While Vanderbilt has been ravaged by graduations at their other skill positions, the Commodores' tailbacks remain relatively intact from 2013. Power runner and pass catcher Wesley Tate is gone, but Jerron Seymour and Brian Kimbrow will both return with their sights set on stabilizing this team's offense.
That duo will have their work cut out for them. They'll have to be the engine that powers this offense while the team breaks in a new starting quarterback and replaces two of the most productive receivers in Commodore history.
That's a daunting task, but Derek Mason and his staff should have the 'Dores ready to fulfill it. Seymour and Kimbrow will be joined by a pair of players looking to make an impact in their first years of eligibility (Ralph Webb, the outstandingly named Dallas Rivers) and a convert from the defensive side of the ball (Derek King). Seymour is the closest thing they have to replacing Zac Stacy as a true #1 tailback, but the team's depth should give offensive coordinator Karl Dorrell a dynamic platoon through which he can devise several different offensive strategies. Vanderbilt will boast a running back rotation that can run inside the tackle box and out along the sidelines; the return of four starting offensive linemen will only help in that matter.
While Seymour looks like option #1A, Kimbrow is still waiting for a breakout season and Webb made a name for himself in this spring's Black and Gold Game. So who will be getting the ball for the Commodores this fall? Let's take a closer look:
The Returning Platoon
Jerron Seymour (5'7", 196 lbs): Seymour ascended into 1A status amongst Vanderbilt's running backs thanks to a 716-yard performance that erased any bad memories of a 2012 season that had been lost to injury. The pinball-shaped rusher showed that he could be productive in short-yardage situations and as an explosive big-play threat. He found the end zone 14 times last fall to tie the school's single-season record for touchdowns scored. He won't be able to catch opponents off-guard like he did last season, but another year of experience should solidify his status as a solid starting tailback in the SEC.
Plus, with James Franklin gone, Vandy fans probably don't have to worry about any trick plays where Seymour motions to pass the ball, finds out he's fooled no one, and eats a four-yard loss in the backfield.
Brian Kimbrow (5'8", 185 lbs): Kimbrow has had his moments as a Commodore, but he hasn't yet lived up to the expectations that were thrust on him as the team's highest-rated recruit back in 2012. That's not a problem - he's been shuffled into platoon work and been adding strength to complement his speed - but the Memphis native didn't take the step forward that many expected of him last season. His yards per carry and big play percentage both took a hit without Zac Stacy in the backfield to wear down opponents. If Kimbrow has taken another step forward in his development, then this could be a big season for him. He'll provide a key change of pace from Seymour's more bruising style and the switch from Franklin to Mason will give him a fresh start from the coach who kept him in the doghouse for much of 2013. If he's filled out his game to provide solid blocking and receiving out of the backfield then he should be primed to register 100+ carries this fall.
Fighting for Wesley Tate's Spot
Ralph Webb (5'10", 196 lbs): Webb made his presence known to Mason and his staff in this year's spring game, snapping off a 60-yard touchdown run and gaining 114 yards on just 14 carries. His big play potential will earn him carries in his first year of eligibility, especially against non-conference opponents as he works to build a name for himself. Webb identifies holes well and has the ability to run between the tackles and along the sideline depending on where his opportunities lie. He's not a power back, but in a platoon with Seymour and Kimbrow he may be able to steal some goal line carries due to his size. He's a crafty runner who could be the next under-recruited running back to emerge as an All-SEC talent for the 'Dores.
Dallas Rivers (6'1", 225 lbs): Rivers is a true freshman, but his bulk could make him the replacement for Wesley Tate that this team will need between the tackles. The Chicagoan was rated as the nation's 258th best prospect by ESPN and could have an immediate impact if he displays the kind of power game that can give the 'Dores a diverse look out of the backfield. He has the strength to move the pile and shrug off tackles, but he's also fast enough to rip off huge gains once his blocks have been sealed off. Making the adjustment to outrunning SEC defenses will be difficult, but a strong summer could lead to some touches in his first year in Nashville.
Derek King (5'11", 205 lbs): King is a defensive back-turned-tailback, which means he'll be following in Micah Powell's footsteps to the offensive side of the ball. He didn't record a carry in his first season at the position last season, but he's an explosive athlete who changes direction well and can be useful as a runner. He'll have to show that he has the vision to find holes as they open up in order to earn playing time in 2014.