James Franklin announced the team's first official depth chart of 2012, and most of the Vanderbilt lineup is business as usual. Jordan Rodgers is the starting quarterback, Zac Stacy remains at tailback, and upperclassmen dominated the defensive side of the ball.
However, there are still a few surprises that should draw attention in the week drawing up to the season opener against South Carolina. Players like Jerron Seymour, Steven Scheu, Andrew Jelks, and Karl Butler all had their new roles unveiled to the public Wednesday afternoon. While there will almost certainly be changes as the season wears on - and possibly even before next Thursday's game - Franklin and his staff have put together a lineup of players that they're ready to go to war with.
Five true freshmen made the two-deep roster this year - an increase of three over last season's squad. Tailback Brian Kimbrow, offensive linemen Andrew Jelks and Adam Butler, defensive end Caleb Azubike, and linebacker Darreon Herring all earned spots on the second team heading into the season opener. Ten of the team's offensive and defensive starters are either seniors or graduate students who won't return in 2013. In all, the Commodore roster highlights a team with the capacity to win now, but the mass of underclassman depth on the second team suggests that the future will be bright as well.
Here are some of the surprises that stood out on Vanderbilt's first official depth chart of 2012. The entire chart can be found here:
Tailback - Jerron Seymour is tailback 1B, in front of Warren Norman. Seymour had a solid freshman campaign and was earning solid reviews in preseason camp, but it was still a surprise to see that he passed the former SEC Freshman of the Year on the depth chart. The sophomore will earn snaps with the first team and have his chance to make an impact against South Carolina, but it will take a herculean effort to keep Norman from rejoining the starters if the redshirt junior is truly feeling like his old self. Seymour seems up to the task - reports from camp suggest that he only got stronger as the preseason wore on, and he could end up surprising people after fading down the stretch in 2011.
EDIT: Jesse Johnson of VandySports clears this one up for us: Norman will be used as a primary backup to Stacy, while Brian Kimbrow will be used as a primary backup to Seymour. That doesn't necessarily mean that Seymour will see more playing time than Norman, just that they will be utilized differently. Thanks, Jesse.
Tight End - Kris Kentera edges out highly regarded recruits to start in two TE sets. Kentera earned praise in the preseason camp thanks to his soft hands and athleticism, but he had a steep climb to reach the top of Vandy's tight end heap. The former quarterback rose above Steven Scheu and Dillon van der Wal - two players who are thought of as the team's future at the position - in order to start alongside Austin Monahan. Kentera's athleticism and ability to play as a H-Back out of the backfield helped earn him the first-team nod, but the competition for snaps behind him will be tight. He'll have to avoid mistakes as he adjusts to his new position in order to fend off his talented classmates. Monahan, who has fought off injuries throughout his Vanderbilt career, will also feel the heat with van der Wal and Scheu pressing him for playing time.
Outside Linebacker - Karl Butler officially becomes The Hybrid. Butler has played most of his career at Vanderbilt as a safety, but as a *big* safety. Now, with the linebacking corps searching for experienced playmakers, they'll turn to Butler to chase down running backs and cover tight ends out of the defensive backfield. Butler will bring speed to the unit, but at 215 pounds he'll be 20 pounds lighter than his fellow starters. While that disadvantage didn't effect him too much as he slid into a reserve linebacker role last season, there's still some unpredictability surrounding his promotion to the starting lineup. Will he be able to withstand the rigors of playing linebacker full time? Or will he be pressed into more nickel and dime situations as an extra defensive back in the middle of the field?
Wide Receiver - Jacquese Kirk joins the offense. Kirk, a redshirt freshman, joins the two-deep as a receiver in 2012. He was considered to be more of a cornerback prospect when he was recruited out of high school, but he made the full-time switch last year in his redshirt season. Though he'll face a steep climb in order to find playing time, he'll add depth to one of Vandy's strongest positions.
Kick Returner - Andre Hal and Steven Clarke will handle kickoffs. Jonathan Krause and John Cole will handle punts. That's a strong unit, but where's the guy who housed three kickoffs as a freshman back in 2009? Warren Norman, who could be one of the SEC's best players in that role, is nowhere to be seen on the special teams depth chart.
Linebacker - Kellen Williams rounds out the LB corps. Williams went from being a walk-on in 2011 to a second-team player as a redshirt freshman. While Vanderbilt doesn't have a ton of depth at the position right now, it's still an inspiring story. After working his tail off and earning Scout Team honors last season, the Floridian is in line to contribute for a SEC football program.