What Johnson hadn't counted upon, however, was academic troubles sidelining one or two more of his potential centers.
Redshirt freshman center Chris Williams, who took plenty of the reps in the spring with the first team, has already been declared an academic casualty for the coming season. Meanwhile it came to light on Tuesday that Steven Brent, who started the first four games of 2004 at center, was in danger of missing the upcoming season, pending the outcome from summer classes.
"Depth on our offensive line is certainly a concern," Johnson said Tuesday at SEC Media Days in Hoover, Ala. "We feel like we have a good offensive line, but maybe not the backups and depth you need to be successful in the SEC. One of our centers has gotten in some grade trouble, so we're looking for some answers there."
Johnson did not name Brent by name, but it came to light later in the day that he was referring to the 6-3, 285-pounder from Georgetown, Texas. Asked later, Johnson declined to specify what Brent would have to do in order to become eligible, but did emphasize that there was still hope. Ed. note: Brent was dismissed from the squad late Thursday for "violation of academic team rules."
Johnson named two other players who could compete for the center spot: junior Trey Holloway and freshman Hamilton Holliday. Both would be newcomers to the position.
Holloway, a 6-2, 285-pound fourth-year player from Edmond, Okla., spent the last two seasons as part of the defensive tackle rotation and has seen considerable playing time there. The coaches experimented with Holloway at center last spring, as the junior had played on both lines as a high school player at Edmond-Heritage Hall High.
Hamilton "Hambone" Holliday signed with Vandy in February of this year and will be reporting to campus in a few days along with the 20-man 2004 signing class. Holliday, a prized signee at 6-4, 290 pounds, was a star on the offensive line at Marietta (Ga.) Walton High School, but played tackle there, not center. The staff would undoubtedly have preferred to redshirt Holliday, but the academic casualties could force him into action. "I'm just going in, and they can put me wherever they need me to play, and do whatever's best for the team," Holliday told VandyMania in June. "I've never played center before, but I'll give it my best shot and see what happens."
Center is a crucial position in the Vanderbilt offense. Besides snapping the ball to the quarterback, the center calls the blocking schemes for the offensive line.
"It's definitely a big concern, not having a guy who's snapped the ball before playing there," acknowledged starting quarterback Jay Cutler Tuesday. "But we have several guys that we'll be looking at, and I'm sure by the time the first game gets here, we'll be ready."