Five big question marks as spring practice begins

Spring practice begins Thursday at 4:00 p.m. at the John Rich Football Complex. With 11 starters missing from the 2002 season, Head Coach Bobby Johnson and staff will be looking for potential starters in key areas. As spring practice begins, here are five key questions for which the staff hopes to find answers.

1. Can the defensive secondary replace five graduated defensive backs? No position group was harder hit by graduation than the secondary. Gone are defensive backs Rushen Jones, Justin Giboney, Aaron McWhorter, Jonathan Shaub and Mike Martin.

Three key contributors from the 2002 secondary return in sophomore Dominique Morris, junior Lorenzo Parker and sophomore Cheron Thompson. This trio, along with redshirt freshman Tim Miller and junior college transfer Bill Alford will compete for two cornerback spots.

The two safety positions are perhaps the most up-for-grabs positions on the team. Sophomore Kelechi Ohanaja is a slight favorite to win the strong safety position over Ronnie Swoopes. Andrew Pace, who was impressive at times last year in limited action, may have a slight experience edge over junior Nick Lyle and redshirt freshman Ben Koger at the strong safety position, but the spot is just begging for someone to step up this spring and earn a job.

2. Can offensive line coach Robbie Caldwell find some depth? Help is on the way in August with five offensive line signees-- but until then, the offensive line corps is thin, thin, thin.

Jordan Pettit, granted a medical redshirt after fracturing his leg in the Georgia Tech game last year, will compete with Steven Brent for the starting center position vacated by stalwart Jamie Byrum. Brian Kovolisky is expected to move from right guard to left guard, and Mac Pyle, who last year became the first true freshman offensive lineman to play for Vanderbilt in five years, may emerge as the favorite at right guard. Justin Geisinger and Kenan Arkan are solid at the two tackles. Pettit is a fifth-year player, but there is not a senior in the bunch. Besides Geisinger, a two-year starter, the fivesome is low on experience.

Behind the first five are sophomores Ryan King, Steven Brent and Nigel Seaman, and redshirt freshmen Blake Luker and Adam Dossett-- none of whom have any meaningful game experience.

3. Who will step up at wide receiver? Dan Stricker and M. J. Garrett, who collectively made 90 percent of the team's receptions a year ago, are long gone.

Brandon Smith returns as the team's top returning receiver. He'll likely be paired with the talented Chris Young, who may or may not be rusty after sitting out last season for a redshirt year. Among the remaining four receivers, Grant Brigham might be the most polished. Keith Williams, Erik Davis and Jason Caldwell will get chances in the spring to prove that they belong in the rotation.

At tight end, Nick Getter may be the only senior starter on the 2003 team.

4. Can Otis Washington live up to the hype? The defensive coaches think the sophomore from Saginaw, Mich. could become the latest in a long line of great Vandy middle linebackers. Let's hope so... someone's got to replace the departed Hunter Hillenmeyer, who led the team in tackles a year ago. But the promising Washington has yet to play a down of college football; he sat out last season due to academic struggles.

Moses Osemwegie is another player to watch in the linebacking corps. Despite being hampered by injuries much of his freshman year, Osemwegie emerged as a Freshman All-SEC player. The third linebacking position is up for grabs, but with Herdley Harrison, Funtaine Hunter and Eric Byrum competing, there is some serious speed at the "Sam", and some serious competition for playing time.

5. Can Kwane Doster be dethroned at tailback? The Commodores' leading rusher from a year ago returns for his sophomore year as the favorite for the team's featured back position-- but remember, Doster earned his starting role only after a number of other candidates fell victim to serious injuries.

Juniors Norval McKenzie and Ronald Hatcher both showed flashes of elusiveness before going down with season-ending leg injuries early last season. It will be interesting to see just how much contact they can absorb after several months of rehab, and whether either can overtake the slashing, dashing Doster.

Behind them are Ian Gaines, who disappeared off the depth chart last year, and the diminutive senior Jason Bourque, who carried the load for the Commodores in the Tennessee game last November. Wild cards could be Matthew Tant, who last year saw time at tailback as well as fullback, and redshirt freshman Ron Bullock. Top Stories