Vanderbilt’s special teams unit improved in 2018, but improvement is relative.
The Commodores ranked 100th nationally in special teams S&P+, a year after ranking 128th — out of 130 teams. Vanderbilt’s special teams unit thus improved from legitimately awful to merely below average.
The biggest improvement came on punting: Columbia graduate transfer Parker Thome was quietly one of the nation’s best, with a 44.9 average, and that vastly improved a real sore spot for Vanderbilt. On the other hand, the team had virtually no return game to speak of, and field goals were extremely hit-or-miss (and I mean this in the most literal sense possible.) Thome is gone now; is further improvement coming in 2019?
Ryley Guay, senior: It’s quite obvious what the coaching staff sees in Guay: the 5’10”, 191-pound (former?) walk-on has a legitimately booming leg. He sent 51 kickoffs for touchbacks and made a career-long 53-yard field goal against Florida. The negative? He went 13-for-22 on field goal attempts overall, including 4-of-7 inside of 30 yards — a range in which most kickers should be automatic. (Vanderbilt’s opponents, for instance, were 6-for-7 inside of 30 yards.) Granted, this didn’t seem to affect him on extra points, where he went 47-for-47. And having a kicker with a good leg who’s iffy on short field goal attempts seems like a better problem to have than a kicker who’s automatic on short field goals but doesn’t have the leg for longer attempts, I guess. Still, nailing down the short-range field goals will go a long way.
Jared Wheatley, freshman: The 6’1”, 195-pound freshman from Indian Trail, North Carolina, was brought in to be the punter, and we’re assuming that’s what he will be until we hear otherwise. He averaged 48.6 yards per punt as a senior in high school.
Javan Rice, redshirt freshman: Rice was a scholarship kicker in the 2018 recruiting class, so it was a bit of a surprise when he didn’t claim placekicking duties as a true freshman — particularly in the middle of the season, when Guay was struggling to make field goals. Anyway, he’s still here, but it’s not clear what he’s going to do this season — early camp reports suggest that Guay will be the primary kicker.
The Return Man
Justice Shelton-Mosley, redshirt senior: Shelton-Mosley, the graduate transfer from Harvard, will see some time at wide receiver — but the real reason he’s here is the return game. He was a first team All-Ivy selection as a return specialist, and he had three punt return touchdowns in his career there. He’s a potential difference maker for Vanderbilt in that area, and that’s something that the Commodores frankly haven’t had in a while.
The Long Snapper
Scott Meyer, redshirt senior: Look, I don’t know enough about long snapping to tell you much about this, so just know that Scott Meyer — a graduate transfer who was Alabama’s long snapper in 2017 — is the long snapper.