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2015 Vanderbilt Football Roster/Scholarship Breakdown: The Defense

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Vanderbilt's defense struggled to replace the All-SEC members of its secondary in 2014. Will the Commodores be better in Derek Mason's second year as head coach? We break down each position by player.

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The Vanderbilt defense went through some growing pains in 2014. They were forced to replace an entire secondary while transitioning from Bob Shoop's 4-3 defense to Derek Mason's 3-4. As a result, young players were forced into new positions and the Commodores struggled to contain opponents. Their 33.3 points allowed per game put the team behind FBS programs like UMass, Army, and Miami of Ohio.

The good news is that this team has plenty of emerging young playmakers who have nowhere to go but up. Stephen Weatherly, Oren Burks, Nigel Bowden, and a cache of others will lead Vanderbilt under second year head coach (and first year defensive coordinator) Derek Mason. While the departure of players like Kyle Woestmann and Vince Taylor will hurt, the Commodores return a ton of talent on the defensive side of the ball.

Yesterday, we looked at the athletes who will be tasked with improving an offense that would have been middle-of-the-road among FCS teams. Today, we'll break down the defense by position along with an eye towards Mason's 2016 recruiting class.

The Vanderbilt Defense

Defensive End

Defensive Ends (5) Year
Caleb Azubike Sr.
Torey Agee Jr.
Nehemiah Mitchell Jr.
Jay Woods RS So.
Sekou Clark RS Fr.

Players for 2016: Four.

Azubike played with his hand down and as an outside linebacker in 2014, but the team's depth at OLB suggests that he'll play most of his snaps in the trenches this season. Mitchell, a junior college transfer, could also wind up rushing the passer at either position. Agee played defensive tackle in his appearances for the team last fall and while Woods had several standout plays at DE in 2014 he came to Vanderbilt as a tackle. That means that the defensive end rotation will be made up mostly of players who are adjusting to the position under Mason's 3-4 defense.

Defensive Tackle

Defensive Tackles (3) Year
Adam Butler Jr.
Nifae Lealao So.
Riley Tindol RS Fr.

Players for 2016: Three.

Vanderbilt, as currently constructed, only has six full-time defensive linemen for 2016. Look for Mason to target that position group on the recruiting trail this summer. Fortunately, Butler is a monster in the middle and Lealao was the team's highest rated recruit in 2014. Tindol is a lottery ticket as an overlooked two-star player with bulk. They'll bring a lot of bulk and power to the center of the Commodore line.

Inside Linebacker

Inside Linebackers (8) Year
Darreon Herring Sr.
Jake Sealand Sr.
Ja'karri Thomas RS Jr.
Harding Harper Jr.
Nigel Bowden RS So.
Zach Cunningham RS So.
Dare Odeyingbo Fr.
Jordan Griffin Fr.

Players for 2016: Six.

Vanderbilt has plenty of talent to fill the two linebacking slots in the center of the field. Herring and Bowden are both All-SEC candidates thanks to their fluid east-west movement and their solid tackling skills. They're backed up by Jake Sealand, a senior who has had his share of growing pains and a pair of younger players who emerged throughout the season to push for starting spots - Ja'karri Thomas and Zach Cunningham. The additions of Odeyingbo and Griffin will give the team some additional athleticism at the position and prep the team for the graduation of Herring and Sealand.

Outside Linebacker

Outside Linebackers (6) Year
Stephen Weatherly RS Jr.
Jonathan Wynn RS So.
Landon Stokes RS So.
Charles Wright RS Fr.
Caleb Peart Fr.
Josh Smith Fr.

Players for 2016: Six.

These pass rushing threats will likely earn the most hype in Mason's aggressive 3-4 scheme. Weatherly broke out in 2014 with 12.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. Wynn will have the inside track as the other starter, but don't sleep on freshman Josh Smith. The highly-touted local product has the talent to step in right away and make an impact against Power 5 teams.

Cornerback

Cornerbacks (7) Year
Torren McGaster Jr.
Tre Bell RS So.
Taurean Ferguson RS So.
Tre Herndon So.
Ladarius Wiley So.
Bryce Lewis RS Fr.
Donovan Sheffield Fr.

Players for 2016: Seven.

This position has nowhere to go but up after suffering through several trials and tribulations in 2014. They'll have to absorb the loss of playmaker Darrius Sims (now a running back), but the improved play of McGaster, Bell, and Ferguson gave this team something to build from in November. If they can continue to improve they may keep four-star freshman Donovan Sheffield on the bench - and give the talented newcomer and extra year of eligibility on the back end of his career.

Safeties

Safeties (10) Year
Andrew Williamson Sr.
Jahmel McIntosh Sr.
Oren Burks RS So.
Ryan White RS So.
Jalen Banks RS So.
Emmanuel Smith So.
Tre Tarpley So.
Khari Blasingame RS Fr.
Andrew Rector Fr.
Jay Hockaday Fr.

Players for 2016: Eight.

Williamson and McIntosh bring veteran leadership to a unit that's otherwise filled with young athletes. Burks was a legit starter last season when he was healthy and Smith looks the part after playing as a true freshman last season. Players like Blasingame and Tarpley could also be developed into the kind of big cornerback that Mason preferred to employ at Stanford.

Special Teams

Special Teams (an estimated 3) Year
Tommy Openshaw RS So.
Colby Cooke Jr.
Davis Winkie RS Fr.

Players for 2016: Three

Openshaw, Cooke, and Winkie were all members of past recruiting classes and likely have scholarships. Other players - like Vandy's three other long snappers - may have played their way into a financial aid agreement. Openshaw outplayed Hayden Lekacz at kicker last year, but he'll have to improve his range to hold on to the position in 2015.