It's a very weird time in Vanderbilt football right now. The program's recent recruiting efforts have been great. Vanderbilt has signed some of the highest rated prospects in school history each of the past three seasons. This is coming off the heels of getting two of the best overall recruiting classes in school history. Yet you look at the records from the past two years and you see a lot of disappointing results. However, I for one am very excited for Vanderbilt Football this upcoming season. And I'm going to tell you why in this article.
Coach's Top Five Reasons to be excited for Vanderbilt Football in 2016
Number One: Nigel Bowden is returning and is at 100% for spring football
It's hard to believe that the defense from last year could be even better than it was this past year. After ranking near the top of the SEC in every defensive category imaginable the 'Dores eventually ran out of gas towards the end of the season. Depth won't be an issue for the future though as one of the best defensive players is returning to the field for the spring. Nigel Bowden was one of the Vanderbilt players Coach Derek Mason brought to flank him at SEC Media Days. It wasn't hard to guess why; the young linebacker was one of a few bright spots the Commodores had in 2014.
Unfortunately, an injury early on that derailed the young linebacker's career for at least a season last fall. Now Nigel Bowden is stepping back onto the football field to join All-SEC 1st Team Linebacker Zach Cunningham to lead the Commodores defense. This ensures that the middle of the Commodores defense will be very hard to play against, especially when you consider the depth that is at the linebacker positions. Speaking of which...
Number Two: The Freshmen
Normally I wouldn't make a lot of hype about freshman, but in this I think it is well warranted. As it stands Vandy only has 9 freshman playing spring ball, but of those 9 three of them are part of this past recruiting class (Joejuan Williams, Deuce Wallace, and Zaire Jones). The other six are guys I've been extremely high on for a while now. Running Back Jaire George is checking in at 204 pounds. If that seems lower than you recall, that's because it is. He was recruited at around 225 lbs and is now down to 204 lbs. Some would worry about the weight loss but it tells me that over the past year he's worked hard to get into better shape and is playing at a very trim 204 pounds.
Another one of my favorite prospects is tight end Jared Pinkney. That's right, you heard me correctly...I said tight end. If you remember correctly the young Pinkney was recruited as a wide receiver out of Norcross, Georgia. He chose the Commodores over both the Florida Gators and the Missouri Tigers...but there was talk that he needed to add some muscle to his frame as he came in at only 220 lbs when recruited (though some reported he was around 230 his first year here). Mission accomplished. He checked in at 250 pounds for the spring and has four years to work on becoming a dynamic receiving tight end. This isn't the first time Vanderbilt has moved a wideout to tight end. They also did it with DeAndre Woods as well.
There are three linemen in the mix alongside those two dynamic offensive targets. Offensive linemae Ean Pfeifer and Jared Southers join nose tackle Darion DeBrossard as the three lineman who took a year to gain some muscle mass. Pfeifer came in at 290 lbs which is up about 5 more lbs than last season. While he's advertised as a tackle, Pfeifer is coming in at guard weight so don't be shocked if he moves inside. Meanwhile Jared Southers was billed as a tackle coming in at 280 lbs and now weighs 303. I'd expect him to stay as a tackle, but either way he's grown to be a big man who can add depth where it is most needed.
Then we get DeBrossard, who is down to 295 lbs after coming in around 340 lbs last season. Originally recruited as an offensive guard, Darion played both ends in high school and has experience on either side of the ball. His weight loss tells me that maybe he had gotten out of shape but since enrolling he's turned some fat into muscle and is ready to go. I expect to see him become more explosive as spring moves along.
The last of the redshirted freshman is my favorite prospect and one Mason was excited to get. Caleb Peart left the state of Arizona to come rush quarterbacks for Coach Mason. I thought last season he would come in and rush some, but instead he took a redshirt year and pumped up to 240 lbs. This addition is more than welcomed as I could see Peart jumping in early to fill the void left by Weatherly. I'm excited to see how his spring turns out, as we add yet another dynamic rusher to the mix.
Then of course you know about the three true freshman; Zaire Jones, ranging safety from Mississippi, Joejuan Williams, hard hitting corner from Nashville, and Deuce Wallace the young gunslinger from East Tennessee. Looking at all three I think they all could use some time in the weight room to gain mass, but I think all three will push their position groups in the spring, especially with the injuries we've got keeping guys out...speaking of which:
Number Three: Injuries Create Opportunity
I hate that guys get hurt, but it's a contact sport and these things happen. The difference between last year and this year is that now when guys get hurt we have the depth we want to replace the injured guy. Here is a list of some injuries that are plaguing the team this spring and the key depth behind said guys...
Tight End DeAndre Woods: Sam Dobbs, Nathan Marcus, Jared Pinkney
Outside Linebacker Landon Stokes: Nemhemiah Mitchell, Josh Smith
Wide Receiver Caleb Scott: Latevius Rayford, CJ Duncan
Safety/Nickelback Arnold Tarpley: Emmanuel Smith, Ryan White, Zaire Jones
Fullback/Tight End Kyle Anderton: Khari Blasingame
I'm excited to see what all these guys can bring to the table, but they aren't the only ones who are going to step up.
Number Four: Young Guys Have A Full Year Now
This always flies under the radar, but now these young kids have had another full year in the weight room. A full year being coached by SEC coaches. A full year running scout team for and against SEC level players. This is an exciting time for Vanderbilt because now you're getting to see Coach Mason's vision come to life. He's done a great job finding top notch three stars and four star players to come play at Vanderbilt. Last year the defense for Vanderbilt was simply outstanding. Now you're plugging in and using guys who were highly touted recruits without losing a ton of guys to transfers and/or graduation. Which is another benefit we haven't mentioned yet...
Number Five: We're Not Losing Much
Last year Vanderbilt only had a handful of seniors playing last season. Jake Bernstein, Spencer Pulley, Steven Scheu, and Stephen Weatherly join the list of guys who played big roles last season but won't be back this year. Only one of those is for sure going to end up on a NFL roster while another one may end up on a NFL roster, while I don't want to knock the other ones I believe we're going to be better with Sean Auwae, a four star center who should be starting on day one when he walks in the door. That alone should have all of us excited, most of a talented defense is returning and the offense gets to grow another year.
Hell, that would be enough to excite any fan or any coach.