On a rainy Saturday afternoon in Nashville, the 2018 Vanderbilt Football team took the field at Vanderbilt Stadium to show off what they’ve been working on in spring practice.
While the vast majority of new arrivals from the 2018 recruiting class have yet to hit campus, this showcase gave fans a glimpse of what’s to come this fall.
Here are a few observations from the 2018 Spring Showcase.
Lipscomb Lighting it Up
With three starting wide receivers graduating, junior receiver Kalija Lipscomb was going to be the top receiver on this team regardless of his performance in the spring.
However, he’s playing like an elite top receiver right now.
Lipscomb caught a couple of deep balls, one each from starting quarterback Kyle Shurmur and backup Deuce Wallace, and had a pair of touchdowns. He’s explosive, gets into space easily and can make tough catches. Quite simply, he looks like he could be an elite wide receiver in the SEC.
“I think he’s embraced the role,” Shurmur said of Lipscomb. “At the end of the day, him being one of the older, more experienced guys, he’s got to help out the other receivers to help him as well. It’s a team sport. Everybody’s responsible for our success, and Kalija is obviously the most experience. We’ve seen a lot of different playmakers make plays.”
The deep balls that were thrown to him were not even perfectly thrown. Despite each pass being slightly under-thrown, Lipscomb was able to adjust and make the catches rather easily.
Lipscomb said he’s ready to step up and be the top guy on the offense this season.
“Last season, you can kind of see it when we did interviews, just being around everybody in the organization knows, I was kind of the little brother of the receiving corps,” Lipscomb said. “Trent [Sherfield], C.J. [Duncan] used to come out and just hit me on top of the head, put me in a chokehold and stuff like that. I was a young pup, and over the course of a month or two, I became like an old guy. It took me a little time to adjust to it, but I think I’m kind of falling into it now.”
Look out for this Shurmur-to-Lipscomb combo this season. You’ll probably be hearing it called a lot.
It’s no secret that Vanderbilt struggled in the kicking department last season, and hasn’t quite had stellar kicking since Carey “Murderleg” Spear walked Vanderbilt’s campus.
However, this season might be a bit different. While freshman kicker Javan Rice looked good, junior kicker Ryley Guay was kicking some bombs out there on Saturday. In warmups, he kicked field goals from 50+ that could have been good from 60+. During the scrimmage, he hit on some kicks as well
With a new special teams coordinator in Shawn Mennenga in the fold, head coach Derek Mason is excited for this special teams group.
“Between Ryley and Javan, both of those guys have live legs,” Mason said. “Javan is the young gun, and when you look at Riley, Riley’s the veteran trying to be king of the hill. These guys are going to go at it. Like I said, a lot of jobs for rent. Hopefully somebody can get the rent in on time and we can make sure that when we line up in the fall, we’ve got secure positions.”
Secondary becoming Primary
While the offense looked strong, the defense looked even stronger, especially in the secondary.
There were plenty of interesting looks from a new-look Commodore secondary. One player that stood out was sophomore Tae Daley, who had a sack coming off the edge untouched early on and a late pick of Wallace. With plenty of senior leadership gone, Daley will be a name you might hear a lot this season.
“He works hard every day,” Mason said of Daley. “He has the same workman’s mentality that I saw Trent Sherfield come in with. He tries to bring his A-game every day. He doesn’t worry about who’s around and who’s watching. He’s just going to try and come out and play ball. He’s got the makings of a leader, but it’s like anything else: sun ups and sun downs, you’ve got to put it on tape every day. He is what I think he is, but what he’s got to do is get better.”
Offensive Positions in Flux
If you were looking for clarity as to who all the starters on offense would be in 2018, you left the Spring Showcase disappointed.
Aside from Lipscomb continuing to establish himself as the primary offensive target, there were no clear emerging starters on this offense. There were certain guys that looked good, like transfer wide receiver Alex Stump, but there were no real winners of the day.
At running back, this could be the biggest committee of running backs in the SEC. Transfer Ke’Shawn Vaughn has come in with plenty of juice to his game, but there are no clear starters at that position either.
According to linebacker Josh Smith, that might not be the worst thing.
“The running back corps is going to be something special, something I haven’t seen since I’ve been here,” Smith said. “Between Josh Crawford, Ke’Shawn and everybody else. Khari Blasingame, the old head in the room, and Jamauri Wakefield. Those for backs are just key. You can’t really describe the way they run. They all have different running styles and the way they tote the ball, it’s going to be hard and difficult for people to game plan this year.”
Vaughn Bringing the Heat
While it might have been just a glorified practice in the stadium, it sure didn’t seem that way to Vaughn.
After each and every play, Vaughn was getting into defenders’ faces, trash talking and playing with plenty of energy. Mason has said in the past that Vaughn came into camp with a chip on his shoulder, and that showed on the field on Saturday.
However, that wasn’t just because the bright lights of Vanderbilt Stadium were shining on him.
“That’s who Ke’Shawn is every day,” Mason said. “It’s not like it’s ‘Okay Showcase scrimmage, tight mentality’ for him. He comes out every day talking trash. He gives it to those guys and they give it back. That’s what’s different about this group. This group will go at one another, but they’re respectful about the process. They respect one another, but by the same token, they’re not going to back down. I think that’s what’s going to make this group different. They’re going to walk up to the line, they might even step over the line, but at the end of the day, this group’s got some edge to it, so I appreciate that.”
Vanderbilt will wrap up spring practice this week before breaking for the semester.