NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The old football refrain, “it starts up front,” will certainly ring true for the Vanderbilt defense in 2020.
The Commodores bring back a host of veterans on the defensive line and have added some new depth as well. That group should be primed to some marked improvement from 2019.
“I think we have a lot of potential, a lot of promise to do some really great things,” redshirt senior Drew Birchmeier said. “We got to learn these new schemes, learn what to do and how to play again. But looking like there are a lot of good things.”
Birchmeier is one of three returning defensive linemen for Vandy who made at least 20 tackles in 2019 – seniors Cameron Tidd and Dayo Odeyingbo are the others. Redshirt junior Rutger Reitmaier (14 tackles) and sophomore Daevion Davis (14 tackles) are also back to play in first-year defensive coordinator Ted Roof’s system.
“Now we’re starting to look like the rest of this conference and that’s where we want to get – we want to look the part and play the part,” Vanderbilt defensive line coach Jovan Haye said. “I think having those bigger bodies, space-eaters is going to help us do exactly what we need to do on defense.
“It’s great to have those young guys because they’re going to be part of the future – they are the future.”
Senior Brandon Maddox also played in nine games for the Commodores in 2019 and was credited with five stops. Vandy signed junior college transfer Raashaan Wilkins (6-3, 300) in February to add even more depth in 2020.
During the program’s third practice of the spring Friday morning inside the David Williams Recreation and Wellness Center, Odeyingbo recognized the defensive line group has an exciting mix of youth and experience.
“We got a lot of confidence right now. We pretty much know we can play,” Odeyingbo said. “There was a bit of a learning curve last year with all guys being young, figuring out what we’re supposed to do. But I think this year we’re going to be ready to play, ready to fly around and be used to the tempo of the SEC.”
One area the Vandy defensive line will look to improve in 2020 is getting into the backfield. The Dores registered just 20 sacks last season and just 69 tackles for loss.
But the Commodores believe those numbers will go up thanks to a lot of that aforementioned experience that will also help some rising talents make plays.
“Tidd, (Odeyingbo) and me, we’ve been here four or five years at this point,” Birchmeier said. “That’s our goal is to really try to help (the newcomers) – and they’re all very confident players, very good players. They’re just younger and haven’t played as much football yet.
“They’re going to do a lot of great things – our goal is just to help them with that.”