Position-by-position breakdown of Vanderbilt Football’s roster

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Position-by-position breakdown of Vanderbilt Football’s roster

Vanderbilt football players practice on Thursday, August 16, 2018. (Photo by Claire Barnett)

Vanderbilt football players practice on Thursday, August 16, 2018. (Photo by Claire Barnett)

Claire Barnett

Vanderbilt football players practice on Thursday, August 16, 2018. (Photo by Claire Barnett)

Claire Barnett

Claire Barnett

Vanderbilt football players practice on Thursday, August 16, 2018. (Photo by Claire Barnett)

Vanderbilt Football might look a bit different this season.

Many veteran Commodores graduated or left the program after last season and plenty of new highly-touted recruits will step in and take their place. This team has an interesting mix of veterans and young, unproven talent and will look to earn six wins for the second time in three seasons.

Here’s a position-by-position breakdown of Vanderbilt’s 2018 roster:

Quarterbacks

“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”

This may be a bit dramatic. Afterall, Shurmur still has a senior season left here at Vanderbilt, but fans, coaches, and players alike will find it tough to say goodbye to Shurmur after this year.

Kyle Shurmur embodies “The Vanderbilt Man” and Coach Derek Mason’s phrase, “relentless, tough, intelligent”. He has truly been through it all, from memorable upsets over Kansas State and Georgia to an embarrassing, 59-0 beatdown against Alabama. He’s been healthy nearly his whole time here, and intelligent truly doesn’t do Shurmur justice: not only has he been named to the academic honor roll twice, but his football IQ is as if he grew up with an NFL head coach in his home (spoiler: he did).

Shurmur has been one of the most reliable, consistent players or the Commodores since he arrived at Vanderbilt. The team may have had their hiccups last season, but Shurmur’s work here is not finished–fans should expect big things from the potential NFL prospect.

This year, Shurmur will serve as a fantastic role model for the young quarterback Allan Walters. Walters, a four-star quarterback out of New Jersey, received offers from noteworthy schools such as Michigan, Alabama, Texas A&M and many more before committing to Vanderbilt. While he will have to wait before the torch is passed along, there’s not much to complain about when you have Kyle Shurmur as a mentor. —Simon Gibbs, senior writer 

Running Backs

Losing the SEC’s sixth all-time leading rusher is never easy. Fortunately for the Commodores, however, they have a committee of running backs that look ready to contribute in big ways this season.

After sitting out last year due to transfer rules, Ke’Shawn Vaughn will make his highly-anticipated Vanderbilt debut. During his two seasons at Illinois, Vaughn tallied over 1,000 yards on the ground and rushed for nine touchdowns. The Nashville native is a speed back with big-play ability in both the running and passing game, similar to Webb.

Opposite of Vaughn’s speed, Khari Blasingame brings power and experience. After a switch from linebacker to running back after his first season, the redshirt senior has racked up almost 600 rushing yards and is extremely effective in short yardage situations. While Vaughn and Blasingame are expected to split carries at least in week one, Jamauri Wakefield should also get his share of carries throughout the season just like he did last year. The redshirt sophomore finished his first season with 28 carries for 115 yards and played in 11 of the 12 games.

Even with Webb gone, there will still be a big emphasis on the Commodores ground game especially with many of the wide receivers being young and unproven. —Alyssa Muir, sports reporter 

Wide Receivers

After graduating three outstanding wide receivers in Trent Sherfield, C.J. Duncan and Caleb Scott, Vanderbilt will be looking to replace a lot of production this season and provide Shurmur with some effective targets.

Luckily for Vanderbilt, they still retain their best receiver from last season in Kalija Lipscomb. He is arguably Vanderbilt’s most skilled wide receiver since Jordan Matthews graced campus with his presence. Lipscomb will carry the weight at the wide receiver position and have to make plenty of plays like he did last year.

Other than that, offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig will be rolling out plenty of relatively unproven wide-outs. Sophomore Chris Pierce, along with freshman C.J. Bolar, will get plenty of looks from Shurmur, especially if Lipscomb is double-covered. Veterans Trey Ellis and Donovan Tennyson will also factor in.

The wild card in this equation is freshman Cam Johnson, who was a standout in camp. The Brentwood native could be a major contributor this season. Look for him to be a potential breakout star this season. —Cutler Klein, sports editor

Tight Ends

Redshirt junior Jared Pinkney will get the starting nod for the season opener. Pinkney caught 22 passes for 273 yards and three touchdowns last season, and he posted nearly identical numbers in 2016.

Senior Sam Dobbs is listed as the backup, but he’s played 32 games in the past three years and should continue to see action in each contest. Dobbs hauled in eight receptions and rushed three times in 2017.

Talented freshmen Ben Bresnahan and Gavin Schoenwald were not listed on the two-deep depth chart to start the season. Schoenwald was the 6th-ranked tight end in the 2018 recruiting class, and Bresnahan was 37th in the country.

Both could see action due to the NCAA’s change to the redshirt rule. Players can now appear in up to four games without losing their redshirt status. Derek Mason will likely want to save the duo’s eligibility for this year so they can develop. —Betsy Goodfriend, senior writer

Offensive Line

Last year, the offensive line was one of the worst in the country in run blocking, but they gave quarterback Kyle Shurmur enough time on most passing downs. The line only allowed 19 sacks all season, good for 38th in the nation.

Vanderbilt returns all five starters on the line from 2017.

Right guard Bruno Reagan is the most talented offensive lineman. He has started 27 straight games. In 2016, he started the entire season at right guard, but in 2017, he filled in at center for all twelve games. According to Vanderbilt’s official depth chart, he will be returning to the right guard spot for his senior season.

Senior Justin Skule is entering his third season as the starter at left tackle. He played in 98% of the team’s snaps last year. His reliability at the blind spot should give Shurmur confidence when he drops back to pass.

Devin Cochran started 10 games at right tackle in 2017 as a freshman. He missed the Western Kentucky and Kentucky games with injuries, but returned for the Missouri and Tennessee games.

Egidio DellaRipa takes over at center from Reagan. He started the final eight games of last season at right guard.

The starter at left guard is still up in the air. Cole Clemens and Saige Young were listed as co-starters for the Middle Tennessee State game. Both are expected to see significant playing time for at least the first two non conference games. —Betsy Goodfriend, senior writer

Defensive Line

SEC Football is often described as a battle of the trenches, and on the defensive side of the ball, Vanderbilt lost that battle last year.  This year should prove to be equally as difficult, as the line is without two of its three starters in Nifae Lealao and Jonathan Wynn.

The mainstay on this defensive line will be Dare Odeyingbo, the 6’2, 282 pound senior who will play nearly every snap at the defensive end position.  Vanderbilt will have to rely on a big season from him to create pressure and control the line of scrimmage.

Opposite Dare figures to be his brother, Dayo Odeyingbo, who looked promising in limited action as a pass rusher last season as a freshman.  While they play the same position, the brothers possess completely different skill sets. Dare is more of a run-stopper with a shorter and stockier frame, while Dayo uses his long arms, 6’6 frame, and speed to disrupt quarterbacks in the passing game.  Look for the OdeyingBros to wreak havoc this season.

In the middle of the line, trying to replace Lealao with one player simply isn’t going to happen.  It’s tough to replace a guy who could eat up double teams like he did, but Cameron Tidd and Drew Birchmeier both have a year of experience under their belts and can come in ready to contribute.  Make no mistake about it, the defensive line is a work in progress, and don’t be surprised to see a mix of 3-4 and 4-3 in order to strengthen the unit up front. —Max Schneider, associate sports editor

Linebackers

The Vanderbilt linebacking core is an interesting one.

After losing Oren Burks, someone has to step into some big shoes. Chances are, there will be a tradeoff in talent, but with Charles Wright returning for his senior year at outside linebacker, there’s at least a veteran talent to mentor the young guys.

This is especially useful when there are so many young guys. Many freshman linebackers will be competing for playing time, and someone will have to break out for this defense to have any chance holding their own. Unfortunately, Charles Wright can’t hold up the whole defense.

Come Saturday, we’re probably going to see some mix of linebackers that includes Wright, Jordan Griffin, Dimitri Moore, Colin Johnson, Colin Anderson and Brayden DeVault-Smith. Clearly, this won’t (and shouldn’t) last all season. If all goes as planned, there will be clear-cut starters by week two. —Simon Gibbs, senior writer 

Secondary

After a season that saw struggles on the defensive side of the football, new defensive coordinator Jason Tarver will look for big improvements in Vanderbilt’s secondary.

At the safety position, the group will be led by graduate student LaDarius Wiley, who led the commodores last season with 88 total tackles.  In addition to Wiley, Tae Daley figures to be a large part of the Vanderbilt secondary. Daley saw game action in 11 of 12 games last season and could also be seen at the nickel position as the fifth defensive back in some sets for Coach Tarver.

At cornerback, Joejuan Williams will be looking to build on a stellar season with 10 defended passes. He has NFL-caliber talent and will provide some stability in an otherwise relatively inexperienced group.

Senior cornerback Donovan Sheffield will be a leader for the commodores this season after playing in all 12 games both his sophomore and junior years.  He finished with 14 tackles last season including five in Vanderbilt’s win over Alabama A&M. Other than Sheffield and Williams, Vanderbilt will be young at the corner position with redshirt freshman Randall Haynie and redshirt sophomore Elijah Hamilton. Mason also has said that cornerbacks Allan George and Williams could see some time at the nickel position this season.

One name not on the week one depth chart will be redshirt sophomore safety Zaire Jones who has been suspended indefinitely for an alleged assault of an off duty police officer, per Adam Sparks of the Tennessean. Expect redshirt sophomore Frank Coppet to pick up the slack in place of Jones —Justin Hershey, sports reporter 

Special Teams

This will be a completely new-look special teams unit after kicker Tommy Openshaw graduated, punter Sam Loy left the program and coordinator Jeff Genyk was let go.

New coordinator Shawn Mennenga will have plenty of new talent to work with, however, At kicker, walk-on Ryley Guay won the starting job with his big boot and powerful leg. He impressed in the spring game and continued to destroy footballs in camp. In the early practices, he made 50-yard field goals that could have been good from 60 yards. Expect plenty of improvement on field goals after the 2017 Commodores finished last in the SEC in field goals attempted and field goals made.

At punter, Parker Thome comes in as a graduate transfer from Columbia, an Ivy League program that has produced plenty of high-caliber punting talent over the last few seasons. He’ll look to help Vanderbilt pin opponents deep and play in a more free-flowing punting system than Genyk’s last season.

On kick returns, Jamauri Wakefield and Josh Crawford will split the returner role. On punts, Trey Ellis, Kalija Lipscomb and Cam Johnson are listed in that returner. All of them have game-breaking speed, and given some improved blocking, should make strides this season.  —Cutler Klein, sports editor 

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