Tailback talk: VU duo to split carries

In only their second year on campus, they've been thrust into the role of veteran tailbacks. This pair of sophomores from East Tennessee will be largely depended upon to shoulder the load for Vanderbilt's ground attack in 2005. In this VandyMania interview, Cassen Jackson-Garrison and Jeff Jennings talk about sharing the load, the young freshman tailbacks, and more.

Jennings and Jackson-Garrison both saw limited action in their true freshman seasons in 2004: Jennings (6-1, 228) appeared in ten games, scored five touchdowns and picked up 135 yards on 46 attempts; Jackson-Garrison (6-1, 215), playing mostly fullback, appeared in five games and picked up 67 yards on 13 carries. Jackson-Garrison moves exclusively to tailback this fall. In the absence of Norval McKenzie (graduated) and Kwane Doster (tragically murdered), the two backs from the eastern portion of the state will start out the year at the top of the tailback depth chart.

"Those two are going to battle all year long, and I think we feel comfortable putting either one in the game right now," said Vanderbilt head coach Bobby Johnson. "It's going to be fun to watch those guys mature and get better.

"We're going to have some growing pains with two sophomores in there but thank goodness they both played a little bit last year and got some experience."

VandyMania spoke with both of them simultaneously at last weekend's Dore Jam.

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VandyMania: You two are both going to get a lot of carries this year. We tried hard to get Coach Johnson to tell us which one of you two he thought was better, and he just says you're both pretty much equal right now and will probably split the carries. Are you guys feeling good about that arrangement?

Cassen Jackson-Garrison: Yeah, we're pretty much similar, but there's a lot of things that Jeff can do that I can't do, and there's some things I can do that Jeff can't. But being the backs at Vanderbilt, we just both have to be durable. Our line is just as good as anybody else's.

Jeff Jennings: I think we both complement each other pretty well. We can switch it up a little bit now when we play in a game. Our line is really helping us out a lot now too. So when you put the two of us together with the line we have, I think it's going to work out really well.

VM: Jeff, last year they used you a lot in the third-and-short or the third-and-goal situations to get the really tough extra yardage. Is that something you're very comfortable with? Do you like diving over the top? It looks like it wouldn't be that much fun to me.

Jeff: Oh no, it's fun. It all works out. We're just going to try to play hard this year and try to get it done.

VM: You guys are both from East Tennessee. Did you know each other before you committed?

Cassen: No, but we did play against each other in a scrimmage one time.

VM: Jeff, what would you say is Cassen's best attribute as a back? And is there ever a time when you would say to the coaches, Cassen should get this carry instead of me? Or would you ever say that?

Jeff: (Laughs) I don't know if I'd ever say that! But Cassen is really a big back, and he's fast and very quick. It's really hard to bring him down, with that combination of great speed and power.

VM: Cassen, I'll ask you the same question about Jeff. His best attribute?

Cassen: He's also big, as you can tell. But for his size, he's very quick on his feet. I'm more of a straight-ahead guy, and I've got a few things that I've got that I'd like to bring out later.

VM: So we might see some things from you that we haven't seen from you yet?

Cassen: (Smiles) It's a secret. You've gotta wait.

Jeff: (laughs) Coming soon to a stadium near you!

VM: We hear you might be returning some kickoffs for us this year? That's not really a secret.

Cassen: Yeah, I've been doing that. I did it a little bit in high school, but not a lot. I'm taking over that job.

VM: Tell us about the new freshman running backs. You guys have had to mentor them along in practice so far. Tell me what you like about Daniel Dufrene and Jared Hawkins.

Jeff: Both of them are a little bit smaller backs, both of them very quick. But both of them run bigger than they are... they both run hard and tough and break a lot of tackles, and make a lot of people miss. They both have that breakaway speed, and they're both going to be really good.

Cassen: They're both very tough for their size. People look at them and underestimate them. They've already shown a lot of people that they're tough, and that size doesn't matter. They've got enough heart to show people that they can actually do it at 180 [pounds].

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Cassen Jackson-Garrison (22) and Jeff Jennings (21) will split the carries at tailback for Vanderbilt this fall.)

Photos by Brent Wiseman and Bryan Hufalar, copyright 2005 for VandyMania.com.

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