NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Vanderbilt will get a significant gauge of where it stands at this point when it holds a scrimmage Saturday, its first of the spring season.
The Commodores are scheduled to take the field at Ensworth’s First Campus at 10:30 a.m. Saturday. The event marks the eighth practice of the spring for the Dores and the first of three scrimmages.
“I want to see two sides that are playing in structure, playing together and putting pressure on each other,” Vandy head coach Clark Lea said Thursday. “I want to see the moments where we have explosive plays, I want it to be about high-level execution and winning one-on-one matchups. I don’t want it to be about a breakdown in coverage or breakdown in block scheme, I want it to be about a player that is rising up.
“We’re finding out about the people we have, not just the plays we run. I’ve seen that at times to this point. In fact I’ve seen that more this camp than any other since I’ve been here, spring and fall included. But hopefully we see a lot of high-structured plays, a lot of effort, physical and the explosives come because guys are risking up and making a play, winning a one-on-one and creating some excitement around what we’re doing.”
Saturday’s scrimmage is scheduled to last approximately two hours and is open to the public. Vandy also plans to hold a second open scrimmage April 1, also at Ensworth, and will hold its annual spring game at 5 p.m. April 8 at the Vanderbilt Soccer and Lacrosse Complex.
Tight End Talk
For those in and around the program, it has been a bit odd to watch the Commodores play ball this spring and not see two familiar veterans on the field.
Tight ends Ben Bresnahan and Gavin Schoenwald played their final games for the Commodores in the November and left behind a high standard for those who come after them. Associate head coach Justin Lustig is charged with transforming the current tight ends on the roster into the level of player both Bresnahan and Schoenwald turned out to be.
“Last year (Schoenwald) and (Bresnahan) were both upper-level guys, super-experienced,” Lustig said. “Now we’ve got the upper-level guy (Justin Ball) and kind of have the younger-level (Cole Spence). Mentor-mentee a little bit.
“But very similar skill set. Super hard workers, they’re doing a nice job right now. Excited about their growth.”
Ball (6-6, 245) has been in Nashville since 2019 and has appeared in 27 games since then. His 2022 campaign was his best as a receiver as he recorded five receptions for 67 yards.
Spence (6-7, 247) saw action in four games during his true freshman season in ’22, mostly as a special teams contributor.
That pair has been joined this by Logan Kyle, a former wide receiver making the transition to the position this spring. Vanderbilt also signed Kamrean Johnson of Theodore, Alabama, in December and Josh Palmer of Selma, Alabama, in February.
“I think it’s really hard to play as a freshman tight end,” Lustig said. “Other than quarterback it might be the hardest position on the field to learn. You have to learn basically all the receiver spots, you have to learn all the offensive line play. You’re basically an offensive lineman and a receiver. And then sometimes you’re in the backfield doing some things that the running backs do.”
Vanderbilt’s defense has the makings to take the next step as a unit in 2023. Lea has seen flashes of that halfway through spring camp.
“I think coach (Nick) Howell is more comfortable. I think the guys are more comfortable in the system. Structure has been better,” he said. “Fewer explosive plays (by the opposing offense). On the whole there is way more structure, comfort, execution.”
The Commodores have three of their top five tacklers back from a season ago and seven of the top 10. There are proven veterans at every level and a healthy number of younger playmakers ready to provide instant depth.
Getting both veterans and youngsters to be all be on the same come late August when Vanderbilt hosts Hawai’i is the next step.
“Obviously this is a side of the ball that needs to perform better for us as a program to move forward,” Lea said. “It’s really about finding a level of consistency there. At times we stood tall on defense and did well. Some games it was a lack of execution on third downs, some games it was tackling on the perimeter—we got to be able to put it altogether. That’s what spring camp is all about.”
Pro Day Coming
Vanderbilt will hold its annual pro day Tuesday inside the David Williams II Recreation and Wellness Center. The event is designed to assist professional scouts have an up-close and personal look at former Commodores who may be able to make an impact at the next level.
— Chad Bishop covers Vanderbilt for VUCommodores.com.
Follow him @MrChadBishop.