In the annual rite of passage, Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason addresses the media at SEC Media Days this morning. Here are a few quotes from Mason’s remarks and some thoughts.
”We went into the season with unmet expectations, and now we realized that we have work to do.”
Mason, from all appearances, legitimately thought that the 2017 Vanderbilt team would be better than it actually was. The first three games of the season would seem to back that up, so there’s probably some truth to this.
”I truly believe that in our program, the staff enhancements we’ve made over the last six months are going to take us from where we are to where we want to be.”
You’ll recall that after last season, there were a few changes to the coaching staff. Mason brought in former Stanford/49ers defensive coordinator Jason Tarver to replace, well, himself, and also brought in Aaron Moorehead (WR coach) and Shawn Mennenga (special teams.)
Most outside the program would have probably just a last-ditch effort to save his own skin, but Moorehead is a respected recruiter and special teams legitimately was a problem area. Replacing whoever decided that the best use of Sam Loy’s booming leg was rugby-style punting was a good idea.
”For the first time in my tenure, we have 12 offensive linemen up front who can play for us.”
So here’s a weird, random fact. Remember James Franklin’s heralded 2013 recruiting class? It included just two offensive linemen, Sean Dowling and Delando Crooks. While Franklin did land some talented offensive linemen in the 2012 class (namely, Andrew Jelks and Will Holden), he kind of neglected the line otherwise. (Spencer Pulley and Jake Bernstein, signed in 2011, were Robbie Caldwell recruits.) It’s taken Mason a while to build good depth up front.
”I’ve got nine 300-pounders (on the defensive line.)”
As DoreonthePlains pointed out, there are eight defensive linemen listed on the roster at over 280 plus two more in the 260s. Has Stone Edwards or Dayo Odeyingbo put on 40 pounds since the last time the weights were updated? If so, I hope that’s good weight and not, you know... Burger King.
”While everyone’s been watching what’s happening on the surface, the thing that we’ve really lacked is quality depth, and for the first time in my tenure we have it.”
Mason talked a lot about depth in his prepared remarks. It’s not really much of a secret that Vanderbilt has been lacking it over the last few years; again, some of this goes back to Franklin-era recruiting that was heavy on guys who didn’t really pan out. That’s especially been the case on the defensive line, which was an extremely sore spot in 2017.
”For you media out there, and there has been media out there, saying that our game is one to be overlooked: watch out.”
The first part of this sentence is true. Vanderbilt seems to be a near universal pick for seventh in the SEC East (what they’re basing their decisions that Tennessee is going to be any good on is above my pay grade), and Mason is telling you that this is Fake News. Sad!
For those of you who will say “well what do you expect him to say?” I would point out that this was part of his prepared remarks and not in response to a reporter question. Mason really does seem to believe in this team. Maybe he’s right?
”There’s only two guys in this country that I would have relinquished this defense to. One is Lance Anderson, who’s at Stanford University, and the other is Jason Tarver.”
Derek Mason has a very short list of people who are qualified to run his defense. Him being the defensive coordinator for the last three years was apparently about waiting for Tarver’s contract with the 49ers to lapse.
”Adam Sparks, the Tennessean.”
(head nod) “What up?”
Just thought I would point out this casual exchange. Derek Mason is probably the only SEC coach who would do this.
”This is the first time that I’ve had a group of guys step up, and not have Coach Mason get out in front and make a speech or a big announcement about this is how we play.”
From the sound of it, leadership from the players has been lacking, and now it’s there. Charles Wright and Dare Odeyingbo were named specifically.
”We play in the SEC, we’re not worried about going to South Bend. Right now I’m worried about MTSU.”
So are we, Coach. So are we.
”I feel like I cost our guys, because we went into the season last year with high expectations, and we started the right way, and then we let one become two become three become four.”
Mason is talking about the losing streak that started with the Alabama game, and he’s admitting what I had suspected for a while: that everybody involved let the 59-0 loss to Alabama get to them and things snowballed quickly from there. The team never really moved past that game.
I generally don’t put a ton of stock in what coaches say to the media, particularly in a press conference type of setting. Often you can glean as much information from what they don’t say.
Mason spent a lot of time today talking about the depth on the lines. Outside of a few words about Kalija Lipscomb, though, Mason didn’t really address the receivers much, and that’s a unit that needs to replace Trent Sherfield and C.J. Duncan. The same could be said for Ralph Webb.
Mason is clearly annoyed with the fact that most of the media covering the SEC barely acknowledges Vanderbilt as a member of the league. You can almost tell that he senses the media picking Vanderbilt to finish last in the East don’t actually know much about the Commodores.
Overall, it’s hard to have a bad Media Days (unless you’re Larry Fedora), but I think Mason did fine here. Post your thoughts in the comments.