The time has come for round two of the James Franklin era in Vanderbilt football. Following a season in which the Commodores outplayed everyone’s expectations and an offseason that has seen “Anchordown” uttered by a totally new caliber of recruit, the season is upon us.
Officially, Vanderbilt kicks off the 2012 campaign with an Aug. 30 Thursday night date with South Carolina on ESPN. But the preparation for that date begins this Thursday with the start of pre-season practice.
As Thursday afternoon’s practice approaches, we take a look at five storylines to keep an eye on throughout pre-season work.
Who is this year’s Chris Marve?
The new look program at Vanderbilt suddenly has elite talent and it has depth. The departures of such talented defenders as Sean Richardson, Tim Fugger and Casey Heyward will sting but the program has gotten to a point that it can reach back onto the bench and find some talented players that have waited their turn. But Chris Marve’s departure leaves a hole in a spot that is much more difficult to backfill: leadership.
Marve presented a leadership quality that has been publicly praised by the coaching staff at Vanderbilt, notably James Franklin. He was a player that was a quarterback of the defense for Vanderbilt and was able to get the team lined up properly, make calls, make checks and make plays.
Is there a player waiting his turn that can fill that role? Archibald Barnes improved steadily over the course of his first year as a starter and could be poised for a breakout season as a senior. Chase Garnham had a lot of positive momentum during his sophomore year that was slowed by injury and a healthy junior year could see him emerge as a that leader of the defense.
With a long term perspective, Darreon Herring could be a player to keep an eye on as a future quarterback of the defense. The Stephenson High School standout from Georgia enrolled early in the spring and already looks like he has positioned himself for some early snaps.
More likely, "replace" is not a word you use in reference to all of the intangibles that Marve brought but a collective effort could keep the defense rolling in 2012.
Is there a quarterback battle?
Few players were more instrumental in last season’s success than Jordan Rodgers. Once the junior college transfer stepped under center on a fulltime basis, the complexion of the offense changed for the Commodores. The talent, experience and confidence that Rodgers brings back from one of Vanderbilt’s most productive offenses in recent memory should earn him the starting job once again but nothing is guaranteed.
Heading into camp, Rodgers will face competition once again with Austyn Carta-Samuels stepping into the huddle. Carta-Samuels earned Freshman of the year honors in the MWC in 2009 and put together a productive sophomore campaign before transferring to Vanderbilt and sitting out the 2011 season. Already with over 4,000 yards of offense to his credit in his college career, Carta-Samuels has the talent to make things interesting over the next few weeks.
How good is this backfield?
Or maybe the above should read: “how healthy is Warren Norman?”
Zac Stacey set Vanderbilt single season records last fall in rushing yards (1,193) and rushing touchdowns (14) but two years ago it was Norman who was setting the SEC on fire, earning Freshman of the Year honors in the SEC in 2009. Since that season, injuries have limited his production and caused him to miss all of 2011. But can he return to pre-injury form?
If Norman is back to his old self, his speed combined with Stacey’s power should complement each other nicely in the Vanderbilt backfield. Sophomore Jerron Seymour also looks poised to emerge for a breakout year after rushing for five touchdowns as a true freshman. In addition, true Freshman Brian Kimbrow was touted as one of the most explosive running backs in the class of 2012 and looks anxious to prove himself early in his Vanderbilt career.
There isn’t a better stable of running backs in the country than the group that sprinkles the rosters in the SEC but Vanderbilt is in a rare position to compete with any of them if things fall into place.
What freshman will make the biggest early impact?
As anticipated as any facet of fall camp is the official arrival of the freshman class and the class of 2012 is as highly-touted as any in Vanderbilt history. Several players are candidates for some early action starting with one of two early enrollees, Darreon Herring.
While Herring has the advantage of spring practice, there are a few prospects that come in physically ready to compete. Caleb Azubike is a raw, high-upside athlete but is as physically prepared as anyone as a defensive end. Jacob Sealand also brings a frame and the mentality to see early action at linebacker.
Reportedly the summer has seen the new defensive backs show loads of promise with guys like Paris Head, Torren McGaster and Brandon Banks impressing upperclassmen with their play in 7on7s and summer workouts.
And let’s not forget Kimbrow. The diminutive back could bring a new dimension to the Vanderbilt offense with his speed and big-play ability…or he could get swallowed up by the big defenders of the SEC. The speculation is over. It’s time to find out.