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Vanderbilt releases season-opening depth chart

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Few major surprises on the first depth chart of the season.

NCAA Football: Tennessee at Vanderbilt Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Following Clark Lea’s season-opening press conference on Tuesday, Vanderbilt released the first depth chart of the season ahead of Saturday’s opener against East Tennessee State. There aren’t a ton of surprises, but the depth chart and my thoughts are below.

Quarterbacks

  • Ken Seals (6’3”/220 Soph., Azle, TX); Mike Wright (6’4”/190 Soph., Fayetteville, GA); Jeremy Moussa (6’3”/225 R-Jr., Chino Hills, CA)

Clark Lea went over this at the press conference, so I’ll just say that it’s notable here that he didn’t give Seals and Wright the “or” designation — they’re both going to play, but the implication is that Seals has clearly separated himself and will play the bulk of the snaps.

Running Backs

  • Re’Mahn Davis (5’9”/205 R-Soph., San Francisco, CA); Rocko Griffin (5’9”/203 Soph., Rincon, GA) OR Patrick Smith (5’10”/185 Fr., Atlantic City, NJ)

As expected, Re’Mahn Davis is the starter here. Patrick Smith was something of an afterthought in the recruiting process, though he had an impressive high school career in New Jersey, so it’s notable that Clark Lea doesn’t view any real separation between him and Rocko Griffin for the backup role.

Wide Receivers

  • WR1: Will Sheppard (6’3”/200 Soph., Mandeville, LA); Quincy Skinner Jr. (6’1”/200 Fr., Pompano Beach, FL); Logan Kyle (6’3”/209 R-Fr., Cypress, TX)
  • WR2: Cam Johnson (6’0”/200 R-Jr., Brentwood, TN); Devin Boddie Jr. (5’11”/200 R-Soph., Memphis, TN); Tyrell Alexander (6’1”/195 6th, Lancaster, TX)
  • WR3: Chris Pierce Jr. (6’4”/235 5th, Smithfield, VA); Amir Abdur-Rahman (6’4”/215 R-Jr., Atlanta, GA); Gamarion Carter (6’2”/195 Fr., Toccoa, GA)

Seeing Will Sheppard atop the depth chart isn’t surprising if you’ve been paying attention to Clark Lea in fall camp; he clearly had an impressive camp and won a starting job. Quincy Skinner Jr. was a four-star recruit and also had a good enough camp to make the second string. That does come at the expense of Amir Abdur-Rahman, a guy who I thought had a lot of potential a couple of years ago but seemed to get sidetracked by an injury in the 2019 season opener.

Tight Ends

  • Ben Bresnahan (6’4”/243 R-Jr., Cumming, GA); Gavin Schoenwald (6’4”/243 R-Jr., Brentwood, TN); Brayden Bapst (6’8”/280 R-Soph., Washington, DC)

The first two are pretty straight forward. The surprise here is Brayden Bapst, who until a few days ago was listed as an offensive lineman on the roster. Bapst played tight end in high school before Derek Mason tried to bulk him up into an offensive tackle; Clark Lea apparently has decided to move him back to tight end.

Offensive Line

LT: Tyler Steen (6’5”/315 R-Jr., Miami, FL); Jason Brooks Jr. (6’4”/295 R-Fr., Houston, TX); Jonathan Stewart (6’7”/340 R-Sr., Lawrenceville, GA)

LG: Cole Clemens (6’6”/335 R-Sr., South Jordan, UT); Julian Hernandez (6’4”/304 R-Soph., Davie, FL)

C: Michael Warden (6’2”/286 R-Jr., Loveland, OH); Kevo Wesley (6’4”/290 R-Fr., Chicago, IL)

RG: Ben Cox (6’5”/310 Soph., Radford, VA); Bryce Bailey (6’5”/304 R-Sr., Newburgh, IN) OR Dan Dawkins (6’3”/304 R-Jr., Staten Island, NY)

RT: Bradley Ashmore (6’6”/290 Soph., Neptune Beach, FL); Junior Uzebu (6’6”/326 R-Jr., Atlanta, GA)

The offensive line is where we get our first real surprise: walk-on Michael Warden is listed as the team’s starting center for the season opener. Other than that, I can’t say I’m really surprised by anything; I would have thought Bryce Bailey or Dan Dawkins would be in line to start at one of the guard spots, but Ben Cox was a regular on the line last season as a true freshman. The scary part is that the offensive line averages 307.2 across and that’s with the 335-pound Cole Clemens at left guard.

Defensive Line

DE1: Elijah McAllister (6’6”/261 R-Jr., Rumson, NJ); Lorenza Surgers (6’5”/265 R-Jr., Cary, NC) OR Alex Williams (6’6”/265 R-Soph., Akron, OH)

DT1: Daevion Davis (6’2”/285 Jr., Madison, AL); Raashaan Wilkins Jr. (6’3”/310 Sr., Chicago, IL); Devin Lee (6’3”/277 Fr., McDonough, GA)

DT2: Malik Langham (6’5”/296 R-Jr., Huntsville, AL); Christian James (6’4”/275 R-Soph., Memphis, TN)

DE2: Nate Clifton (6’5”/280 R-Soph., LaVergne, TN); Michael Spencer (6’4”/260 R-Fr., Union, KY) OR Marcus Bradley (6’3”/275 Fr., Gaithersburg, MD)

Yeah, you knew when Daevion Davis and Elijah McAllister were among the first two players to claim jersey numbers that they were going to claim starting jobs as well. Raashaan Wilkins started all nine games last season and looks like he’s gotten passed by both Davis and Malik Langham, which is probably a good thing: those are two guys who have always had a lot of potential. Nate Clifton claiming the fourth starting spot on the line is a bit surprising, though the fact that walk-on Michael Spencer is listed as the second-stringer should tell you what’s really going on here: there isn’t a ton of depth. I would suspect Marcus Bradley, the top recruit in Vanderbilt’s 2021 class, will play a lot and may even be the starter there by the end of the season.

Linebackers

LB1: Anfernee Orji (6’2”/230 Jr., Rockwall, TX); Brayden DeVault-Smith (6’3”/227 R-Sr., Nashville, TN)

LB2: Ethan Barr (6’3”/244 Soph., Flower Mound, TX); Feleti Afemui (6’3”/245 R-Sr., Kihei, HI)

LB3: Michael Owusu (6’5”/231 R-Sr., Oxnard, CA) OR De’Rickey Wright (6’4”/230 R-Fr., Gadsden, AL)

Reading between the lines, the third linebacker slot is really a “flex” position, with Owusu as the third linebacker when Jesse Minter wants to go with a 4-3 look and De’Rickey Wright functioning as a third safety in more of a 4-2-5. Anyway, the other two starting linebackers were more or less what I expected: Anfernee Orji has been showing up on some preseason All-SEC lists, and Ethan Barr looked very good as a true freshman last season. Feleti Afemui (who started 10 games in 2019) and Brayden DeVault-Smith (who’s started two games in his career) are the backups, which is good. This surprisingly looks like a decent group.

Defensive Backs

CB1: Gabe Jeudy-Lally (6’1”/186 R-Soph., Charlotte, NC); BJ Anderson (6’1”/195 R-Jr., Andalusia, AL)

S1: Maxwell Worship (6’1”/210 Sr., Coral Springs, FL); Brendon Harris (6’1”/214 R-Jr., Chattanooga, TN)

S2: Dashaun Jerkins (6’0”/200 R-Jr., Woodbridge, VA); Chase Lloyd (6’2”/203 Soph., Atlanta, GA)

CB2: Jaylen Mahoney (5’11”/191 Jr., Rock Hill, SC); Allan George (6’1”/195 R-Sr., Andalusia, AL)

No big surprises here, either, at least not after that stat came out on Twitter that Gabe Jeudy-Lally allowed one of the lowest completion rates among SEC cornerbacks last year. Jaylen Mahoney started all eight games, mostly as the nickel back, last season and should slide into the spot vacated by Elijah Hamilton. And unsurprisingly, both of last year’s starting safeties will start again this season.

Special Teams

PK: Joseph Bulovas (6’0”/210 R-Sr., Mandeville, LA); Pierson Cooke (6’0”/209 R-Jr., Bloomfield Hills, MI)

KO: Pierson Cooke; Joseph Bulovas

P: Harrison Smith (5’10”/183 R-Jr., Franklin, TN); Jared Wheatley (6’1”/205 R-Soph., Indian Trail, NC)

LS: Wesley Schelling (6’5”/235 R-Fr., Nashville, TN); Zach Drevno (6’0”/209 R-Jr., Saline, MI)

H: Harrison Smith; Ken Seals

KR/PR: Cam Johnson; Devin Boddie

The most notable thing on special teams is that Cam Johnson will handle returns. Other than that, Harrison Smith was clearly going to keep the job as the team’s primary punter, and I’d figured Joseph Bulovas would handle placekicking duties, with Pierson Cooke’s booming leg being relegated to kickoff duties. Wesley Schelling unsurprisingly claimed the job as long snapper. I know you all were holding your breath for that.

Notable absences

I can’t really say that any of the true freshmen who aren’t on the depth chart are “notable,” in the sense that most true freshmen aren’t going to see the field much and the staff will probably try to redshirt them if they can. But there are a few guys missing whose absences don’t really have any obvious explanation:

  • DB Justin Harris (played in all nine games last season with two starts)
  • LB Alston Orji (seven games, two starts last season)
  • DL Derek Green (eight games last season)
  • TE Justin Ball (nine games, four starts last season)

Overall Thoughts

So, I’m just going to point this out because it’s very different from the Derek Mason era: there’s only one “or” designation for a starting spot (at the third linebacker spot), and that one has a pretty obvious explanation. And there are only five total, with four of them being for backup spots. (Derek Mason, on the other hand, once listed “or” designations at both punter and long snapper on the same depth chart.) In other words, Clark Lea’s first depth chart is pretty straightforward; there doesn’t seem to be a ton of gamesmanship, and the guys listed as starters are quite likely the ones who will actually be starters on Saturday.