Players to watch:
The Commodore offensive line was one of two positions that head coach James Franklin expressed concern over after spring drills (the other was linebacker). Vanderbilt has seen numerous injuries that have kept this position thin over the past couple years. In 2009 James Williams went down early in the season and then in the summer before the 2010 season it was revealed that Williams would transfer due to academics. Last year we saw lone senior Joey Bailey go down to injury midway through the season which forced freshmen to fill the void and is not a good recipe for success.
Injuries are still a problem; during the April Black & Gold game the Commodore staff had to have linemen play on both squads because of injuries. Despite problems with the injury bug, there are some bright spots on the line one being the fact that multiple starters return from 2010. The Commodores also kept offensive line coach Herb Hand (photo at left) on Franklin's staff which should help in the continued development of Commodore linemen.
Redshirt sophomore left tackle Wesley Johnson headlines the list of returnees. Last season Johnson was a member of the all-conference freshman team and earned Offensive Lineman of the Week honors after the Commodores 28-14 victory at Ole Miss. Johnson's physical attributes and personality make him a great lineman. He holds his blocks well and has outstanding footwork. In fact, Johnson has already garnered the attention of NFL scouts. NFLDraftScout.com rates Johnson was the No. 15 left tackle out of 144 2014 prospects. Johnson also got some work at center during spring and could end up starting at that position.
Veteran guard Kyle Fischer is probably Vanderbilt's second best lineman and he is by far the most experienced with 37 career starts. Fischer has great size and decent footwork. He just needs to work on holding his blocks better. Thankfully Fischer was able to avoid injury last season which enabled him to start every game.
Right tackle Ryan Seymour was First Team 5A All-State as a senior at Camden County high school in Georgia. After missing the Northwestern game due to a violation of team rules, Seymour played in the second game and then started the remaining 10 games to finish the season. In 2009 Seymour saw extensive action and even started in the Commodores' game at Florida. He subsequently earned All-SEC Freshman honors during the 2009 season. If he can stay healthy and improve on his blocking technique, he could have a great season in 2011.
Last season Alabamian Jabo Burrow played in every game as a left guard and started nine games. Burrow, who played primarily on the defensive line in high school earning all-state honors twice, was moved from the Commodore defensive line during the 2009 season. He missed spring game due to injury. Now with some offensive line game experience under his belt and a fall practice coming up, he should be much improved in 2011.
Logan Stewart has a similar attitude as Wesley Johnson. He loves the game of football and wants to help his team win. This is a very coachable player who will develop into a fine lineman. He started out slow at center and switched with James Kittredge to guard. However, later team events led him back to center and he ended up playing in six games at the position. Stewart is a versatile player and could end up anywhere on the Commodore line but most likely guard or center.
Caleb Welchans (photo at right by Stan Jones) is a redshirt junior from Wildwood, Missouri. As a senior in high school he earned All-State honors while playing on both sides of the line. Welchans is probably the top reserve entering the fall and could compete for a starting position. He's got the size and actually started two games at right tackle and three games at left guard last season. During the spring game both he and Johnson split time at center.
Marietta, Georgia native Grant Ramsay is a player that many expected to make an impact on the line as a true freshman, however, because of a serious leg injury that impact never materialized. Ramsay played during the spring and could slip into the starting lineup or at least help solidify the line in fall.
Floridian Mylon Brown (Pasco High School) saw limited action in six games last season and will likely see some action again during the 2011 season.
Chase White, who played at Plano West high school in Texas, has great footwork and the right attitude to succeed at Vanderbilt. If he can just get his weight and strength up he could see playing time.
Andrew Bridges has done a great job adding strength and weight since coming to Vanderbilt. He weighed less than 240 when he signed with Vandy last year and has gained almost 30 pounds. Once he gets up to the 285-290 range he, like White, should be able to contribute on the Commodore offensive line.
Many Commodore fans are concerned that the Vandy staff has only one current 2012 commit from an offensive lineman. The reason for this is simple: the Commodores are already relatively young on the O-line and have five solid freshmen headed to Nashville in the fall. With hard work and dedication, Jake Bernstein (photo at left), James Lewis, Spencer Pulley, Joe Townsend and Jose Valedon all have a chance to see action as true freshmen. Bernstein and Lewis are the most highly regarded of the five but anything can happen at the next level.
Other Vanderbilt Position Previews
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