Offensive skill positions must produce

The long preseason is finally coming to a end. Tensions are rising with the Vanderbilt opening game against Western Carolina tomorrow. Commodore offensive skill positions, which will be protected by a sturdy offensive line full of veterans, must produce in order for the team to be successful. The good news is the Vanderbilt offense can only improve upon their 2008 effort.

They look to boost their offensive production with a newly implemented no huddle offense designed to keep defenses tired and on their heels. Here's a look at the offensive skill positions you'll come to know through out the season.

With the quarterback battle over between Larry Smith and Mackenzi Adams, Commodore fans now know that Larry Smith will be the Vanderbilt signal caller. Smith, a 6A Mr. Alabama football recipient, led Prattville to a state championship in 2006 and will now handle the task of leading the Commodores new no huddle offense. The newly appointed signal caller threw only two interceptions in a fifteen game season as a senior, something coaches hope he can continue to contribute at Vanderbilt.

Mackenzi Adams will back up Smith, a job he has plenty of experience with. Most notable last year was his performance coming off the bench in the national spotlight against Auburn by throwing for 153 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Commodores to victory. He's the most experienced signal caller Vandy has, playing in every game in 2008 and throwing for 811 yards and five scores. Adams will definitely get some playing time with the tough SEC schedule.

At running back Jared Hawkins a Texas native who still appears to be nursing a foot injury seems questionable for the opener against Western Carolina. Hawkins ran for 593 rushing yards in 2008 and led the team with an average of 4.3 yards a carry. He also had 16 receptions for 121 yards and a touchdown catch. There is no doubt his experience and knowledge will be vital to the Commodore offense.

Backing up the veteran Hawkins is freshmen Zac Stacy who rushed for 2,413 yards on 217 carries and scored 35 touchdowns while averaging 11.1 yards per carry during his senior year at Bibb County high school. Stacy has undoubtedly taken the chance he's been given with more reps in practice and is showing the coaches something they like. Look for Stacy's speed to compliment Hawkins knowledge effectively this year.

At the receiver spot senior Alex Washington is back after a knee injury kept him out for most of the 2008 campaign. He possesses key receiving skills that are utterly needed. Washington returned punts and kickoffs in 2006 and 2007. With D.J. Moore gone pro, Washington is also the teams most experienced punt returner. Look for him to contribute both on punt returns, as well as a veteran of the receiving corp.

Sophomore Udom Umoh is a two-time AAA state champion out of Georgia who looks to be the starter at the other receiver spot. In his senior year of high school Umoh caught 64 passes for 1,058 yards and 14 touchdowns. Umoh, who is also a standout sprinter, broke out last season in the Music City bowl against Boston College with three receptions for 29 yards, which were the first of his collegiate career. With the speed he exhibits Umoh should flourish in the new no-huddle offense.

The third receiving spot looks to belong to freshmen John Cole. Named Gatorade's Kentucky Football Player of the Year, Cole finished his high school career as Kentucky's all-time leader in receiving yards with 5,031 and touchdowns with 69. Cole returned two punts in the 2008 opener against Miami (Ohio) for 22 yards. He missed the final 12 games of the season injuring his knee in the opener. Cole is another one of the Commodore speedsters who won a 100-meter title as a senior.

At the tight end spot Brandon Barden and Austin Monahan should both share playing time this season. Barden, a high school quarterback turned tight end, had an opportunity with Monahan injured and made the best of it in 2008. He caught 28 passes for 209 yards and four scores and led the nation's freshmen tight ends. Monahan sustained a season ending shoulder injury against Ole Miss. His four catches in 2008 were all for first downs netting 45 yards giving him a very desirable presence down field.

No one knows how the 2009 season will turn out. Whether Vanderbilt returns to a bowl or returns to their losing ways will depend a lot on the players mentioned above. Hopefully these Commodore offensive players can get the job done during the 2009 season.

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