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Vanderbilt’s offensive line needed to be better at run blocking in 2017. Can the interior of the line get better?

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The Commodores return all five starters on the line.

NCAA Football: Vanderbilt at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Vanderbilt struggled to run the football in 2017, and considering the Commodores had a senior who also happened to be the school’s all-time leading rusher, that was probably on the offensive line.

Here are some numbers: Vanderbilt ranked 102nd nationally in adjusted line yards, 121st in opportunity rate, 108th in power success rate, and 118th in stuff rate. When the running backs found room to run, occasionally they would break off a big run, but overall the run game wasn’t doing much. The line did fine in pass protection, but run blocking left a lot to be desired.

In the final game of the 2016 season, Vanderbilt’s starting offensive line was Will Holden at left tackle, Ean Pfeifer at left guard, Barrett Gouger at center, Bruno Reagan at right guard, and Justin Skule at right tackle. In 2017, Holden and Gouger graduated, Reagan moved from right guard to center, and Skule moved from right tackle to left tackle. Ean Pfeifer was injured for most of the season. It was essentially a brand new offensive line, even if two starters were technically returning.

The good news? In 2018, all five starters return. The bad news? Well, things still need to improve up front.

The Returning Starters

Bruno Reagan, redshirt senior: A late addition to the 2014 recruiting class, Reagan has started 27 straight games entering 2018; after starting at right guard in 2016, he was the team’s starting center in 2017. The question entering 2018 is whether he’ll stay at center or move back to guard: while Reagan seemed to do better at guard, Vanderbilt didn’t have anyone else emerge to start at center last season. He registered 20 domination blocks in 2017.

Saige Young, junior: Young transferred in from Dodge City Community College and took over at left guard midway through 2017 after Ean Pfeifer got hurt, starting eight games and notching 18 domination blocks. He should be in the mix to start again, though younger prospects like Cole Clemens could work their way into the lineup.

Egidio DellaRipa, redshirt senior: Like Young, DellaRipa was a junior college transfer who worked his way into the starting lineup midway through the season and started eight games at right guard.

The Backups

Jared Southers, redshirt junior: Southers opened 2017 as the starter at right guard, but was replaced by DellaRipa following the Alabama game. That he was replaced following a game in which the offense got shut out is a little telling, but he does give Vanderbilt another offensive lineman with good size (6’5”, 310) and starting experience.

Sean McMoore, redshirt sophomore: McMoore (who formerly went by Sean Auwae) came in with considerable hype but hasn’t seen the field much in two years, redshirting in 2016 and being Bruno Reagan’s backup in 2017. If McMoore is ready to start in 2018, that might actually be a great thing as it would allow Reagan to move back to guard.

Carlton Lorenz, redshirt sophomore: Lorenz, who transferred from College of the Canyons — the same JUCO in California that Egidio DellaRipa came from — is probably a depth guy, but we’ll see if he can work his way into starting duty in the middle.

The Prospects

Grant Miller, redshirt freshman: At 6’4” and 285 pounds, the son of former Titans offensive tackle Fred Miller doesn’t have his father’s size and probably still needs to add more weight before he’s ready to compete for a starting spot. The upside is there but Miller is still probably a year away from contributing.

Dan Dawkins, freshman: The #1 Center prospect in the class according to Rivals — before he committed to Vanderbilt, anyway (har!) — Dawkins comes with college-ready size at 6’3” and 300 pounds and could be the rare freshman to be an immediate contributor on the offensive line.