NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Commodores took a big first step Tuesday toward the start of a new season.
Vanderbilt hit the practice field for the first of 15 spring practices and began to further distance itself from a disappointing 2019 while looking ahead to a promising 2020.
“The players have a different mantra looking out on the season this year,” Vandy redshirt-junior cornerback Allan George said. “Coming off of last season we don’t want anything like that again. A lot of people in this program came from winning programs in high school. We know what winning feels like and losing kind of hurts a lot. We’re not trying to look back on that at all.”
George is one of a large group of defensive veterans returning to play for new Vanderbilt defensive coordinator Ted Roof. On the other side of the ball, first-year Vandy offensive coordinator Todd Fitch will be shaping an attack with a relatively young unit.
Only three quarterbacks – Ken Seals, Jeremy Moussa and Jack Bowen – are with the team this spring (and Moussa is limited with an ankle injury) and Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason said Tuesday two of the team’s offensive tackles came down with the flu last week.
For those Commodores who were able to participate Tuesday, there’s a level of excitement in running a different scheme and system.
“As a receiver I love it,” Vanderbilt junior wide receiver Cam Johnson said of his team’s offensive attack. “It’s something that I sort of ran in high school, we ran no-huddle offense and we swung it around a lot. So it’s sort of getting back to my old roots, but I definitely like it. I think we have the weapons to do it and I think it’s going to be really good for this offense.”
The Commodores are coming off a 3-9 campaign in which they could never quite get the ball rolling. So the returning players are more than anxious to turn over a new leaf.
Mason said he was pleased with his squad’s readiness to get to work, its tempo and its execution. With the Dores going padless for three days this week before taking next week off, he’s looking for consistency and improvement during the early portion of spring practice.
“I just want to make sure from my vantage point I’m looking at big picture,” Mason said. “I’m looking at how do we move as a unit? How cohesive is the communication on both sides of the ball? How are these guys competing?
“I just need to make sure that I get what I need so that these (assistant coaches) can truly evaluate exactly what these guys can do. Right now, again, it’s just the first day. We probably got about 64 plays in so that’s enough plays for our coaches to teach off of and talk about how we do it, how we get to the line of scrimmage, how we execute getting off a block, how we execute our back end adjustments – it’s more about execution so we can take a look at these things the first day and just make sure guys are the right places doing the right things.”
Vanderbilt is scheduled to return to the field at 7 a.m. Thursday and 7 a.m. Friday. All spring practices are open to the public.
• It was the first practice as a Commodore for both Seals and Moussa. Both looked poised and comfortable in the Fitch’s new offensive scheme. “I thought (Seals) looked good moving around and Moussa threw the ball well,” Mason said. “They can both make plays and the arm talent (from both) is undeniable.”
• The practice also marked Tony Ball’s first day on West End as wide receivers coach. Ball, a former offensive assistant at Georgia, LSU and Virginia Tech, worked the 2017-18 seasons with Fitch at Louisiana Tech.
• Two key offensive tackles – sophomore Tyler Steen and redshirt freshman Brayden Bapst – missed practice due to sickness. The absence of Steen and Bapst gave extra repetitions to a pair of prospects who added strength during the team’s winter conditioning effort in junior Jonathan Stewart and redshirt freshman Donald Fitzgerald.
• With senior Frank Coppet, sophomore Brendon Harris and redshirt freshman Justin Harris limited this spring, five prospects – senior Tae Daley, junior Max Worship, junior Camden Coleman, sophomore Dashaun Jerkins and sophomore Tre Douglas will compete at the team’s two safety positions.