One of the highlights this spring for Vanderbilt coaches has been watching sophomore quarterback Jay Cutler accept an increased leadership role for the youthful Commodores. During a 45-minute scrimmage Wednesday, he displayed his remarkable playing skills. Cutler, who started 11 of 12 games as a redshirt freshman in 2002, was superb Wednesday, leading the offense to touchdowns in two of the three drives he directed. In each possession, Cutler threw precise passes and efficiently ran the Commodores' option attack. When no holes appeared, he simply used his elusiveness to make positive plays.
Cutler's performance was a highlight to the two-hour practice conducted in ideal weather, a stark contrast to the conditions Vanderbilt witnessed during its first seven practices. Cutler's play impressed Bobby Johnson, a head coach who typically aims his remarks at the entire Commodore team. "Jay had a very good day running the offense. He has the knack for making things happen," Johnson said. "Jay really worked during the offseason at making himself a better football player and he has been effective since the first spring practice. I am just as pleased with his leadership role on this team. He is becoming one of those guys who will do what it takes for a team to be successful." Cutler's ability to run the two-back offense resulted in the first touchdown drive, a 70-yarder capped by his one-yard keeper. Cutler ran the option ideally during the possession, handing off to sophomore fullback Matthew Tant, pitching to sophomore tailback Kwane Doster, or keeping the ball around end.
The offense line - tackles Kenan Arkan and Justin Geisinger, guards Mac Pyle and Brian Kovolisky, and center Steven Brent - repeatedly opened holes during the 11-play drive. Several defenders, including sophomore DE Jovan Haye, sophomore DE Antoine Morgan, junior CB Lorenzo Parker and sophomore CB Dominique Morris, made plays to stop the next three drives. Morgan stopped one series alone, adding a solo tackle for no gain after sacking quarterback Steven Bright for a 10-yard loss one play earlier. When Cutler returned to the offense, the unit successfully marched 30 yards for a second touchdown. Cutler displayed an aerial skills in the drive, hitting sophomore TE Dustin Dunning for a first down before finding sophomore WR Erik Davis open in the end zone for the touchdown. He also scrambled for a first down during the drive.
A pair of junior tailbacks that started early in 2002 before injuries, Ronald Hatcher and Norval McKenzie, also returned to full contact for the first time this spring. The coaching staff also used the scrimmage to find a more diversified role for Benji Walker, one of the team's most athletic players. For the first time this spring, the senior played wide receiver during three series. Walker has served as the team's primary backup quarterback for the past three years.
Haye, Lea Wear Gold Jerseys A cog in the Commodore defensive front and a walk-on fullback wore the coveted gold jerseys handed out by Johnson at the start of practice. The coach recognized sophomore DE Jovan Haye and junior FB Clark Lea. Haye has been effective throughout the spring, and has continued to improve after starting 11 of 12 games as a redshirt freshman last year. Lea, a native of Nashville who joined the team as a walk-on last year, has developed into one of the team's finest backfield blockers and is a solid special teams contributor.
The Commodores' Upcoming Schedule
The Commodores will return to the Rich Complex Thursday at 4:00 p.m., and are likely to practice in light gear Friday afternoon as they prepare for a practice/scrimmage Saturday in Vanderbilt Stadium. The Saturday session is expected to start at 9:30 a.m. Vanderbilt practices are open to Commodore followers. The coaching staff reserves the right to close a practice without notice.