Jonathan Krause is currently slated third on the team's wide receiver depth chart, but the junior is only a half step behind Jordan Matthews and Chris Boyd in the rankings. With an impressive preseason showing, Krause could end up filling either player's role as an impact starter in 2012.
Krause burst onto the scene in Nashville with a solid freshman season that laid out the blueprint for a big future. He stood out in his first game as a Commodore, tying for the team lead with four receptions and adding 55 yards in a tough loss to Northwestern. As the Vanderbilt offense struggled through 2010 under Robbie Caldwell, Krause became one of the more stable presences in a corps of underused and mismanaged receivers.
That presence dropped off a bit thanks to a handful of newcomers in Nashville. The arrival of James Franklin as head coach, Jordan Rodgers as a potential starting quarterback, and Chris Boyd and Wesley Tate as wideouts all affected Krause's role as a sophomore. Now, he'll have to show that he can make the adjustment to become an impact player on one of the most talented offenses Vanderbilt has ever put together.
Krause has the tools to be a solid starting receiver. While he lacks Matthews's deep threat ability or Boyd's size, he is an elusive wideout who has good hands and the awareness to make defenders miss. He's shown that ability out of the backfield throughout his career. As a freshman, he had three carries of 20 yards or more, including two that sprung for 44 and 45 yards. He earned 12 carries last season and averaged over five yards per rush. It's clear that Krause's ability to shift gears and avoid defenders hasn't gone unnoticed with his new coaching staff. The question now revolves around how the team will use him in 2012.
In order to fulfill the promise that he showed as a freshman, Krause will have to establish a better relationship with the team's quarterbacks. Unlike his classmate Matthews, Krause actually slumped when the more stable Jordan Rodgers became the team's full-time starter at quarterback. Krause had developed a rapport with Larry Smith, something that had shown through his freshman season with the team.
In the six games that Smith started in 2011, Krause had 20 catches for 108 yards. That low 5.4 yard-per-catch average was indicative of the cautious style and short pass gameplan that accompanied Smith. When Rodgers was installed as the starter, Krause's numbers fell to three catches for 63 yards. While that's a steep dropoff, this YPC average rose to 21 yards for every reception. Granted, that's a small sample size, but it's also indicative of the role he'll have to fill with JR as his quarterback.
Krause is going to have to expand his game to insert himself in the revamped Commodore offense. He proved that he was valuable in 2010 as a short route receiver, but that was when this team relied on dump-off passes thanks to a patchwork offensive line and underwhelming quarterback play. While that's a valuable skill, it won't have as much of a role with a quarterback like Rodgers behind center. James Franklin showed that he was comfortable with allowing Rodgers to air it out and look downfield for big plays. That shift in philosophy midway through the season played a big role in Krause's fade into the background for the Commodores.
Vanderbilt will boast a complete offense in 2012, and Krause will have the opportunity to play a major part in that. However, he'll have to prove that he can make the adjustments to grow as a player within the Commodores' new high-speed offense. Jonathan Krause emerged in 2010 as a player who was comfortable around the line of scrimmage and who had the quickness to break plays open from there. To move forward this season, he'll have to show that same level of comfort further downfield for a team that is filled with versatile weapons.
If he can't, he'll remain stuck behind guys like Matthews, Boyd, and Tate as a complementary piece. That would be one hell of a supporting player for the Commodores, but Krause has the ability to be more than that. If he can round out his game, the junior from Snellville, GA could add a new dimension to the Commodore offense and spread opposing defenses even thinner than ever before.