Spring football practice notebook: buzz around Stump, position battles

When head coach Derek Mason said he wasn’t done recruiting for his team on signing day, he wasn’t messing around.

Last week, former Ohio State wide receiver Alex Stump announced he plans on transferring to Vanderbilt. The 2015 four-star Buckeye recruit fell out of favor in Columbus, getting only one catch for eight yards in 2016.

In the end, Stump chose Vanderbilt with the guidance of an old friend and teammate, Commodores quarterback Kyle Shurmur, who played with him for two years at St. Edward High School in Lakewood, Ohio.

“I talked to him along the way,” Shurmur said after practice on Monday. “I’m real excited. He won’t be able to play this year, but he’s a great guy. He’ll really fit here. I’m excited for him to come.”

When he becomes eligible to play again in 2018, Stump may play an integral role for Vanderbilt, as the Commodores will graduate three key wide receivers this year: Caleb Scott, Trent Sherfield and C.J. Duncan.

Mason added Stump to keep building that depth at wide receiver, and he might not be done building depth at other positions.

“I’m bringing in good players because I believe we need to make sure we build competition at every position,” Mason said. “I told you I wasn’t done after signing day, and that I needed to get more players in here. I’ll tell you right now, I’m still not done. I’m still working hard, extremely hard to get good players so I can build our depth.”

Here are some other notes from Vanderbilt’s first practice since returning from Spring Break:

Offensive Chemistry and Depth

Vanderbilt’s offense exploded in the second half of the 2016 season thanks to the emergence of Shurmur as a legitimate starting quarterback. Much of his emergence can also be credited to a growing chemistry with his wide receivers.

As spring practice has continued, the wide receivers continue to develop a rapport with the junior quarterback.

“We’re just trying to build some communication,” wide receiver Kalija Lipscomb said. “Last year, we looked like we weren’t on the same page on deep balls sometimes. We’re just trying to gel a little bit more and build some communication between us.”

The Commodores return a strong core of wide receivers, led by Scott, Duncan, Sherfield and Lipscomb. Mason liked what he saw from this strong core of receivers.

“I think it’s night and day,” he said. Watching these guys run around, you’re just seeing chemistry between the wide receivers, the running backs. I’m seeing running backs involved in the pass game. I just think we’re multi-dimensional.”

Of all the Vanderbilt receivers, Sherfield has looked very strong this spring. He made a few beautiful catches on brilliant Shurmur throws in practice on Monday. He was also visibly emotional and passionate on the field throughout the practice, which was not lost on Mason.

“I try to be cautiously optimistic, but I do know this: you’re not going to find a harder-working guy than Trent Sherfield,” he said. “He puts in the time, and when he gets between the white lines, he’s always going to put in work. That’s exactly what he did coming in today. You watch him, he’s like a racehorse. He comes out here from beginning to end, he’s high-energy. He competes, he talks trash, he gets after guys and right now, what you’re starting to see is good production from him. I like what I see right now.”

Replacing Zach Cunningham

With standout linebacker Zach Cunningham headed to the NFL, the Commodores needed to try to find a way to replace him, along with other veterans like Adam Butler and Ja’karri Thomas in the front seven.

In the opening weeks of spring ball, Mason has rotated a number of players through the front seven at different positions to figure out what combinations work best. He’ll rely on veteran players, like senior Emmanuel Smith, who will settle into a more permanent role as a linebacker this season.

“We came into spring ball, we changed people’s positions, moved them around, filling in the pieces as we go along, trying to fill in the linemen we lost, including Zach and Ja’karri,” Smith said. “We’re just filling in the void.”

However, Mason made it perfectly clear that they weren’t going to try to reshape their defense because they lost a few players: this is a team defense.

“There’s no question that those guys need to step up, but this isn’t a one-man game,” Mason said. “This isn’t a one-man job. We built this thing to be like a unit. This group comes out here and we’ve got a nice group of guys that understand that it’s ‘next man up.’ Everybody is going to get an opportunity, and you need to compete and you need to make each other better.”

Early Enrollees Shining

The Commodores already have two members of their 2017 recruiting class, linebacker Dimitri Moore and safety Tae Daley, practicing with the team. So far, the two have managed to learn a lot and make an impact in a short period of time.

With the rotation going on at linebacker, Moore is getting plenty of attention. He could see the field this upcoming season, depending on how the depth shakes out. He is listed at 6’3” and 208 lbs. on the depth chart, but Mason seemed to think his weight was even higher, as he has gained a lot since enrolling early.

Moore’s skill and speed are noticeable on the field, and if he adds size, he could be a dangerous defensive weapon for Vanderbilt.

“He’s put on 12 pounds since he’s been here,” Mason said. “To see him around 216-217, that’s pretty impressive. When you look at his body, he’s getting bigger through the shoulders, and that’s what you’re starting to see. We knew that was going to happen when he got here. He’s doing a great job of sticking to the plan and make sure that he takes care of his body. If he continues to grow, you’re going to see a young guy step on the field and play early.”

Vanderbilt will continue with spring practice for the next two weeks, leading up to their open scrimmage at Vanderbilt Stadium on Saturday, March 25th and 10 a.m. central.

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