Vanderbilt will have a new quarterback taking snaps in 2014, but whoever wins that battle should be well protected. Despite losing All-SEC tackle Wesley Johnson, the Commodores will bring five players with starting experience to the trenches this fall.
Andrew Jelks, Andrew Bridges, Joe Townsend, Jake Bernstein, and Spencer Pulley will be tasked with protecting Vandy's quarterbacks this fall. They'll be backed up by a talented cache of highly-rated recruits and young players who earned limited snaps for the 'Dores in 2013. Today, we'll break down Vanderbilt's tackles - the guys on the edge of the line who will be tasked with keeping outside linebackers from turning Patton Robinette, Stephen Rivers, and Johnny McCrary into dust.
Andrew Jelks (6'6", 305 lbs): "El Jefe" was a freshman All-American last season and showed all the potential of a future 1st round draft pick in his first active season with the Commodores. He has quick feet and strong hands that keep his defenders in front of him and showed a veteran's composure against some of the toughest defenses in the NCAA last season. He'll move from right to left tackle in order to anchor the most important position on the Vandy O-Line.
The question now is if he can continue to develop at the rate he has over the past two seasons. He's looked like a stud out there, but former OL coach Herb Hand played a big role in that progress. Can Jelks handle the positional switch and blossom into an All-SEC lineman? He certainly has the talent to make it happen.
Andrew Bridges (6'7", 285 lbs): Bridges is the leanest member of Vanderbilt's offensive line, but that lack of bulk also helps fuel the quickness that makes him a viable offensive tackle. He's up from 275 pounds as a junior and that extra bulk should help compliment his lateral movement at the position. The senior has played both tackle positions over his career, but injuries cut his 2013 campaign short. He'll hold down right tackle this fall but could move to the opposite side if Jelks struggles in his sophomore year or gets injured early on.
Young, Developing Talent
Will Holden (6'7", 310 lbs): Holden filled in at both tackle and guard in his first season of eligibility, so don't be surprised to see the talented sophomore fill another jack-of-all-trades role this fall. He has the talent to be a starter, but Vandy's depth at tackle suggests that he'll begin the season in a backup role before getting a shot at Bridges's role in 2015. Holden plays both tackle and guard effectively thanks to a strong, sturdy frame and long arms. He's stronger as a run blocker moving forward than he is in pass protection thanks to solid leg drive that clears space in front of him. However, he's showing progress as a pass blocker and will be a valuable piece of the Vanderbilt offense this fall.
Blake Fromang (6'7", 288): Fromang is officially listed as a tight end on the Vanderbilt roster, but the versatile big man could fluctuate between snaps as a jumbo-set end and a more traditional tackle under Derek Mason's leadership. He's a strong, tall blocker who is athletic enough to move laterally and protect the pocket against rushers coming around the edge. He'll be a big red zone target as a tight end, but expect him to be utilized as an extra blocker for the Commodores this fall.
Sean Dowling (6'5", 288 lbs): Dowling redshirted last fall but will bring his athleticism to the offensive line in 2014. He plays a bit like Bridges due to his longer, leaner frame and like the senior he uses his reach advantage in his favor to keep defenders from cutting around him. He's an angry blocker who isn't afraid to finish what he starts, but he's still a young athlete who will need to add more weight to keep from getting pushed backwards by SEC defenders. Dowling is a talented lineman, but he may still be a year away from having a significant impact for the Commodores.
Bailey Granier (6'6", 345 lbs): Granier must eat five dozen eggs each morning, because he's roughly the size of a barge. He's strong, flexible, and huge for the position at 345 pounds. He's nimble despite his size, but he's still a raw player coming out of high school. SEC defenders would have trouble overpowering him this season, but smart pass rushers could be able to string moves together to beat him to the pocket. As a result, there's a chance he takes a redshirt season to refine his technique and adjust to playing against rabid defensive ends and linebackers in practice this fall/spring.
Cole Hardin (6'4", 305): Hardin is a true freshman who held down tackle duties for Florence High School in Alabama. He already has good size but he could still add more bulk in his first season with a college program. He moves well and attacks linebackers at the second level as a run blocker, but he'll need time to adjust to aggressive edge rushers in pass protection. He's an athletic and underrated prospect who stands to make an impact for this team - but it will be difficult as a true freshman on an offensive line loaded with returning talent.