Scouting Report: Elon Phoenix

Vanderbilt Coach James Franklin and the Commodores host the Elon Phoenix on Saturday (6:30 p.m. CT, CSS). After an excellent job recruiting over the summer, it's another step for Franklin in changing the culture for Vandy football. For Elon Coach Jason Swepson, who is also in his first year, it will be a tough road to climb as Elon takes on its first SEC opponent ever.

Elon, which finished 6-5 last year, returns six offensive starters including preseason All-Americans wide receiver Aaron Mellette and offensive lineman Rodney Austin. On the defensive end of the ball the Phoenix return five starters.

Mellette looks to take on some of the load left from graduated wide receiver Terrell Hudgins. Hudgins holds multiple NCAA Division I records including 5,250 receiving yards and 395 receptions. Swepson will look to use Mellette to create mismatches as he can be a huge downfield threat and may warrant additional attention. Freshmen receiver Andre Davis has stood out in camp and may get some early playing time as well.

Departed signal caller Scott Riddle who was the first person in league history to lead the Southern conference for four consecutive seasons in passing looks to be replaced by junior Thomas Wilson. The loss of stars Riddle and Hudgins will be ever-present for Elon as they look to learn a new system under Swepson.

The Phoenix's offensive strength this season will be its trio of seasoned senior running backs. Dontay Taylor will be used on the goal line as a power runner and short yardage back. A.J. Harris has great vision and Elon will look to get him extra touches however possible, including the screen game. Jamal Shuman who is known for his speed can also be a dangerous threat to break big runs. Elon will try to get this bunch involved in the run and the passing game as much as possible.

Anchoring the offensive line is star All-American senior Rodney Austin. Logan Hardin who took the spring off with a knee injury looks to be ready to get back in the mix as well.

Sophomore Gavin Billings who impressed coaches over the offseason will also get into the action at right tackle. Senior Andre Labinowicz had an excellent camp and looks to lead the pack at the tight end spot followed by Taylor Berry.

On the defensive side of the ball, linebacker Joshua Jones has been called the cornerstone of the defense. Jones and defensive backs Blake Thompson and Chandler Wrightenberry look to lead a young defensive side that includes no seniors on the defensive line. One true freshman who may get some early playing time is Gary Coates. Coates had a very impressive camp and has shined with his exceptional ability to get to the quarterback. Dale Riley and Jonathan Spain look to be the leaders for the Phoenix at the linebacking spot.

Vandy running backs Zac Stacy and Warren Norman should be able to take advantage of Elon's young defensive line and may be able to break big runs provided good downfield blocking. Redshirt sophomore Wesley Tate being moved to receiver has bumped redshirt junior Micah Powell up to take the number three running back spot behind Stacy and Norman. Getting the confirmation at starting fullback is Fitz Lassing who will try to create room for the contingent of Commodore rushers.

For the Commodore defense, Casey Hayward, who has been named to multiple award watch lists and Sean Richardson will lead Vandy in its extremely deep secondary. Rounding out the defensive backs on the first team are free safety Kenny Ladler and cornerback Trey Wilson. The ‘Dore defensive backs will need to key in and shut down Mellette as the All-American looks to be the Phoenix top playmaker. Coach Franklin has said one of the most athletic Commodore positions is the secondary and that has been evident through camp. There may be plenty of opportunities for others in the Vanderbilt stockpile of defensive backs to see playing time in nickel and dime packages as Franklin uses their athleticism whenever possible.

Vandy signal caller Larry Smith, who won the starting battle over the offseason looks to lead an offense that struggled at times last year. Sophomore receiver Jordan Matthews has wowed coaches and onlookers alike and the two will look to create a tandem to be reckoned with. Jonathan Krause and Udom Umoh round out the receiving corps and will look to improve on their play from 2010.

Vanderbilt has asked that all attending the game wear black to show your support for the ‘Dores. There will be a fireworks display at the conclusion of the game. Top Stories