Spring practice for Vanderbilt kicks off on Friday with expectations as high as they have ever been for Commodore football. Unlike pre-season workouts and in-season practices, the spring is all about competition rather than preparation and it's about taking the next step from a personnel standpoint heading into the summer. Here are five prospects we're anxious to see this spring that will be crucial for Vanderbilt efforts to sustain the success that the program has built under head coach James Franklin.
Caleb Azubike was a specimen as a true freshman and tallied four sacks in 2012.
1. Jerron Seymour, RB
As a true freshman in 2011, we saw flashes from Seymour indicating that he could be an exciting, dynamic back in the SEC. The hope is that Seymour’s return in 2013 will help the committee approach to coping with the departure of the schools all-time leading rusher in Zac Stacy.
Seymour is a completely different back than the other two primary returning ball-carriers heading into 2013. Brian Kimbrow is an undersized speedster, the home-run hitter of the group. Wesley Tate is a big versatile back that has some between the tackles ability as well as a strong pass-catching skill-set. Seymour - with his 5-7 stocky frame – has the potential to be that darter that can provide some burst inside but also beat you to the edge, all while being a tough target to locate.
With 283 yards rushing to his credit in a year of work, Seymour is neither a proven commodity nor a total unknown but spring practice will be our first glimpse as to what we kind of contribution we can expect from him in the fall.
2. Caleb Azubike, DE
There isn’t much doubt that Azubike will be a contributor in 2013. In fact, everyone that follows Vanderbilt football has tremendous confidence that the future is bright for the 6-4, 255-pound defensive end. That confidence is exactly why we’re excited to watch him work this spring.
Rarely has Vanderbilt seen a player with as much untapped physical potential as Azubike on its roster. With four sacks as a true freshman, Azubike lived up to the pre-season buzz about his ability and the spring is an opportunity for him to take that next step.
Does Vanderbilt possess the type of pass rusher that other SEC quarterbacks and offensive coordinators fear? Few doubt that Azubike has that kind of potential but will he reach it as a sophomore? Spring practice will be a great gauge as to where he is in that progression.
3. Austyn Carta-Samuels, QB
There will be a quarterback competition this spring with Josh Grady making the move back to quarterback from wide receiver, Patton Robinette progressing in his second spring with the program and even true freshman Jonathan McCrary arriving on campus to throw his hat into the ring. But the job looks to be Carta-Samuels’ job to lose and most expect the former MWC Freshman of the Year at Wyoming to get the keys to the car.
Similar to his predecessor Jordan Rodgers, Carta-Samuels is undersized but makes up for it with some athletic ability. Where he separates himself from Rodgers is the arm strength to stretch the field more vertically, a great quality to possess with two of the country’s top outside receivers in Jordan Matthews and Chris Boyd at his disposal. This spring, we’ll be able to see Carta-Samuels take over that leadership role at the quarterback position that Jordan Rodgers occupied so capably.
4. Adam Butler, DT
It couldn’t have been easy for the defensive staff to pry Butler away from the hands of offensive line coach Herb Hand. The rising redshirt freshman was one of the promising young stars in that big 2012 offensive line class and he took it to upperclassmen from day one as a freshman last August.
Due to a pressing need and perhaps a greater opportunity to contribute on the defensive side of the ball, Butler will be making the switch to defensive tackle. He’s already shown the toughness and physical mentality to be an impact interior defender just in the way he plays on the offensive line. It should be fun to see how quickly and how easily he can make the full transition this spring.
5. Andrew Jelks, OT
As promising as the freshman campaigns were for Brian Kimbrow, Caleb Azubike and Darreon Herring, Jelks may be the most talented of them all. After redshirting in 2012 and adding some weight, Jelks is ready for the rigors of the SEC and should be ready to compete for a starting job with spring practice offering his first interview opportunity.
Athletically, Jelks may be the best offensive lineman Vanderbilt possesses. He has matured physically and spent a year in the program and his time to arrive is now. There are a number of talented young offensive linemen that will be exciting to watch develop over the next few weeks but Jelks leads the way.