NASHVILLE, Tenn. — With kickoff to the 2020 season now less than three weeks away, Vanderbilt took a significant step Saturday toward formulating a depth chart before heading to No. 13 Texas A&M on Sept. 26.
The Commodores went through their first full scrimmage of preseason practice inside Vanderbilt Stadium and the team’s coaches took note of where every student-athlete on the roster stands.
“I think as you get closer, there’s no doubt it, you got to be honest with them,” Vanderbilt offensive coordinator Todd Fitch said. “If it’s not a good day you have to let them know and you have to let them know why. But at the same time you have to point out successes when you do have them. It is a confidence game and we play a tough schedule.
“That’s a big part of this job, is to keep your guys moving forward. Sometimes you can’t see the progress – but there’s progress.”
Saturday scrimmage scenes.
— Vanderbilt Football (@VandyFootball) September 5, 2020
Vandy returned to practice Tuesday morning and head coach Derek Mason said one of the biggest encouragements for him was seeing no new names on the injury report and being relatively healthy in terms of no new positive COVID-19 tests. Mason has paused camp twice this fall as a precaution against the ongoing pandemic.
The ability to evaluate his roster both Saturday and Tuesday without major COVID-related issues was a positive sign.
“We’re still trying to figure out what everybody is,” Mason said. “When you start looking at 10 practices and evaluating where everybody is, guys are on pace and they’re getting better.”
Admitting that he wasn’t quite sure what to fully expect going into Saturday, Mason said he thought his team was competitive and enjoyed running a series of consecutive plays without stoppages. He also complimented the speed of his defense and the red zone production of his offense.
Freshman quarterback Mike Wright threw a pair of touchdown passes in the red zone, according to Mason, and freshman quarterback Ken Seals also completed a touchdown pass (although Mason said it was called back due to a penalty). Junior Pierson Cooke was sharp in the kicking game – making a 47-yard field goal – and redshirt junior linebacker Dimitri Moore impressed throughout.
Mason also noted the play of senior defensive end Dayo Odeyingbo, sophomore defensive back Jaylen Mahoney and freshmen defensive backs De’Rickey Wright and Donovan Kaufman and running backs Ja’Veon Marlow (a redshirt sophomore) and Keyon Henry-Brooks (a sophomore).
Another group that stood out was one that maybe wasn’t expected to do so.
“The offensive line really surprised me with where we are and with some of the guys that are rotating in and some of the guys that have moved around,” Mason said. “Those guys did a good job of protecting the quarterback.”
Vanderbilt is scheduled to hold another key scrimmage Saturday. With a squad that has a good chunk of its playmakers and returning starters back on defense, that practice will be another chance for student-athletes on the offensive side of the ball to lay claim to a No. 1 spot in the starting lineup.
And Fitch said he’s been pleased with everyone’s effort to continue to compete to be atop the depth chart.
“They’ve bought into it,” the coordinator said of his offense. “The guys that were here have bought into it. They’re giving us their best mentally and physically every day that they can. That’s a good thing.
“As we get closer we got to make sure that we’re really tight with what we do and we give our guys the best advantage we can schematically to give our kids the best chance at success.”
Chad Bishop covers Vanderbilt for VUCommodores.com. Follow him @MrChadBishop.