Vanderbilt Defensive line: What to expect

Coach Bobby Johnson begins the 2006 season trying to sort out who will step into the quarterback position after the graduation of All-SEC performer Jay Cutler. The bigger challenge might be who will be playing on the defensive line for the Commodores. That unit has taken a hit of attrition of players.

The Vanderbilt football has lost its defensive line coach to Alabama along with senior starters Herdley Harrison and Ralph McKenzie to graduation. David Carter and Lamar Divens have decided to transfer to other programs. The losses have added up along an already thin unit of players, but there is hope on the horizon.

In late February coach Johnson added Rick Logo to his staff as the defensive line coach to help bring a new approach to the squad. Upon his addition to the staff Johnson said, "Vanderbilt is getting a proven coach who will strengthen our staff and a young man that is driven to succeed. Rick will definitely be an asset to this team." His playing experience as a defensive lineman was welcomed and respected by the players. All the players seem to have bought into his approach and experience and are working on implementing his schemes to the lines play. Look for a different system on the defensive line that should help keep blockers off of the linebackers. This will enable them to make more plays. This should help to shore up the defense against the run, which is much needed. Logo's experience as a defensive coordinator should also help solidify the defensive staff.

Theo Horrocks (VM/ L. Yates)
Returning starters at tackle junior, Theo Horrocks (6-3, 290) and senior Ray Brown (6-3, 305), will both be counted on to be major contributors this fall along with returning starter at end senior Chris Booker (6-2, 260). With three returning starters across the defensive line most would think that it would be one of the strengths of the squad entering the season. However, the overall lack of experience beyond these players is a major question mark going into the season.

Junior defensive end Curtis Gatewood (6-3, 242) is expected to step into the other end spot vacated by Carter. Gatewood saw significant playing time last year after moving to end from the linebacker corps. Although a little light in body weight for a defensive lineman, his

Curtis Gatewood
Curtis Gatewood (VM/ L. Yates)
exceptional speed and overall strength should more than compensate for any shortcomings in stature. The Memphis native showed flashes of excellent play last year with 17 solo tackles and 2.5 tackles for a loss. He missed spring practice due to a foot injury, but has worked extremely hard to rehab his injury and appears to be ready to step in and contribute.

At tackle junior Gabe Hall (6-1, 300) returns with some game experience from last year, playing in the four-man rotation at tackle in nine games. He has worked very hard during the off-season in preparation for this fall, which has been noted by everyone on the team. He also appears to be ready as either a starter or at least a significant contributor at tackle.

Beyond the experienced players on the squad several other players will get a chance to get on the field this fall. Red shirt sophomore tackle Brandon Holmes (6-4, 285) and red shirt freshman Derrius Dowell (6-3, 275) will get an opportunity to step up and show what they can contribute. Both of them have had time to gain strength and size. Holmes could be used at tackle or end if needed this fall. True freshman Greg Billinger (6-2, 280) may also get a chance to see if he is ready to compete at tackle this fall as well. While none of these players have been able to contribute so far, all three appear to possess the size and skills to be able to play in the SEC.

Experienced backups at end are as sparse as at tackle although red shirt freshmen Broderick Stewart (6-5, 230) and Steven Stone (6-6, 255) stand ready to get a chance to play. Stone has used his red shirt year to put on twenty pounds to his frame and add much needed additional strength. He looked good during spring drills and is expected to work into the rotation at end. Stewart has the height and speed for the defensive line but still lacks the body weight that will be needed to stand up for a twelve game season in the SEC. He has a great speed rush that will enable him to be used on passing downs to help Vandy's ability to put pressure on the quarterback. Along with these two players, sophomore David Whittington (6-2, 255) will be given a chance to contribute at end. After switching from fullback he appears to have found a spot that he will be able to adapt to. His speed will help him with a good pass rush and hopefully he will be able make the transition very smoothly. Along with these players several true freshmen might be given the chance to contribute this fall. Teriall Brannon (6-4, 230), Adam Smotherman (6-4, 260) and Austin Newton (6-3, 215) all appear to have the initial size and speed to contribute, but probably only one of them will be playing this year.

While the defensive line will be one of the main concerns going into this season, there are capable players that appear to be ready to play under the new direction of Coach Logo. Early season expectations from the defensive line are low among experts, but the new attitude that's been instilled by last season's improvement and a new coach keeps this group of players focused towards their goal of a winning season.

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