Vanderbilt Team Report
In this pass-happy era, receivers and defensive backs are as valuable as they’ve ever been. Vanderbilt’s goal was to load up on both groups, and the Commodores accomplished that mission quite well on National Signing Day.
The Commodores signed five defensive backs, five receivers and three tight ends as part of a 26-member signing class on Wednesday. All 13 of those players were rated as three-star-or-higher prospects by Rivals.com.
One of those receivers could fill an immediate need; VU had trouble finding a reliable third target after Chris Boyd and Jordan Matthews in each of the last two years. Help should come from at least one of Jordan Cunningham (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.), Gerald Perry (Memphis, Tenn.), Carlos Burse (Alpharetta, Ga.) or Latevius Rayford (Memphis, Tenn.) and DeAndre Woods (Atlanta, Ga.).
VU lacked a big-time pass-catching tight end last year, but JUCO transfer Brandon Vandenburg (Indio, Calif.), Nathan Marcus (Glen Ellyn, Ill.) and Mitchell Parsons (Parker, Colo.) all were inked for help. Vandenburg is physically ready to compete now, and should make an immediate impact.
VU also got help from a pair of highly-touted quarterbacks in Chad Kanoff (Pacific Palisades, Calif.) and Johnny McCrary (Decatur, Ga.) to get them the ball. VU has just two returning scholarship quarterbacks, so both could compete for a backup job.
In the secondary, Vandy lost just one starter—cornerback Trey Wilson—but lost backup corner Eddie Foster and backup safety Eric Samuels to graduation also, and the other three starters in the secondary will all be seniors next fall. Darrius Sims (Memphis, Tenn.), Taurean Ferguson (Jonesboro, Ga.), Jalen Banks (Markham, Ill.), Ryan White (Louisville, Ky.) and Tre Bell (Union, N.J.).
That wasn’t the only way in which the class was a smashing success; VU’s class rated 19th nationally according to Rivals as of late-afternoon on Wednesday. It’s the highest-rated VU class in Rivals history.
Coach James Franklin, speaking on ESPNU on Wednesday, was open as to how he’s engineering a turnaround. VU finished ranked No. 20 in the final Coaches’ Poll last season, and now, Franklin has gathered his second-straight top-30 recruiting class.
“Well, we’re selling what you’re supposed to be selling: to come here and to have an unbelievable opportunity to get a first-class education and leave here as an educated man and prepared for life, and also the opportunity to play football at its highest level in the (Southeastern Conference), and be developed to put yourself in a position to play the game as long as you possibly can,” Franklin said.
“Vanderbilt’s about not putting all your eggs in that basket, and I think people are really starting to understand that and see it.”
Top Of The Class
LB Nigel Bowden (Macon, Ga.)—Bowden’s size (6-foot-1, 245 pounds), speed and motor give him the ability to shed blocks and make plays both downfield and in the backfield. There’s some room on the two-deep depth chart for a linebacker to make an impact, and Bowden, a four-star Rivals recruit and the No. 17 player in Georgia, could be that guy.
WR Jordan Cunningham (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.)—Perhaps the best player in VU’s class waited until the last minute, as Cunningham pledged to Vandy on signing day morning. The 6-foot-3, 175-pounder was Rivals’ No. 183 player in the class; he’s got the speed to get open deep and the ability to catch the ball in traffic.
QB Johnny McCrary (Decatur, Ga.)—despite having offers from heavyweights like Alabama, Georgia and Ohio State at various points, McCrary pledged to VU almost a year ago (Feb. 18) and stuck to his word. Rivals’ 10th-rated dual-threat QB in this year’s class hit 75 percent of his throws for 2,927 yards as senior, and played in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. McCrary, a four-star Rivals recruit and the No. 195 player nationally, has already enrolled at VU.
• The Commodores not only kept sought-after coach James Franklin in the fold, but have also retained all their assistants for next year.
• VU dodged a huge bullet when WR Jordan Matthews passed up an opportunity to go pro early to stay for his senior season. Matthews, one of the country’s top receivers, caught 94 balls for 1,323 yards and eight TDs in 2012.
• “The thing that’s exciting to me and our chancellor and our admissions department, that kid got up and talked about his 50-year plan, talked about getting a degree in engineering and being and entrepreneur, really saw the big picture. Really, that’s what Vanderbilt’s all about, kids that don’t want to sacrifice and want to chase both their dreams at the highest level, and Vanderbilt can provide that like no other place in the country.”—Coach James Franklin on ESPNU, on Jordan Cunningham’s remarks as to why he chose Vanderbilt.
Practice priorities: VU will need to replace QB Jordan Rodgers, who started 13 of 14 games and threw for 2,539 yards and 15 TDs against five interceptions. Wyoming transfer Austyn Carta-Samuels, who is a rising senior, should get first crack.
VU also lost a pair of seniors on the offensive line, which was already thin even with them. The Commodores signed six highly-regarded linemen in last year’s class; all redshirted and several will make an impact next fall.
Vandy also has a challenge in replacing Zac Stacy, its all-time leading rusher. Rising senior Wesley Tate should get first crack.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Key Losses: QB Jordan Rodgers, RB Zac Stacy, OL Josh Jelesky and Ryan Seymour, CB Trey Wilson, LB Archibald Barnes, DTs Colt Nichter and Rob Lohr.
Players To Watch In 2013:
QB Austyn Carta-Samuels—The heir apparent for Jordan Rodgers, the rising senior has completed 59.5 percent of his throws for 3,893 yards, 20 TDs and 13 interceptions, but hasn’t played much since his last year at Wyoming, where he started in 2009 and 2010.
WR Chris Boyd—Jordan Matthews may be a first-team All-American next year, but Boyd (50 catches, 774 yards, five TDs) is on the verge of becoming an elite receiver as well. The rising junior has amazing body control and a knack for making huge, highlight-reel plays.
DE Caleb Azubike—The Nashville native had four sacks and 18 tackles in backup duty as a true freshman. His explosiveness off the edge and 6-foot-4, 250-pound frame give him all the tools to become a great pass-rusher.
LB Chase Garnham—VU has had a history of great MLBs, and Garnham struggled early to replace MLB Chris Marve when Marve graduated in 2011 and he was forced inside. But Garnham had a good second half after getting comfortable with his new position, and VU will rely on the speedy senior often on blitzes just as it did last year.
• RB Warren Norman, the SEC’s Freshman of the Year in 2009, is not expected to return for 2013. The Georgia native was never the same after hurting his knee in 2010 and only played in garbage time last season after missing all of 2011.
• RB Zac Stacy, DT Rob Lohr and CB Trey Wilson were all invited to the East-West Shrine Game.
• QB Jordan Rodgers and OL Ryan Seymour were selected for the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl.