Franklin's last recruiting class poised to make an early impact for Vanderbilt

James Franklin might have left behind some bad feelings when he left Vanderbilt for Penn State.

He also left behind some good players.

Overall, Franklin’s recruiting in three years as Commodores’ head coach probably won’t be as good as initially thought. His final recruiting class, though, looks as if it might be every bit as good as advertised – if not better.

Derek Mason and his staff inherited 21 redshirt freshmen from a signing class that was rated in the top 25 overall by Rivals.com and ESPN.com and 30th by 247 Sports. Combined with the 17 or 18 true freshmen Mason said could play this fall, the 2014 season could be the launch of a lineup that has little turnover for the next few seasons.  

“It is a foundation group,” Mason said. “We’re talented in these two classes. But the one thing about talent, talent is only good if … you work toward a foundation of playing really good football. I think (these players) will. These guys move. They’re not only athletic but they have a high football IQ and it shows on the field. You see a lot of speed getting to the ball. You see guys making plays all over the place, really on both sides of the ball.

“I’m excited.”

Some redshirt freshmen to watch this fall:

• Oren Burks, safety: He was a linebacker last season but at 6-foot-3, 212 pounds adds good size to a secondary that needs to replace all four starters. His name comes up in virtually any conversation with a player on defense.

• Tre Bell, cornerback: He has displayed good ball skills in workouts and shows no signs that he is behind the three cornerbacks who played last year as true freshmen, Darrius Sims, Toren McGaster and Paris Head.

• C.J. Duncan, wide receiver: He is not the biggest guy on the field (5-foot-11, 195 pounds) but he is a guy quarterbacks seem to find regularly in practice. He has good hands and explosiveness that might make him a factor in the return game as well.

• Nigel Bowden, inside linebacker: The switch to a 3-4 defense creates another position gives him a chance to get on the field sooner, particularly given the fact that he is one of the more athletic linebackers on the team.

• Nathan Marcus, tight end: The new coaching staff plans to throw the ball to the tight ends more than the previous one. Marcus is not a devastating blocker. He is a smaller, faster tight end that is becoming more popular a lot of places.

• Ralph Webb, running back: Jerron Seymour still is on the mend from offseason surgery and has yet to practice. Webb was one of the stars of the spring game and he rushed for more than 2,000 yards as a high school senior in Florida.

• Delando Crooks, guard: More experience returns to the offensive line than at any other position group, but Crooks (6-foot-5, 312 pounds) looks like a guy who is more athletic than most and, therefore, is likely no worse than the first option if someone gets injured.

• Johnny McCrary, quarterback: There is a lot of competition for the starting job, and McCrary is not the favorite to win it. He is, however, the most athletic of the group, has a strong arm and offers the sort of unpredictability that has made stars of others in recent years.

 “We have playmakers all over the field that are about to step on the field on (August) 28th (against Temple),” Marcus said. “It will be fun to show everyone what our class can really do.”