Five Vanderbilt players who are ready for big roles in 2014

NCAA Football: Presbyterian at Vanderbilt

Vanderbilt’s spring wraps up this Saturday with the Black and Gold game, and the Commodores are installing a new offensive and defensive system under new head coach Derek Mason.

RELATED: Vanderbilt spring football forecast

To maintain status quo of nine wins per year, several players have to make major contributions. The Commodores are replacing program pillar Jordan Matthews, as well as the defensive secondary. Here are five players who will have to step up in order to win nine games again:

Caleb Azubike, OLB (JR)
2013 stats: 31 tackles, 9.5 TFL, 4 sacks, 5 QB hurries
Buzz: Caleb Azubike will play a huge role with the defensive scheme switch from 4-3 to 3-4. A defensive end by trade, Azubike now switches to outside linebacker, hopefully to wreak havoc in offenses’ backfields. Azubike had a good year last year, but this will be the year he’s expected to have a monster season; he’s athletic enough to make it a seamless transition.

Nigel Bowden, LB (rFR)
2013 stats: Redshirted
Buzz: You’ve never heard of Nigel Bowden? He’s 6-1, 235 pounds and has tree trunks for thighs. He could be the next big-time player for the Commodores’ defense at inside linebacker. Bowden is a physical specimen who should make major contributions in 2014.

Jordan Cunningham, WR (SO)
2013 stats: 15 catches, 123 yards
Buzz: South Florida native Cunningham is the first player who comes to mind who will help replace Jordan Matthews. It won’t happen overnight, but Cunningham has the upside and ability to become a Matthews clone. He’s had a big spring, and he’ll have a breakout year in 2014.

Brian Kimbrow, RB (JR)
2013 stats: 81 carries, 341 yards, 3 TDs
Buzz: While Jerron Seymour is the heavy hitter, Brian Kimbrow will shake the check right off your Nikes. He’s a smooth operator in the open field who’s blessed with speed, quickness and shakes. New offensive coordinator Karl Dorrell has a toy in Kimbrow, and he has to find ways to get him the football more than the previous regime.

Paris Head, CB (SO)
2013 stats: 22 tackles, 3 INTs
Buzz: Paris Head could be an Andre Hal clone. He has strong ball skills, smooth hips and excellent cover skills. The Commodores lost all four secondary starters, and Head will have to immediately step up and become a leader. I love this kid’s game, and you will too.

Photo Credit: Don McPeak-USA TODAY Sports

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