In one of the more important developments through the first two weeks of practice, Coach James Franklin announced that redshirt sophomore running back Wesley Tate will be leaving the backfield to become a full time wide receiver in 2011. Tate, the younger brother of Notre Dame standout receiver Golden Tate, will add depth to a squad that is full of athletes but short on proven SEC performers.
At 6'1" and 225 pounds, Tate had been making waves as an impact player in his second year of eligibility for the Commodores. Though injuries sapped his effectiveness in 2009 and 2010, he was in line as the team's third running back is what will likely be a ground-heavy offensive attack. His size was especially important at tailback, where his physical style made him a near-lock to earn goal line carries in 2011. Tate is about 20 pounds heavier than Zac Stacy and 30 pounds bigger than Warren Norman, the two primary runners he'd be splitting time with.
Tate will have competition to earn a starting spot at wideout. Vanderbilt returns both last year's starters, John Cole and Udom Umoh, but neither one is likely to see the team's first snap of 2011 against Elon. First-year standouts Jordan Matthews and Jonathan Krause have the inside track to become the team's go-to receivers in their sophomore campaigns. Behind these four, talented but unproven prospects like Chris Boyd, Brady Brown, and Akeem Dunham will crowd the depth chart.
With Tate gone, Vanderbilt now lacks a running back with legit size for short yardage situations. James Franklin must like what he's seeing from Jerron Seymour, a true freshman bowling ball of a tailback, if he's willing to relocate the team's biggest goal line threat. Seymour is a diminutive 5'7", but is a powerful downhill runner who will start the season at close to 200 pounds (he's currently 190).
Seymour and fellow freshman tailback Mitchell Hester have continually earned praise from Franklin and his staff, so it's no big surprise that someone was moved from the backfield in an effort to get the best athletes on the field in 2011. Tate, thanks to his size, was the most viable option to play somewhere else on offense and have a definitive impact. Now, the Commodores will go into the season with four intriguing athletes at wideout between Matthews, Krause, Boyd, and Tate, and have a pair of established veterans in Umoh in Cole to keep things running smoothly.
Though Tate had turned heads as a potential featured back, Franklin decided that the best move for the team was to put him where reinforcements were needed most - wideout. However, if injuries take their toll or Seymour and Hester are ineffective, expect Tate the Great to line up behind Larry Smith as the season rolls on. We'll keep an eye on how this develops throughout the rest of training camp.