Spring Practice Primer: Vanderbilt

Spring football is in the air, and with our Spring Practice Primers the Eye On College Football Blog gets you up to speed on what to look for on campuses around the country this spring. Today we look at Vanderbilt.

Spring Practice Starts: Last Friday, March 16.

Spring Game: April 14

Returning starters: 9 offensive, 7 defensive, 2 specialists

Three Things To Look For:

1. Is this Vandy offense as promising on the field as it is on paper? Yes, we used "promising" in the same sentence as "Vandy offense," and it wasn't even something like "The Vandy offense is promising to set new records for both fewest points scored and most analogies generated by Vandy philosophy majors illustrating the futility of human existence." Such is the massive, continuing impact of James Franklin's arrival. Consider: in 2010, the Commodores finished last in the SEC in yards-per-conference game, more than 107 yards behind 11th-place Mississippi State; one season and one coaching change later, they finished sixth.

And to judge by the Commodore depth chart, another step forward is due in 2012. Quarterback Jordan Rodgers returns after rapidly improving over the second half of the 2011 season; the 'Dores top four rushers are all back, including Rodgers and 1,000-yard All-SEC running back Zac Stacy; so are their top two receivers, including junior Jordan Matthews; and four of five starters return to what was already one of the SEC's better offensive lines. If the Commodores get through their spring game with everyone healthy and Franklin having successfully fine-tuned the unit's 2011 hiccups -- notably, a passing game that completed barely more than 50 percent of its attempts and finished with a 15-to-18 touchdown-to-interception ratio -- Vandy could be poised to do even bigger and better things in 2012.

2. Who's going to make plays for the defense? We wouldn't say there's a lack of experience on the Vandy defense, not with seven starters back. But experience that matters might be in short supply, since three of the four departed starters were Chris Marve, Casey Hayward and Tim Fugger, the team's leading tackler, interceptor, and pass rusher, respectively; it's doubtful any SEC defense got as much out of three players as the 'Dores did with that trio. Defensive tackle Rob Lohr (five sacks) should be ready to take up some of Fugger's slack along the line, but replacing Marve and Hayward could prove much more difficult. Late-blooming senior linebacker Archibald Barnes and junior corner Trey Wilson will get first crack, and if they can show during spring they're ready to at least partially fill some of Marve's and Hayward's oversized shoes, that will be very, very good news for the 'Dore D.

3. Can anyone challenge Rodgers at quarterback? Given Rodgers' experience in the system, late-season success, and proven running ability, probably not. But there's two candidates who might make him sweat: Wyoming transfer Austyn Carta-Samuels, who led the Cowboys to a stunning New Mexico Bowl championship in 2009 before leaving Cheyenne; and highly touted true freshman Patton Robinette from nearby Maryville, Tenn. Neither will likely usurp Rodgers on the depth chart by the end of spring practice, but each could put himself in a position to make a serious move come fall camp.

To check in on the rest of the SEC and other BCS conferences, check out the Spring Practice Schedule.

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