Recruiting: VU tries to round out a solid class

Vanderbilt's football coaches headed back on the road Sunday with the start of in-home visits. Bobby Johnson's staff has collected ten commitments thus far, with only 4-5 more scholarships left to offer. While a number of top-tier prospects have dropped off the list recently for various reasons, a number of new intriguing prospects have emerged. Here's an educated look at Vanderbilt's recruiting efforts as of Dec. 1.

As of Dec. 1, Vanderbilt is in the unusual position of having only a handful of scholarships left to dole out for the Class of 2004. With only about 14-15 scholarships open and ten of those already spoken for, the Commodores can afford to be very selective with their remaining 4-5 scholarships, and are holding out for some high-profile prospects.

The Commodores have already filled needs with commitments at running back (Cassen Jackson), fullback (David Whittington), tight end (Brad Allen), receiver (Bryant Anderson), and other positions. Where will the remaining 4-5 scholarships go? Here's a look at what we perceive to be Vanderbilt's biggest needs by position, along with some educated guesses as to what might happen between now and National Signing Day, Feb. 4.

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DEFENSIVE LINE: Bolstering the defensive line, especially at tackle, has been the top priority for this recruiting class from day one. The good news is that Johnson has already had some success, with commitments from Jeremy Gales (6-5 260, Columbia-Spring Hill, Tenn.), Brandon Holmes (6-3, 255, Garland, Tex.) and DeMarcus Bradley (6-2, 265, Springfield, Tenn.). The bad news is that truly outstanding defensive line prospects are always the hardest to recruit-- for everyone, but especially for Vandy.

The Commodores would dearly love to add at least one more from a group that includes Lamar Divens, Anthony Davis, David Brown, Neil Brown and Anthony Strauder. The Tennessean reported that Divens (6-2, 270, Fayetteville-Lincoln County, Tenn.) had committed to Vanderbilt a few weeks back. However, Divens still wanted to visit South Carolina, and the Commodores demanded an unconditional commitment. Vandy still hopes to land Divens, but recent reports had him favoring the Gamecocks. He will visit Vandy officially on Dec. 12, the first of his five official visits, and Johnson will likely push for him to reaffirm his commitment then.

Also visiting Dec. 12 is Anthony Davis (6-6, 235, Spring Valley, S.C.), a terrific rush end. Davis will receive in-home visits from Vandy, Clemson, Wake Forest and Duke this week.

The other three remain long shots at this point. David Brown (6-3, 255, Madison-Bob Jones, Ala.) has reportedly named Vanderbilt as the recipient of his fifth official visit, but Alabama is the team to beat. Neil Brown (6-2, 250, Buford, Ga.) lists Vandy among his 12 offers and has scheduled no visits yet; high school playoff games will likely prevent him from taking any visits until after the first of the year. Strauder (6-4, 275, Natchez, Miss.) plans to visit Vandy officially this weekend at last report, but may be hard to pry away from his home state.

QUARTERBACK: Vanderbilt loses Benji Walker to graduation, and should have three quarterbacks returning (Jay Cutler, Steven Bright, Lance Parker). From very early in the recruiting process, it appeared that using one scholarship for a dual-threat quarterback was a top priority for the class of 2004.

The leading candidates early on were Liam O'Hagan of Minneapolis-Breck, Minn., and Darren Mougey of Scottsdale-Chapparal, Ariz. Mougey visited Vandy officially the weekend of the Georgia Tech game, and Mougey the weekend of the Georgia game. Both had good things to say afterwards, and both remain uncommitted at this point, but subsequent reports have given rise to the possibility that Vanderbilt could still miss out on both.

A new face on the scene is Patrick White, a 6-2 quarterback who plays for what might be the best team in the state of Alabama. White leads undefeated Mobile-Daphne (14-0) into the 6A championship game vs. Hoover next Saturday at Birmingham's Legion Field. White rushed for 113 yards last week in the Trojans' 38-6 semifinal win over Vigor.

One other intriguing prospect is B. J. Merriewether, a 6-2, 194-pound dual-threat signal-caller from Jacksonville-Arlington Country High. Merriewether visited on Oct. 18 for the Vandy-Georgia game, and possesses many Jay Cutler-esque qualities.

PUNTER / PLACEKICKER: The Commodores must replace Abtin Iranmanesh, who handled both punts and kickoffs in 2003. Scholarship punter Kyle Keown will compete for the punting job in the spring as a redshirt freshman. Meanwhile the placekicking situation, handled in 2003 by the combination of Tolga Ertugrul and Patrick Johnson, was shaky at best.

With two kickers (Johnson and Keown) already on scholarship, would Vanderbilt offer another kicker a scholarship? That seems to be the $64,000 question. With so few scholarships to offer, the ideal situation would likely be to convince a great specialist or two to walk on. On the other hand, should the coaches find a Greg Johnson clone, someone truly outstanding in both punting and placekicking, a scholarship might still be forthcoming.

Here are six kickers who visited campus for the last two games of the year:
Scott Beckler P/K Anderson-T. L. Hanna, SC
Shane Normandin WR/K Dyersburg, TN
Greg Taussig P/PK Orlando-Lake Highland Prep, FL
Josh Dennis WR/P/PK Murfreesboro-Blackman, TN
Steven Hamilton P/PK Lilburn-Parkview, GA
Sean Meyers P Villa Rica, GA

OFFENSIVE LINE: Vandy loses Jordan Pettit, and has already landed a commitment from Marietta, Ga.'s Hamilton Holliday. Johnson recruited well at offensive line last year, and the need is not nearly as great for 2004. It's likely, however, that the Commodores would accept another commitment from a top-tier offensive lineman if they could find one ready to commit.

Fred Roland, a mammoth prospect who named Vandy his leader during the summer, has subsequently committed to Duke, while Brett Helms has committed to LSU.

Antoine Caldwell (6-4, 265 from Montgomery-Lee, Ala.) plans to visit on Dec. 12 and may be the leading candidate, but conventional wisdom says Caldwell will be hard to pry away from Auburn. Zach Smith (6-4, 280, Cincinnati-Moeller, Ohio), who visited Vandy the weekend of the Kentucky game, committed last weekend to Purdue. Another Ohio lineman who visited Vandy the weekend of the Kentucky game was Justin Decker (6-4, 280, Struthers, Ohio), who reportedly has an offer on the table from Vandy.

LINEBACKER: Vanderbilt loses middle linebacker Pat Brunner to graduation. The Commodores have already secured a commitment from the very athletic Jeff Jennings (Dandridge-Jefferson County, Tenn.) as an outside linebacker prospect, but would probably like to add another prospect who could play on the inside.

Here are a couple of linebacker prospects to keep an eye on: Leland Jones (6-2, 215, Atlanta-Douglass, Ga.); Brian Flagg (6-3, 255, Ripley, Tenn.); Forrest Cronia (6-3, 230, West Florence, S. C.); Jerome Felton (Madisonville-Sequoyah, Tenn.); Alfred Williams (6-3, 245, Atlanta-Westlake, Ga.).


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