our numbers. So they still don't really understand how we're going to practice around here, and I talked to them about that today."

Only eight Vanderbilt linemen actively participated in practice on Saturday, a far below Franklin's goal of eventually dressing 16 linemen, and several other positions endured some shuffling of responsibilities and roles. Defensive tackle Vince Taylor was shaken up during practice after falling awkwardly under a pile of players during contact drills.

Football strength and conditioning director Dwight Galt will factor in prominently in the process of building the team's competitive mentality up to the coaches' standards.

"This summer, Coach Galt's going to work them really good," Franklin said. "Camp is going to be really difficult, because I still think mental toughness is an area we can really improve."

Once the scrimmage got started, standout plays on each side of the ball came early and often on Saturday. On the second play of the scrimmage, Larry Smith connected with receiver Jordan Matthews for a 95-yard touchdown pass after Matthews broke free behind the defense down the left side. The defense responded quickly, recovering a fumbled exchange in the backfield at the goal line and then pressuring Smith into a safety.

Matthews would later add a second touchdown catch after he outran his defender up the middle of the field and hauled in a pass thrown with a considerable amount of touch by Smith.

The first-team defense dominated its first encounter of the day with the first-team offense. Defensive tackle Colt Nichter stripped Smith of the ball in the pocket and then teamed up with defensive end Kyle Woestmann to force a sack in the backfield with concentrated pressure. Then sophomore linebacker Chase Garnham broke completely free off the left side for what would have been a clear sack of Smith before the play was blown dead.

The secondary got into the act when cornerback Andre Hal cut under his receiver to pick off an underthrown ball by Charlie Goro after the offense had come within field goal range. Senior safety Sean Richardson praised Hal and the rest of the younger contributors in the secondary for their growth this spring under the tutelage of safeties coach Bob Shoop and defensive backs coach Wesley McGriff.

"They're developing well," said Richardson after practice. "Kenny Ladler, Trey Wilson, Eddie Foster are playing a lot – all of them. Everyone's stepping in and doing their job, and it's just like they said in the meeting room: If one man goes down, the next man has to come in and step up and be a leader to fill in that position. And that's what they're doing."

Running backs Zac Stacy and Wesley Tate each scored during goal line drills toward the end of practice, and Brandon Barden and Jonathan Krause added touchdown receptions. As an extra competitive element to end the practice, Franklin had kickers Carey Spear and Ryan Fowler kick field goals from around 35 and then 45 yards out with the entire team watching, with each missed kick punished by a full-team sprint.

The Commodores return to practice on Tuesday evening at the John Rich Practice Complex. Top Stories