Since the departure of Joejuan Williams in 2018, Vanderbilt has been plagued by issues in its secondary. Last year, however, the bottom completely fell out. Vanderbilt allowed 296.4 passing ypg, good for 113 in the NCAA (though not LAST in the SEC thanks to Ole Miss and LSU).
Of course, last year was anything but normal for anyone, but especially for the Commodores, who saw several starters in the secondary opt out, become lost to injury, or enter the transfer portal. As such, the results were fairly predictable, as this unit contributed substantially to a winless season. In short, Clark Lea’s first year task will essentially be to rebuild the unit.
With that comes a substantial amount of opportunity for players to “earn their numbers”. Today we will look primarily at the cornerbacks (who the potential starters are and who is in the pipeline). Tomorrow, we will take a look at the safeties.
Allan George - George is the most obvious candidate to retain his starting position. A fifth-year senior, George started 8 games at corner last year and 11 games in his junior year.
BJ Anderson - Anderson started 9 games in 2019 and was slotted to start last year, though a torn ACL derailed his season. This year he returns to hopefully build on what was a promising start to his career.
Gabe Jeudy-Lailly - Quite literally thrown in the fire last year, Jeudy-Lailly struggled early. However, by most accounts he has had a good offseason and camp so far and will be going toe to toe with Anderson for the starting nod.
Jaylen Mahoney - Mahoney is primarily on this list as the team’s primary nickel corner. He started eight games last year and should hang on to this position unless some of the younger players can dethrone him.
Vanderbilt has three freshmen who are CBs right now who will be looking to make an impact and get on the field this year. It’s hard to say what or how they will contribute, though we have seen some indication thus far in camp.
Tyson Russell- Russell is a bit on the smaller side at 5’11” 175, but he was a three-star recruit per 247 coming out of high school and the lack of depth and certainty at the position means he could very well find his way into the rotation as the season goes on.
Marlen Sewell - Sewell has some better height on him at 6’1”. He was also a three-star recruit per 247. He will be competing with Russell to try and make his way into game situations.
Taco Wright - The younger brother of Mike Wright, Taco has shown flashes of the athleticism his family boasts. It’s unclear how much Wright will play on defense as it appears he is well on his way to earning his spot as the team’s return specialist.
This position is very much up in the air, as Clark Lea has been playing with people’s positions during training camp, switching certain guys from corner to safety and vice-versa. They do have starting experience, which is never a bad thing, but not a lot of depth experience. However, this unit literally has nowhere to go but up, and of course a new defensive philosophy and hopefully better play on the edge and with the defensive line can help them improve on what was a forgettable 2020.