Press Conference Notes: Mason remarks on improving offense, addresses job security

With the offense taking strides in scoring and quarterback protection, head coach Derek Mason doesn’t seem worried about the future.


Ziyi Liu

Head Coach Derek Mason in 2017. (Hustler Multimedia/Ziyi Liu)

Basim Naim, Staff Writer

Coming off its closest loss to-date, a 38-35 loss to Kentucky, Vanderbilt (0-6) is set to host its highest-ranking opponent this season: sixth-ranked Florida (5-1). Last season, the Gators’ 56-0 beatdown of the Commodores was the highest-scoring shutout of the 2019 SEC season. 

In Tuesday’s press conference, Vanderbilt head football coach Derek Mason talked about offensive coordinator Todd Fitch’s improving offense, especially the offensive line, both the player front and coaching front. 

“The offensive unit as a whole has gotten better, but it definitely starts up front,” Mason said. “It was gonna be about putting [the offensive linemen] where we could move the stress around and really try to make sure that we could put those guys in a position to be able to compete.” 

Mason had similar accolades for his offensive coordinator. 

“[Fitch has] been able to develop offenses… depending on what the talent level in the program lends itself to,” Mason said. “I think that’s what you’ve been able to see. We’ve been able to put the ball up; we’ve been able to run the ball pretty effectively, and our play-action game is starting to take hold.”

Standout sophomore running back Keyon Henry-Brooks has proved a critical component of that offense since his return from injury in Week Three. In the fourth quarter of the Kentucky game, he was carted off for a rib injury. Mason provided an update on his status.

“Keyon [Henry-Brooks] was out there at practice today. He didn’t get a chance to practice today. We’ll take a look at him tomorrow. When I talked to him, he said, ‘Coach, I’m feeling good,’’’ Mason said. “Tomorrow will really be the tell-tale for us in terms of looking at Keyon in this game plan.” 

Henry-Brooks was listed on the depth chart released on the morning of Nov. 17, 2020. 

Mason was asked if he had any conversations with Chancellor Daniel Diermeier or Athletic Director Candice Storey Lee about his future beyond the 2020 season. 

“No. I haven’t had any conversations with anybody. They know where I’m at, and I think at the end of the day, I’ve got a great relationship with Dr. Lee. She’s been at most of our games this year,” Mason said. “I talked with Chancellor [Daniel] Diermeier at the beginning of the season… I think they’re letting me do my job, and they understand week to week we’re gonna put the best product out there that we can. I feel comfortable about how I continue to lead this team.”

On the other hand, Florida head football coach Dan Mullen has emerged not on the hot seat but as a proven college quarterback developer: Dak Prescott, Alex Smith, and Tim Tebow are all former protegees of his. Florida quarterback Kyle Trask, bound to join that elite class, will be a tall order to contain. 

“When you look at Kyle Trask, we faced a similar quarterback a year ago in Joe Burrow,” Mason said, drawing comparisons to the reigning Heisman Trophy winner. “A lot of credit to Dan Mullen and that crew for the quarterback development because he looks like a different quarterback this year… He’s made very few poor decisions, and what he continues to do is put pressure on opposing defenses with how he manages the game.” 

Similar to Trask, Vanderbilt freshman quarterback Ken Seals has largely exceeded expectations. Following Mason’s comments, senior wide receiver Chris Pierce Jr., who caught a deep touchdown pass on Saturday, his third straight game with a touchdown, commented on the offense’s mindset about being led by a true freshman quarterback. 

“Even last week, we only touched the ceiling of what we can actually be,” Pierce said. “We truly understand we can be a great offense in the SEC… As a senior, you gotta understand there are going to be things that [Seals] doesn’t quite see or plays he doesn’t quite make.” 

Saturday’s Florida-Vanderbilt matchup will air at 11:00 AM CST on ESPN.