With the loss of punter Brett Upson, someone new will have to step up for duty and tilt the field-position battle in Vanderbilt's favor. This special teams unit will have two exceptional returnees, kicker Ryan Fowler and kick returner Warren Norman, to build upon this season.
Kicker Ryan Fowler returns as the placekicker for the Dores after an exceptional freshman year. In 2009, Fowler was selected freshman All-SEC and finished the season converting 16 of 21 field goals. He also nailed all 20 extra point attempts. Fowler's experience and talent will make him very valuable for the Dores' kicking game this fall.
Backing up Fowler will be freshman Carey Spear and walk-on Eric Freiman. Spear is a highly touted recruit who recorded a 61-yard field goal last season and produced 45 touchbacks on 66 kickoffs. Freiman, a former soccer player, displayed sound skills during spring drills.
It is still up in the air as to who will be the person to step into the slot vacated by Brett Upson. Coming out of spring practice redshirt sophomore Richard Kent is listed as the starter, but he will have competition from freshmen Carey Spear and Fitz Lassing along with Ryan Fowler. The Commodores' punting game has been a crucial component in a successful season; this is true because VU regularly has such a small margin of error. Kent looked good during spring drills but he should expect to get pushed for the slot by all three of the punters on the roster.
Fortunately the Commodores have two solid experienced long snappers returning this season. Place kick snapper David Giller returns for his third year as the starter along with senior John Stokes handling the snapping duties for the punting team. Along with the starters, redshirt freshman Conrad Quiros and freshman Andrew East will be working to improve should they be called to replace one of the starters.
All-SEC kick return specialist Warren Norman hopes to improve on the results from last season where he returned three kickoffs for touchdowns and averaged 26.2 yards per return. It should be expected that many teams will kick away from him and that means that Trey Wilson, Zac Stacy, and John Cole will get more opportunities. It appears that Stacy is the slated starter at punt returner. He looked very good during the spring drills but should be expecting competition from Jamie Graham, Wilson and Cole - all three men have the skills to help the Dores.
With the stakes so high in the face of this season's tough schedule, Vandy's special teams performance will be crucial in order to produce a successful year on the gridiron. With the guidance of coach Cain, this squad should perform at an even higher level than in seasons past.