(Note: Departures are still expected, so the roster could change)
For the first time in many years, Vanderbilt is set with their starting quarterback, so this spring will be all about letting the backups or underclassmen learn on the job and take as many reps as needed. Kyle Shurmur will certainly get those reps as well. The junior to be, Shurmur started every game behind center last year and slowly improved as the season went along. Shurmur will be the starter but who will back him up? Wade Freebeck is going into his senior season and is considered the lead candidate to backup Shumur but can an underclassmen unseat him during spring practice? Red-shirt freshman Deuce Wallace will be given every opportunity during spring and fall practice to show that he is ready to take that next step in his progression and show the coaching staff that he is willing to be the guy when called upon. Wallace is more mobile than Freebeck but the senior to be has the experience over the youngster from Sevier County. Shawn Stankavage is still a part of the depth chart at quarterback but injuries have really derailed his career in Nashville. If he is fully healthy, Stankavage will battle to find a spot on the Commodores two deep.
One of the deepest positions on the team, the Vanderbilt running back committee has talent, experience, size, versatility and depth. Vanderbilt will have one of the top offensive players in the SEC this fall in senior Ralph Webb. Becoming the Commodores all time leading rusher as a junior, Webb decided to return for his senior season and help take the Vanderbilt football program to bigger heights. During the spring, Webb will get his reps but expect to see the Florida native to sit back much more and allow the rest of the running backs on the roster an opportunity at making a name for themselves. It was big for Vanderbilt during the 2016 season to find Khari Blasingame, as he brought a physical nature to the backfield and is a great compliment to Webb's quick, home run hitting style. Blasingame will be back as a junior to give the Commodores a great one-two punch with Webb but this spring could be big for him as he continues to learn the position.
One of the biggest reason's Vanderbilt did not sign a running back in the 2017 class was because of how deep the running back position is. Behind Webb and Blasingame, the Commodores have several guys who have either had snaps in an actual game or has yet to see the field. Josh Crawford and Dallas Rivers have produced on the field while Jaire George and Jamauri Wakefield have yet to receive game action. Crawford is a quick and versatile back, who looks to be the 3rd option behind Webb and Blasingame. Rivers is another versatile guy who brings a bruising style of rushing but also can line up at fullback. Both George and Wakefield are big, physical backs who offer the same type of game as Blasingame but may not see the field too much during the 2017 season. Spring reps will be big for all of the Vanderbilt running backs.
The Commodore receivers stepped up in 2016 to give the offense and quarterback Kyle Shumur options to throw to and some guys who became dependable when called upon. It was a slow process for the receivers as it took several games into the season before they began to look comfortable. This spring will be huge for the receivers as the majority of them are veterans and should know how Shumur likes to throw the football. The Commodores return virtually every receiver that was on the roster in 2016. Leading the way is senior's to be, C.J. Duncan, Trent Sherfield and Caleb Scott. Duncan runs the slot while Sherfield and Scott are your outside, stretch the field guys. All three players had outstanding moments during the 2016 and are set to return in 2017 to give the Vanderbilt offense known playmakers and guys who can help teach the underclassmen. One youngster who stepped in 2016 was true freshman Kalija Lipscomb. The New Orleans native stepped onto the scene during fall practice and quickly established himself as a go to guy for Shumur. Lipscomb gives the position great depth and someone the team to look for to lead the group down the road.
While those four guys have the top four spots settled, Vanderbilt also has some young receivers who have the talent but have yet to be given the time to shine. Donaven Tennyson saw the field as a true freshman but was mainly used in jet sweeps or reverses. Tennyson displayed on a few occasions his speed and elusiveness in the open field. Red-shirt freshman Jackson Winrow is a long, fluid receiver who sat out this year to gain more weight and get more acclimated to college life. Both Tennyson and Winrow are two talented young receivers who should provide good depth this spring and fall.
A featured position on the Commodores offense, this tight end group could be one of more talented positions on the entire team. Right now it is unknown if Nathan Marcus will return for his red-shirt senior season but if he does, this group becomes even more dangerous. Marcus is a great run blocker and someone who offers good hands and solid route running. He is a great secondary option behind the rise of ultra talented tight end Jared Pinkney. The red-shirt sophomore to be, Pinkney burst onto the scene the moment he arrived in Nashville but in 2016, the Georgia native finally got the opportunity to see significant snaps and he did not disappoint. Pinkney is a big and athletic target that gives the Commodores offense a weapon in the middle of the field and someone who is a mismatch problem for defenses. Pinkney has all the talents to become All-SEC.
Behind Marcus and Pinkney, Vanderbilt offers great depth at tight end. Sam Dobbs is headed into spring practice with confidence after seeing his snaps increase last season along with the idea that he will be used much more in the 2017 season. Dobbs is another athletic tight end who shows great hands and the willingness to block. Kyle Anderton is the versatile, guy who can line up at tight end or even play in the backfield as a fullback. Anderton could have the best hands on the team! Yet another talent at tight end is Turner Cockrell. Redshirting as a true freshman, Cockrell is a tall and athletic guy who by all accounts, was one of the top offensive players on the scout team in 2016. Cockrell may still have to wait his turn but in time, this Georgia native has all the abilities to start at tight end, once his name is called upon.
Vanderbilt is losing a significant guy in Will Holden and a dependable veteran starter in Barrett Gouger but the remainder of the Commodores offensive line are returning and their is hope that this group could be even better in 2017. The biggest question headed into spring practice is finding a starter at left tackle. Many options the staff could choose from but the guy who could be given the longest look is Devin Cochran. Redshirting last season, Cochran was a highly recruited prospect who took the 2016 season to work in the weight room and continue learning to play along the offensive line. Cochran has the size, speed, athleticism and nimble feet to play the desired left tackle position and he could be given every opportunity to become the starter this spring and fall.
The center position is another key place the Commodores must find a replacement for. Several options are available for the staff but this spring practice could be big to finding that person. Right tackle and both guard positions are set as returning starters Justin Skule, Bruno Reagan and Ean Pfeifer established themselves as the starters during the 2016 season. Skule has a lot of experience and could slide over to left tackle if needed. Reagan and Pfeifer were big surprises in 2016 as both guys played good football and solidified the interior of the Commodores offensive line.
The top candidates to play center are Cole Hardin, Sean Auwae or even Pfeifer. The greatest problem Vanderbilt has is the versatility that most offensive lineman offer them. Pfeifer battled the last two offseason's for the center position, so he could very easily find himself starting there this fall. Bailey Granier is another guy who gives the offensive line options as he could play right tackle or be plugged inside at either guard position. More options Vanderbilt will look at this spring include Jared Southers, Darion DeBrossard and Braden Kopp. Both Southers and Kopp will compete this spring and fall to find themselves in the starting lineup and if that happens, it would be at right tackle. Vanderbilt is losing two strong veteran lineman but the depth is there and the talent has gotten better. This spring will be big for this position as several younger prospects will be asked to contribute much more.