Defensive ends in Derek Mason's 3-4 defense don't just play with their hands in the dirt - they also flex backwards into the second level as outside linebackers. In 2015, Vanderbilt football will put a premium on flexibility with their pass rushers. That means guys like Caleb Azubike and Jonathan Wynn will have a few different lines of attack when it comes to chasing down opposing quarterbacks.
Today, we'll take a look at the guys listed as defensive ends on Vanderbilt's current official 2015 roster. The Commodores' pre-season register has had several flaws in the past - guys like Oren Burks have been listed at linebacker days before starting at strong safety - so there's a chance that there are some players that aren't listed here who could see time on the end and vice versa. This is just a guide to break down Vanderbilt's strengths and weaknesses as football season approaches.
With Nifae Lealao set to hold down the middle and Adam Butler lined up to his right, there's only one starting spot on the defensive line for the players the official Commodore roster lists as defensive ends. Of course, Mason has a handful of versatile defenders on his depth chart, so while there may only be one open spot on the three side of Vandy's 3-4 defense, there are still other openings - particularly at outside linebacker - where players like Caleb Azubike or Jonathan Wynn could start.
The Presumptive Starter
Caleb Azubike, SR - Azubike shifted between outside linebacker and a spot on the defensive line in his first year under Derek Mason, but position changes aren't new for the Nigerian - he also shifted between tackle and end in
Ted Cain's Bob Shoop's defenses in Nashville. He burst on to the scene in 2012 with four sacks as a true freshman, but the talented Commodore has yet to truly break out as an All-SEC defender. This fall will be his last chance to impress scouts and earn the accolades he seemed destined for three years ago.
His official listing puts him at 260 pounds, but Derek Mason commented at Media Days that he's up to 275 headed into summer practices. That, combined with his outstanding athleticism, should be enough to scare opposing quarterbacks. Vanderbilt will count on him to set the pace for their pass rush this season.
Rotational Players Who Can Fill Multiple Roles
Jonathan Wynn, RS SO - Wynn mostly played outside linebacker in his first season of eligibility with the Commodores, but Derek Mason's roster lists defensive end as his primary position for 2015. He'll likely shift between the two slots this fall, but don't be surprised if he winds up filling Kyle Woestmann's former role at OLB. Wynn has prototypical size (6'5", 250 lbs) and solid enough lateral movement to blitz quarterbacks or chase down tight ends in coverage.
Wynn's biggest strength is his ability to chase down those QBs, which is why he's currently slotted in at end. At 250, he'd be the smallest regular along Vanderbilt's defensive line. Expect him to have a dynamic role in this defense in 2015, bouncing between positions as needed to add some extra pressure as Derek mason sees fit.
Jay Woods, RS SO - At 280 pounds, Woods is a candidate to swing to the interior of the defensive line and spell Adam Butler or Nifae Lealao as Vandy's first lineman off the bench. He was impressive as a freshman in 2014, showcasing the kind of power that will prevent opposing offensive linemen from moving him off his marks. He has enough quickness and power to burst into gaps and disrupt running plays and should be due for a big year with the Commodores.
The Young Wild Card
Sekou Clark, RS FR - Clark was one of Mason's key recruits in 2014 - an under-the-radar prospect that the coach could develop into an impact player like he had at Stanford in years prior. He has put on about 30 pounds of muscle since arriving in Nashville and now looks like a true SEC defensive end at 6'3" and 264 pounds. His high school tape and some look-ins from practice show a strong burst once the ball is snapped and the ability to get upfield quickly along the edge. He'll have the chance to prove he can be a disruptive presence when he earns his first NCAA playing time this fall.