The biggest question about the quarterback position headed into spring practice was who would become the back-up to starter Kyle Shurmur? I don't that question was quite answered just yet. Red-shirt freshman Deuce Wallace and junior Shawn Stankavage went toe to toe during spring drills trying to establish themselves as the back-up guy. Both guys bring mobility and athleticism to the position but both lack game experience. If you had to give a leg up to one guy it would probably go to Wallace. The Sevier County native showed during camp his ability to run the offense, makes the proper throws but also give the offense a guy who can break down defenses and pick up yards with his legs. Wallace must continue to work on overall passing but his leadership skills in the huddle and his work ethic could eventually push him into the #2 role and a possible starting gig somewhere down the road.
Shurmur continued his upward trajectory as a quarterback during camp and could be primed for his best season in a Vanderbilt uniform. Offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig spoke highly about Shurmur and the way he handled himself and the offense during camp. The junior signal caller has been through the fire and wars and knows what it takes to win and compete in the SEC. Shurmur keeps getting better and better and if his development takes the next step in his game, Vanderbilt could not only be in another bowl game this season but also have a better overall record as well.
Possibly the deepest position group on the Vanderbilt roster, the running backs during spring practice showed out and proved why these guys could be big reason's for football success in 2017. The Commodores all-time leading rusher in Ralph Webb wasn't asked to do much during spring camp other than put his time in weight room and be the senior leader on the field. Everyone already knows what Webb can do on the football field, so he was able to get a few reps during camp but mainly rest and get his body back to 100% before the start of the season. The other backs in the group had a big opportunity to step up this spring and not only prove themselves but earn playing time during the upcoming football season.
Red-shirt freshman Jamauri Wakefield had a standout showing during spring camp and might have earned himself a role in the backfield this year. The 6'1 220 lb Florida native showed out camp providing power, speed, elusiveness in the open field and the ability to find the end zone when the ball was in his hands. Wakefield is a big back who has surprising speed and agility for a guy his size. Junior Khari Blasingame will still be the backup to Webb but the red-shirt freshman will certainly get his chance to shine. Blasingame received a lot of carries in camp and continues to get better the more and more he plays the position of running back. A great compliment to Webb, Blasingame provided the Dores offense a battering ram guy in the backfield last season, who could give you 5 to 10 yards a pop and keep the pile moving. He will again be asked to that this season. Junior back Josh Crawford also had a pretty strong spring. He is quicker and smaller than Wakefield or Blasingame but he runs with power and does a nice job running between the creases. It is going to be tough to spread around the carries in the backfield at Vanderbilt but this is a great problem to have.
This is the one offensive position that was sidelined during the spring period due to injuries or rest from post surgeries. The full group of receivers for Vanderbilt were not complete during camp but it was an opportunity for the one's who were healthy to receive reps and a chance at earning more playing time. Two senior returnees in C.J. Duncan and Trent Sherfield were healthy and both had solid showings throughout camp. The two senior leaders will most definitely be starters in the 2017 season but both will be asked to step up their games even higher due to pure depth among the corp but also because it's their last season's in Nashville, so they need to make the best of it. Fellow senior to be Caleb Scott sat out most of the spring due to recovery from surgery but he will be a big part of the receiving corp come the fall.
This spring was all about the young receivers for Vanderbilt and their continued development. Sophomore Kalija Lipscomb established himself last year as a dependable, good route running wide out and he continued to show those skills this spring. He will have some competition in the return game though from fellow sophomore Donaven Tennyson. The Virginia native looked much more comfortable this spring in the Commodores offense and could be poised to breakout this season as Vanderbilt's do it all, swiss army knife type player. He will be used in reverses, sweeps, bubble screens and more in this offense but could also become a game breaker in the return game as well. Another youngster had a chance to make a name for himself spring and Jackson Winrow might have done just that. A red-shirt freshman ,Winrow needed time last year to allow his body to mature into the college game while still learning his craft. That time off the field might of helped as the Oklahoma native showed out this spring with his strong hands and ability to make plays down the field. The development of Lipscomb, Tennyson and Winrow will go a long towards helping the receiver group out not only this season but in the future too.
Not as deep as the receivers or running backs but the tight end has three guys who are very talented and fourth one who is now ready to step on the field in 2017. The Commodore tight end's have been an important group of guys under the Coach Mason and this season will be no different. It all starts with receiving, blocking combination of senior Nathan Marcus and sophomore Jared Pinkney. Marcus provides a balance of run blocking and pass receiving as well as senior leadership while Pinkney is your athletic, big target in the open field. Both players continued their development this spring. Marcus was steady as ever while Pinkney continues to increase his skill set and work at becoming one of the top tight end's in the SEC. They are spelled by junior Sam Dobbs. The Peach state native has quietly gone about his business while on campus but could ready to contribute on a more consistent basis. Dobbs started to come on in the later part of the season and took that momentum into spring practice. Dobbs has gotten a bit bigger and seems more comfortable playing with his hand in the dirt. The 6'4 230 plus pound tight end is very talented and if given a complete chance, good shine bright and give the Dores another dependable receiving target. Don't expect too much this season from red-shirt freshman Turner Cockrell. The Georgia native is buried behind three veterans right now but that's ok because he can learn from those guys and continue to get better and that's what he did this spring. Cockrell is a well built young man who has the length and height needed to play tight end in the SEC. He is a good 4th option to have behind the top three options.
The big men in the trenches might have been the biggest story of spring practice and that's an inspiring thing to hear. It all starts up front in football and the offensive line is a big reason why the Commodores made it to a bowl game in 2016 season. The O-line will again will be a factor in the 2017 season but Vanderbilt will have to replace some good players who played a lot of games in the black and gold uniform. Right now the coaching staff is experimenting with junior Justin Skule at left tackle and so far the results have gone well. Skule has mainly played right tackle so far in his Commodores career but with the graduation of Will Holden, Vanderbilt must find a replacement and the Virginia native might give them the best option right now. The guy fighting him to play on the left side is red-shirt freshman Devin Cochran. Vanderbilt recruited Cochran to eventually become the left tackle and his work during spring practice could put him as the starter come next fall. Cochran is a big, long and athletic guy who displayed those traits greatly in camp. If continues his work in the weight room over the summer, he could be in serious consideration to become to Commodores blind side protector.
Having Cochran man the left side would be big for Vanderbilt as they could keep Skule at right tackle and be just fine on the outside. Finding a replacement at center is the next important thing for the staff to tackle but the good thing is, they have options. The guy to watch for is Sean Auwae-McMoore. The red-shirt freshman stood out this spring and will continue to be given every opportunity this fall to earn the starting role at center. Auwae-McMoore is a very talented guy who has enough versatility to move along the line but he will have to continue to fight off junior Cole Hardin, who has been in the program for several years now and could be primed to play.
The interior of the line at offensive guard appears set with Bruno Reagan on the right side while Ean Pfeifer mans the left side of the line. Both guys played admirable football last season and didn't do much during spring practice to give up their spots. Spring camp was better suited for guys like Bailey Granier, Braden Kopp and Jared Southers. All three needed all the reps during spring practice because the staff will need all three for depth throughout the upcoming season. Granier is the vet of the threesome who really is fighting for a starting role. If Skule wins out at left tackle, Granier could become the guy on the right side. He can also slide inside to play guard. Kopp and Southers are backup tackles and both are very talented with high upsides. Every player mentioned here had strong camps in their own ways and that's a good sign going forward for Vanderbilt. The Commodores will not start a senior nor have one on the depth chart this season yet will have some guys who played through some SEC wars. If this group becomes the strongest position group on the team for Vanderbilt, then the Commodores will find themselves in a bowl game again for the second year in a row.