With Vanderbilt’s spring practice in the books, here’s what we know and what we learned about the Commodores as we head into summer drills.
Vanderbilt finally took a step in the right direction in Derek Mason’s third year by beating Georgia, Ole Miss and Tennessee and qualifying for the Independence Bowl. With 16 starters returning, 18 including specialists, the Commodores feel they have the leadership, momentum and continuity to scale a little higher in 2017.
Vanderbilt Commodores Spring Practice Redux
1. So Much Still Hinges On Kyle Shurmur’s Development
Shurmur was showing unmistakable signs of improvement at the end of the regular season … and then he closed his sophomore year by playing one of his worst games as a Commodore in the bowl game.
While Vandy will lean heavily on the ground game and D, Shurmur is the fulcrum on which the 2017 season will pivot. Plus, the program lost depth and experience at the position when senior No. 2 Wade Freebeck announced on Feb. 27 that he was seeking a transfer. Shurmur was sharp throughout the spring and noticeably more comfortable with the offense and his receivers. He continues building rapport with a receiving corps that didn’t lose a single significant player to graduation.
2. The Backfield Will Be Among The SEC’s Deepest
When all else fails on offense, coordinator Andy Ludwig knows he can lean heavily on a collection of talented backs that grew deeper in March.
Ralph Webb is the ground game’s obvious front man, rushing for more than 1,000 yards in each of the last two seasons. However, the staff didn’t need to learn anything new about its senior star, so it gave more spring reps to junior Khari Blasingame and redshirt freshman Jamauri Wakefield. And both backups were very impressive, showcasing the physicality and giddy-up to avoid any drop-off when Webb needs breathers in the fall. Webb may be the workhorse, but Vandy opponents will be surprised later in the year at how tough it is to bring down his reserves as well.
3. Reshuffled O-Line Will Keep Staff Up At Night
Mason is maintaining a positive outlook, but the offensive line could be the Commodores’ weakest link this season.
You don’t get better by losing your two most valuable blockers, All-SEC LT Will Holden and steady C Barrett Gouger. The experiment of moving starting RT Justin Skule to the left side has gone well so far. But it remains unclear who’d fill Skule’s old job or who’s prepared to step up at the pivot. Fortunately, junior G Bruno Reagan is taking on more of a leadership role this offseason, and the program has shown a recent propensity for taking raw recruits and developing them into consistent and reliable road-graders.