If there’s a place on the field where it seems like Vanderbilt has improved a lot since Clark Lea took over the program, it’s the offensive line. Under A.J. Blazek, the offensive line has (a) gotten a lot bigger and (b) feels like it’s a lot better at the basics of doing its job than it was at the tail end of the Derek Mason era.
Today, we’re going to talk about the offensive tackles. As always, there’s a lot of guesswork where younger offensive linemen will end up — I’m projecting two of the true freshmen to end up at tackle, but of course that’s subject to change. It’s hard to figure out what, exactly, Vanderbilt is going to do at tackle: last year’s starting right tackle, Jacob Brammer, is now graduated; meanwhile, Vanderbilt used two left tackles and both are back.
Gunnar Hansen, redshirt sophomore: The 6’5”, 321-pound Hansen was Vanderbilt’s starting left tackle for seven games before moving to left guard for the last four. That might have been forced by an injury to starting guard Delfin Xavier Castillo, though, and anyway Hansen allowed just two sacks all season. I would expect him to be back at left tackle this season.
Junior Uzebu, sixth-year senior: The 6’6”, 330-pound Uzebu, who transferred in from West Virginia prior to 2021, looked like a bust when he barely got onto the field for the 2021 Vanderbilt football team. But then he turned into a key cog on the 2022 offensive line, functioning as a reserve tackle in the first half of the season before claiming the starting job at left tackle for the last four games of the season including both SEC wins. I don’t know what the upside is here, but I’m going to guess he’ll start at right tackle unless he’s passed by one of the youngsters.
Leyton Nelson, redshirt freshman: There was some talk out of fall camp last season that the 6’6”, 308-pound Nelson would crack the offensive line rotation as a true freshman. That didn’t happen — Nelson’s action last season consisted of playing a few snaps against Kentucky — but I still like the upside here, and he’s probably next in line at tackle behind the presumptive starters.
Gage Pitchford, redshirt sophomore: The 6’6”, 315-pound Pitchford saw most of his action last season at guard; that was probably necessary because of a rash of injuries on the interior of the offensive line (the same reason that Hansen moved inside late in the season.) He still has the size to end up at tackle.
David Siegel, redshirt freshman: The 6’6”, 293-pound Siegel wasn’t highly regarded as a recruit, but then guys from the Northeast often aren’t. He played in four games last season on special teams while preserving a redshirt year. If the 293 is still accurate, he’s probably not ready this season.
Barrett Maddox, freshman: An in-state product, the 6’6”, 281-pound Maddox looks mean on film and it’s always fun to snatch players right out from under Tennessee’s nose. It’s even better when they turn into good players for us, of course. Maddox isn’t going to play at 281, so he’ll need a year or two in the weight room before he’s ready.
Misael Sandoval, freshman: Size isn’t a problem for Sandoval, who comes in at 6’6” and 337 pounds. A late flip from San Diego State, he probably won’t play much if at all as a freshman but is on the track to play at tackle down the road.