Film Room: Finding Defensive Playmakers

With nearly the entire defense returning, first-year defensive coordinator Ted Roof has plenty of experience to work with.

Defensive+lineman+Dayo+Odeyingbo+will+be+an+important+piece+to+this+year%27s+Vanderbilt+defense

Hunter Long

Defensive lineman Dayo Odeyingbo will be an important piece to this year’s Vanderbilt defense

Justin Hershey, Lead Sports Analyst

With position battles aplenty on the offensive side of the football, Coach Derek Mason and first-year defensive coordinator Ted Roof have a level of experience on defense foreign to this program. Mason anticipates relying on this experience to fuel growth across the board, as his players enter a new defensive scheme under Roof.

“It’s a new defense, but it’s full of guys who played a year ago,” Mason said at Friday’s press conference. “I think eight, nine, maybe 10 guys are returning in 2020, and that’s going to help this defensive group mature.  It’s not necessarily about the scheme, but it’s about fundamentals.”

While experience is valuable, the Commodores will need to improve defensively in order to win games this season. This is a defensive unit that allowed nearly 32 points per game last season, second-to-last in the Southeastern Conference, while surrendering a conference worst 6.6 yards per opponent play.

With an influx of talent through the transfer portal, and a few potential impact freshmen, Vanderbilt has added playmaking and depth to its defense. Transfers Derek Green and Malik Langham will add SEC-caliber size to the defensive line, and the secondary will be bolstered by speedy freshmen Donovan Kaufman. 

But at the core of this defense lies three key playmakers whom Coach Mason will rely on. These three will be the anchors for their respective units; with their playmaking ability and offseason improvement, they should bring a jolt of explosiveness to a defense that was unsuccessful last season.

Dimitri Moore – Inside Linebacker

After a roller coaster last few weeks for linebacker Dimitri Moore, he is officially back for his redshirt junior campaign. Following his decision to opt back into the 2020 season, Moore returned to practice last week and immediately received praise from his head coach.

“Dimitri has played so much football here in the SEC, and the game has really slowed for him,” Mason said last Friday. “His ability to be a calming force is really going to impact how those guys play around him.”

Moore was fantastic in his first season on West End, earning All-SEC Freshman honors, while finishing second on the Commodores in total tackles with 84. Last year, he was even better, finishing third in the SEC with a team-high 99 tackles, 6 of which were for a loss. 

At 6’3”, Moore has a prototypical inside linebacker body with the vision necessary to play the position well. He uses his frame to see over and around opposing blockers and perfectly time when he should pull off of blocks. He has good eyes for where the football is, especially in option plays, and is patient in his pursuit of opposing running backs, letting them come to him rather than running to them at bad angles. This translates into dozens of tackles up the middle.

In addition, Moore possesses a unique brand of athleticism that not many on this defense have shown. Mason stressed the importance of speed and finishing tackles to the media last week, and there is no better example of those traits on this roster than Moore. 

“Speed matters in this conference…having backers who can run with slot receivers or tight ends or come off the edge and be able to beat a tackle,” Mason said. “Finish was a tough thing for us a year ago. And now what I believe is we are hounding those fundamentals so that we can be better when the opportunity presents itself.”

With his speed, Moore is capable of lining up on opposing pass catchers, and with his strength and power, he finishes tackles completely and is a mismatch nightmare for opposing linemen.

Dayo Odeyingbo – Defensive Lineman

Following in the footsteps of his older brother Dare, Dayo Odeyingbo has added deeper prestige to the Odeyingbo name at Vanderbilt. He enters his senior year a seasoned veteran with 33 games under his belt and the 2021 NFL Draft on his mind—rightfully so.

Last season, Odeyingbo emerged as a prominent playmaking force within the SEC. He finished fourth in the conference with 12 tackles for a loss and piled up seven quarterback hits and 1.5 sacks as well. He has a pronounced skill set that, if tapped into, can disrupt opponents on a weekly basis.

With his 6’6”, 275-pound build, he is no match for opposing tackles, breaking even with them in size but largely outpacing them with his edge speed. He is relentless in his pursuit of the quarterback, and with quick footwork can swiftly navigate through the line of scrimmage to get to the passer. When he gets there, he forces quarterback rollouts and uses active hands to impede his opponent’s vision. 

Odeyingbo has incredible determination, oftentimes flying out of the screen to make a come-from-behind tackle on opposing running backs or pass catchers. He uses efficient angles and acute vision to track down his opponents and gets low to the ground to make tackles when attacking quicker players. 

With this determination, he has big-play potential and the ability to consistently get the Commodore defense off of the field. Mason has consistently stressed that his team played far too many defensive snaps last season, and in order to force more punts this year, the Commodores will need Odeyingbo to continue blowing up run plays and hurrying quarterbacks.

Tae Daley – Safety

The Vanderbilt secondary has a number of upperclassmen due to make an impact this season, but safety Tae Daley is the most accomplished as he enters his final season in Nashville.

With 108 career tackles, Daley brings a level of consistency and familiarity to this year’s Commodore defense. He specialized in creating opportunities for the Vanderbilt offense last season, leading the Commodores with three interceptions and a forced fumble. To do so, he relies on his elite speed to jump routes and capitalize on tipped balls.

Daley plays a textbook safety position, serving as a reliable security blanket for his cornerbacks and linebackers. He has a knack for shutting down big plays or preventing big plays from becoming bigger by using his elite speed to fly in for tackles from far beyond the line of scrimmage. 

And when he goes to make tackles, he does not fall victim to using his upper body. He is not the biggest presence in the secondary and thus relies on his entire body when tackling. Daley frequently dives at an opponent’s lower body rather than using his hands and shoulders to wrap up ball-carriers. This is a more surefire method for bringing down larger opponents that prevents him from being trucked or stiff-armed.

In addition to using his size to his advantage, he uses the sidelines to help him make tackles as well. He often pins opposing players between himself and the sideline and prevents offensive players from getting back to the open field.

As previously mentioned, Coach Mason is looking for as much speed as possible from his defense this season. And that is exactly what Daley can bring to the table. By relying on his speed to prevent over-the-top passes or breakaway runs, Daley can solidify the back end of the Commodore defense while generating much-needed turnovers for the offense.

Despite their struggles on defense last season, there is reason for optimism surrounding this year’s Commodore defense. These three impact playmakers will be surrounded by a level of rotational depth not common in Mason’s tenure. With this depth, a new, dynamic scheme, and the experience of these three upperclassmen, Vanderbilt should be no pushover for opposing offenses.