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2016 Vanderbilt Football Position Previews: Guards and Centers

This looks like a trouble spot for the Commodores, but it could end up being a strong indicator of the program’s direction under Derek Mason.

NCAA Football: Texas A&M at Vanderbilt Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

When I wrote about the offensive tackle position, I noted that while the line overall was highly suspect in 2015, the two tackle spots are less suspect entering 2016 (assuming Andrew Jelks is one of the starting tackles.)

The interior of the line? That could be a trouble spot.

In 2015, Jake Bernstein started all 12 games at left guard, and Spencer Pulley started all 12 games at center. Both have graduated. Barrett Gouger returns after starting the first 10 games of the season at right guard... but, well, there was a reason he didn’t start the last two games of the season, and he wasn’t injured.

So the Commodores must replace two of three starters on the interior of the offensive line, and the returning starter lost his starting job because of ineffectiveness. That’s not a great starting point. What’s more, only two players in this group are upperclassmen (and one of those is Gouger), and aside from Gouger, only Bruno Reagan, who started the final two games of 2015 at right guard, has any starting experience on the offensive line.

With all that said — this unit may wind up being the best indicator of the direction of Mason’s program. Go back to that last paragraph. Out of this group, only Gouger and redshirt junior Delando Crooks were Franklin recruits. Of all the positions on the field other than quarterback, this is probably the best opportunity for players recruited by Mason to make an impact on this year’s team. If the results are positive, that may be a good sign for Mason’s acumen in evaluaton and development.

(Note: Of course, some of the players we previewed in the tackles section may move inside. The staff is rumored to be considering moving Jelks to center, and may move Bailey Granier to guard as well.)

Penciled In as Starters (We Guess)

Barrett Gouger, redshirt senior: As said above, Gouger started 10 games last year and registered 44 pancake blocks and 11 domination blocks... but was, essentially, part of the problem on the right side of the line. Gouger may be penciled in as the starter at center for now, but there are plenty of candidates to overtake the 6’4”, 305-pound senior.

Delando Crooks, redshirt junior: Crooks actually started a game last season... at tight end. The 6’5”, 305-pound junior out of Atlanta is athletic enough that such a move wasn’t completely nuts. Crooks appeared in five games last year but was limited by injuries; he enters camp as the odds-on favorite to start at right guard in spite of not having played a ton of snaps in three years at Vanderbilt.

Bruno Reagan, redshirt sophomore: We think the 6’3”, 310-pound sophomore from Clarksville is the favorite to start at right guard after finishing 2015 as the starter there, but we’re not too sure. Reagan played 210 snaps last year and registered 10 “domination blocks” — which, we’re not sure what exactly those are, but it’s one less than Gouger recorded in almost triple the snaps.

Contenders for Playing Time

Cole Hardin, redshirt sophomore: Hardin, a 6’4”, 305-pound sophomore out of sorta-nearby Florence, Alabama, spent 2015 as the backup center but from best we can tell only appeared in the Austin Peay game. But with Pulley gone, he could see more snaps there or at guard.

Ean Pfeifer, redshirt freshman: Another contender for the starting job at center, Pfeifer worked there and at guard on the scout team last year (when, like most true freshman offensive linemen, he took a redshirt year.)

Egidio DellaRipa, junior: DellaRipa is oddly listed as a junior rather than a redshirt sophomore, even though he didn’t play at all last year after transferring from College of the Canyons. DellaRipa, at 6’4” and 295 pounds, could see playing time at guard this year.

The Freshman

Sean Auwae-McMoore: TheCoachinator has suggested that Auwae-McMoore, a three-star recruit from Hawaii, could start from day one at center. If Vanderbilt continues to have problems there, he certainly could see early playing time — though we wouldn’t bank on a true freshman offensive lineman seeing the field since most of them don’t.