Vandy offensive line striving to make the offensive engine run

by Chad Bishop

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The mantra and mindset for the Vanderbilt offensive line in 2022 is simple.

“I know this – not a lot of engines are running if they’re not greased-up and the oil’s not fresh,” Vandy offensive line coach AJ Blazek said. “Really, hopefully, we’re the group that can provide some consistency here and get things going every day on a daily basis.”

Blazek wants his group to have a hard-hat, lunch-pail mentality this spring, summer and fall ahead of – and into – the 2022 season. That’s not too dissimilar from most offensive lines across the country, but Vandy may have a slight advantage in that endeavor given that Blazek returned for a second season with the Commodores.

The student-athletes who are back with the program this spring are enjoying the continuity.

“I will say something different is that in my three (previous) years here I have had three different offensive line coaches so I’ve kind of had to scrap and learn a bunch of new information and technique,” Vandy senior center Julian Hernandez said. “Having the same offensive line coach for two years and running the same offensive scheme I could see our young guys are starting to develop a little bit better, we’re starting to get into a rhythm a little bit better. Just having the same information is just refreshing for the mind and allows the muscles to get into that muscle-memory stage where we’re kind of just flowing into it.

“As an offense we’re running more efficient now, running the rock better and guys are knowing what to do a lot more easily.”

Hernandez was among the group of offensive linemen during Wednesday’s practice running with the first-team offense, part of a mixture of veterans and youngsters in that rotation.

To Hernandez’s right at guard was sophomore Delfin Castillo and Bradley Ashmore at right tackle. Ben Cox lined up at left guard with Gunnar Hansen and David Siegel taking reps at left tackle.

Gage Pitchford, Junior Uzebu, Tyler Bence, Trent Weaver, Charlie Clark and Jake Ketschek have also been among the linemen getting reps with the first two units of the offensive line.

Blazek said the influx of true freshmen coming in the summer months, along with a few possible transfers, will help that unit’s depth. But for right now he has been impressed with how his front-line workers have operated.

“Our Saturday scrimmage might have been one of the cleaner practices we’ve had in my year-and-a-half,” Blazek said. “We’re really young, but it’s fun because they are just eager to come out every day. I don’t think they really know what tired is supposed to feel like, I don’t think they know what an end of spring ball feels like, so they’re just hungry to come out, ‘What am I going to learn today?’

“When they stop in and ask questions they are digging in. It’s like they are panicking to stay up which is really good. Sometimes you get older guys in the spring ball it’s like, ‘Here we go.’ So it’s been really fun to coach those guys. They are humming right now.”

Added Hernandez: “There’s a lot of competition. It’s just wanting to get better. You’re going to go hard so the other person gets better. Competition is just natural. It’s not a bad thing, it’s honestly a really good thing.”

Vanderbilt is scheduled to return to the practice field Friday morning before having the rest of the weekend off and returning for its ninth practice of the spring. The team’s annual spring game is scheduled for 1 p.m. on April 16.

— Chad Bishop covers Vanderbilt for
Follow him @MrChadBishop.