While the Vanderbilt offense seemed to have nothing but problems in 2015, as it often does, the problems began with the offensive line.
Andrew Jelks, who started 21 games on the line in 2013 and 2014, tore his ACL in the preseason. That wound up having a domino effect: Will Holden, who started at right tackle in 2014, moved to left tackle, and the Commodores wound up starting five different players in the two spots on the right side of the line, though Holden, along with Jake Bernstein and Spencer Pulley, held down the fort on the left side of the line.
The results weren’t pretty: the Commodores’ offensive line looked brutal in advanced stats, ranking 99th in Adjusted Line Yards, 111th in Opportunity Rate, and 105th in both power success rate and stuff rate. The shorthand version of that is that a significant portion of Ralph Webb’s rather pedestrian 4.15 yards per carry had to do with a line that simply wasn’t opening holes for him. And, no, Vanderbilt’s passing game wasn’t going to be good either way last year, but it wasn’t helping matters that the offensive line allowed 28 sacks (93rd in the country in sack rate.)
In short, this is a unit that needs a lot of improvement in 2016, and it’s not helping matters that Bernstein and Pulley are gone. But we can say that the outside of Vanderbilt’s line is going to be less of a question mark than the interior.
The Presumptive Starters
Will Holden, redshirt senior: Holden started every game at left tackle last season and started ten games at right tackle in 2014. Per the team site, he recorded 33 pancake blocks and 13 domination blocks in 2015. At 6’7”, 312 pounds, Holden is penciled in at one of the tackle spots — though it’s not clear if he will stay at left tackle now that Jelks is back.
Andrew Jelks, redshirt senior: Along with Holden, the 6’6”, 305-pound redshirt senior is by far the most experienced offensive lineman in the program -- and that’s even with missing the entire 2015 season. Jelks has started 21 games at Vanderbilt and he’ll start this year — but there’s been some talk of moving him inside to center. We’ll have to wait and see how this plays out. Moving Jelks inside would remove some of the question marks there, but create some at right tackle.
The Backups (And Maybe Starters If Jelks Moves to Center)
Justin Skule, sophomore: Skule got the first crack at starting at right tackle after Blake Fromang struggled to start the year. He started against Austin Peay and Ole Miss, and recorded 20 pancake blocks on the season, but an injury in the Houston game ended his season early (and also came too late for him to qualify for a medical redshirt.) At 6’6” and 305 pounds, Skule has prototypical size for a tackle and showed enough promise as a true freshman to think Vanderbilt might be all right with him in 2017. Is he ready in 2016, though?
Bailey Granier, redshirt sophomore: At 6’6”, 320 pounds, Granier is massive — and that actually represents a drop from the 345 he registered when he arrived at campus. Granier started the last four games of the season at right tackle and recorded six pancake blocks, but he needs to show more improvement.
Jared Southers, redshirt freshman: Southers spent his true freshman year on the scout team. At 6’4”, 308 pounds, he has good size and potential, and could contend for the starting job at right tackle if Jelks moves. Or he could wind up inside.
Devin Cochran: Mark Cochran down for the future. At 6’7”, 305 pounds, he joins the Commodores already possessing ideal size for an offensive tackle, and he might actually be a threat to earn playing time as a true freshman (particularly if Jelks, as is rumored, moves to center.) A redshirt year is still the most likely scenario, but if Cochran impresses in practice he could move into the rotation.
Braden Kopp: Kopp, at 6’5” and 280 pounds, could eventually wind up at guard — or he could move to the defensive line. For now, he’s probably an offensive tackle, but a redshirt year seems like a near-certainty. 280 isn’t big enough to play on an SEC offensive line, so he’ll need to add 20-30 pounds in the weight room this year.