Published March 1, 2013 - 3:41pm
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With the offseason officially underway, SDS will examine what’s next for spring football for all 14 teams. Next up, Vanderbilt.
For yet another season, James Franklin keeps his entire coaching staff intact. And that bodes well for another season of continued success and growth from a program standpoint. The fact that Franklin will keep the main nucleus of his staff intact for three seasons is amazing; it’s very important to the program’s success, too. Three years ago, upon hiring his assistants, I questioned Franklin for hiring nobodies. And those nobodies turned out to be some of the best coaches in the conference, especially defensively. Guilty as charged. Who else inherits a 2-10 roster at the toughest school to win in the SEC and turns them into back-to-back bowl teams for the first time in history? The brand and program Franklin is building at Vandy led to his conviction to stay and continue his feat despite other universities flirting for his services. The Commodores’ continued rise in the SEC East will always be questioned until they take that next step of beating a ranked team in their own division like Georgia, Florida or South Carolina. A signature victory could happen this season.
Position of concern
Franklin and his staff feel good about every position other than defensive line. In a league where toughness and difference makers in the trenches ignite wins, the Commodores are losing three key cogs to their past success. Gone are Rob Lohr, Johnell Thomas and Colt Nichter, and along with them leave leadership, experience and ability. The one returning starter Walker May teams up with backup defensive end Caleb Azubike to form a nice duo, but tackles are the main concern. Jimmy Stewart, Kyle Woestmann, Darien Bryant, Barron Dixon and Jared Morse all have to continue evolving as players this spring.
Emerging spring player prediction
No one is being counted on more in 2013 than rising sophomore Caleb Azubike. You might not know how to pronounce his last name, but you will come May. His 6-4, 255-pound frame has room to grow, along with tools to develop. Looking into the crystal ball, Azubike is the one standout this spring.
Three signees to be excited about
1. Jay Woods, DT: One of the biggest needs lies at defensive tackle, and the 6-3, 275-pound Jay Woods could step in and play immediately. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Woods starting against Ole Miss week one.
2. Landon Spikes, DE: You want a future NFL player from this recruiting class? It’s Landon Spikes. Spikes’ 6-4, 220-pound frame has room to grow, and he has former NFL genes.
3. Brandon Vandenburg, TE: If you’re looking for an immediate impact player, it will be Vandenburg. The JUCO transfer is physically ready at 6-6, 260 pounds to be the ultimate blocking/pass catching tight end. He is a great looking player who will turn some heads this fall.
I’m not sure anyone realizes how good Vanderbilt’s secondary has been and will continue to be. Defensive coordinator Bob Shoop and defensive backs coach George Barlow have done a fabulous job developing the secondary. Before Shoop arrived, the Commodores were last in the league in total defense. In each of the first two seasons, the Dores have finished top six in the league. That’s remarkable, considering they inherited the same exact roster from the year before. And the strength will once again lie in the secondary with Andre Hal, Javon Marshall and Kenny Ladler all returning. The run defense may be concerning with the lack of interior linemen, but one area Franklin won’t lose sleep over is the secondary.
Previous Offseason Forecasts:
- Mississippi State
- Ole Miss
- South Carolina
- Texas A&M
Photo credit: Don McPeak-USA TODAY Sports