Who will start at running back?

While James Franklin has made strides in improving Vanderbilt's depth, the head coach of the Commodores has to deal with an inevitable part of NCAA life, losing players to graduation. Heading into his third season in Nashville, Franklin has to face the graduation of Zac Stacy, his toughest player departure yet.

While James Franklin has made strides in improving Vanderbilt's depth, the head coach of the Commodores has to deal with an inevitable part of NCAA life, losing players to graduation. Heading into his third season in Nashville, Franklin has to face the graduation of Zac Stacy, his toughest player departure yet.

Zac Stacy was a rock for Vanderbilt during his final season. Stacy earned a unanimous All-SEC Second Team selection by rushing for 1,141 yards and 10 touchdowns. With the 1,000 rushing season, Stacy became the first running back in Commodore history to rush for 1,000 yards or more in back-to-back seasons. In the Music City Bowl, Stacy racked up 107 rushing yards and a touchdown to win the game's MVP. Not blessed with overwhelming speed, Stacy was able to gain extra yards by making sharp cuts and breaking tackles.

Now that Stacy is pursuing his NFL dreams, the Commodores have three options at running back, Wes Tate, Brian Kimbrow and Jerron Seymour.

Given his seniority, Wesley Tate appears to be the front-runner for running back position heading into the 2013 season. At 6-1, 215 pounds, the redshirt senior has the size and speed to burst through defenses. Last season, Tate rushed for 376 yards and eight rushing touchdowns, posting an average of 3.5 yards per carry. Although Tate did not have many breakout games, he was most effective in short yardage situations and provided a change of pace from Stacy's in-your-face style. Now that Stacy is gone, the question is whether Tate can prove himself worthy as the team's primary ball-carrier. One advantage that Tate has is his ability to step out and catch passes as a wide receiver, a skill that Kimbrow and Seymour have yet to master. If Tate can outperform Kimbrow and Seymour, the Commodore offense could become even more versatile with Tate's versatility and athleticism.

Perhaps the most hyped running back on the Vanderbilt roster, Brian Kimbrow has also gotten plenty of attention during the offseason. In 2012, Kimbrow (photo at left) rushed for 413 yards and three touchdowns for the Commodores. What was the most striking about Kimbrow's output was his average of 6.3 yards per carry. Blessed with blazing speed, Kimbrow is a touchdown threat every time he touches the football. The biggest obstacle for Kimbrow is his lack of size. At 5-8, 180 pounds Kimbrow's frame leaves his susceptible to big hits, something he will have to get used to in the SEC. This off-season, Kimbrow will have to put on weight or prove that he can hold onto the football if he wants to earn the top spot on the depth chart.

The sleeper pick for Vanderbilt starting running back, Jerron Seymour, has been overlooked by the media since the start of spring football. Redshirting the 2012 season because of a knee injury, Seymour has regained his health and is wowed teammates and coaches alike with his change of direction in the open field. In 2011, Seymour rushed for 268 yards and five touchdowns for the Commodores, a notable feat considering his mid-season injury and the team's lack of depth on the offensive line. Listed at 5-7, 190 Seymour has the muscle mass to make up for his size. If Seymour can stay healthy the Florida native could surprise Vanderbilt fans by winning the running back spot. So far, health has been the only impediment to Seymour's young career.

Heading into the final weeks of spring practice, the Commodores are blessed with a wealth of speed and talent at the running back position. What's left for debate are the instinctual categories such as reading defenses, taking hits, breaking tackles and holding onto the football. Whoever can win the battle in those four categories will be the team's starting running back. Even though Tate, Kimbrow and Seymour have shown flashes in these areas, no one has leaped ahead of the competition yet.

NOTE: Brian Kimbrow photo above Mark Zerof of US PRESSWIRE.

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