Mason keeps quiet on quarterbacks except to say choice is made

It’s anything but a case of don’t ask, don’t tell.

The question of who will be Vanderbilt’s starting quarterback in 2015 has been asked repeatedly since Patton Robinette announced in March that he decided to give up the game to focus on academics.

Derek Mason said Thursday he has made his choice – and he has told.

During his first radio show of the season the second-year coach said his team knows who will be under center next Thursday when the Commodores open the season at home against Western Kentucky (7 p.m., SEC Network). Everyone else will find out when the game is played.

“The team knows who the starter is and … we’re not splitting reps or sharing reps,” Mason said during Commodore Call-In on WLAC-AM 1510. “There’s a starter and there’s a backup. We’re actually preparing that way. We’ve got seven days until game time and right now the reps are efficient. Guys are playing well. Everybody understands their role.”

It was a choice between sophomores Wade Freebeck and Johnny McCrary, who combined to start nine of Vanderbilt’s final 10 games last season. Neither had much success.

Freebeck started in victories over Massachusetts and Charleston Southern but did not finish either contest. Robinette replaced him against UMass and played most of the game.

Likewise, McCrary did most of the work against Charleston Southern. After that he started the final five games, including a victory over Old Dominion.

Freebeck completed 47.2 percent of his passes with one touchdown and five interceptions. McCrary completed 51.3 percent of his throws with nine touchdowns and eight interceptions.

“The quarterback position is probably the most improved – as it should be,” Mason said. “We needed that position to be better.

“… We have a starter and we do have a backup. And I feel good about both of those guys and what they’re going to do for us.”

He’s just not going to say which is which.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Aug 27, 2015 9:37 PM

Latest home run trot proves oddly painful for Casali

Curst Casali never has hit as many home runs as he has this year.

Apparently, all that running the bases got to be a little too much for him.

In an odd moment Tuesday, the former Vanderbilt catcher and now a member of the Tampa Bay Rays, was injured as he ran the bases following his 10th home run of the season.

"It was really weird," Casali said, according to ESPN.com. "It's never happened to me. I've never seen it. It stinks right now.”

According to reports, he will undergo an MRI on Wednesday.

In five minor league seasons Casali, a 10th round pick by Detroit in 2011, hit just 30 home runs. He had none in his first 30 Major League games, last season with Tampa. His 10 this season (nine since the All-Star break) have come in 38 games with the Rays.

A change in approach suggested last month by Tampa Bay hitting coaches Derek Shelton and Jamie Nelson brought on the power surge.

Now it’s likely he won’t be running around the bases or anywhere else for a while.

“It just started getting tight on me," he said. "It didn't feel very good going around the bases. Didn't want to injure it more. Took it as slow as I could. I had to get around the bases somehow."

(Photo: Getty Images)
 

Aug 26, 2015 11:51 AM

Coaches put two Vanderbilt players on preseason All-SEC teams

Vanderbilt had a hard time last season figuring out how best to use Caleb Azubike and Darrius Sims.

Each played multiple positions throughout the course of the 2014 season, one in which the Commmodores went 3-9 overall and failed to win a conference game.

Tuesday, the rest of the SEC coaches made it clear where they think those two players do well. Both were named to the preseason coaches All-SEC third team.

Azubike (pictured), who switched between defensive end and linebacker last year, was chosen as a defensive end, which is where second-year coach Derek Mason has said he will remain this fall. The senior out of McGavock had a career-high with 39 tackles and tied his personal best with four sacks.

Sims, who played offense, defense and special teams, was selected as a return specialist. He tied an NCAA record when he returned two kickoffs for touchdowns in a single game last fall. He averaged 24.5 yards per return for the season. Coaches have said he will be a running back/wide receiver this season who will continue to have a big role on special teams.

This is the 13th year SEC coaches have voted on preseason all-conference teams. They were not allowed to vote for players from their own programs.

PRESEASON COACHES ALL-SEC TEAMS

OFFENSE

    First Team
    QB: Dak Prescott, Mississippi State
    RB: Nick Chubb, Georgia
    RB: Leonard Fournette, LSU
    WR: Pharoh Cooper, South Carolina
    WR: Laquon Treadwell, Ole Miss
    TE: Evan Engram, Ole Miss
    OL: Cam Robinson, Alabama
    OL: Laremy Tunsil, Ole Miss
    OL: Vadal Alexander, LSU
    OL: John Theus, Georgia
    C: Mike Matthews, Texas A&M
    AP: Pharoh Cooper, South Carolina
    Second Team
    QB: Maty Mauk, Missouri
    RB: Derrick Henry, Alabama
    RB: Alex Collins, Arkansas
    WR: D'haquille Williams, Auburn
    WR: Malcolm Mitchell, Georgia
    TE: Hunter Henry, Arkansas
    OL: Germain Ifedi, Texas A&M
    OL: Dan Skipper, Arkansas
    OL: Denver Kirkland, Arkansas
    OL: Greg Pyke, Georgia
    C: Ryan Kelly, Alabama
    AP: Leonard Fournette, LSU
    Third Team
    QB: Jeremy Johnson, Auburn *
    QB: Joshua Dobbs, Tennessee *
    RB: Jonathan Williams, Arkansas
    RB: Russell Hansbrough, Missouri
    RB: Kelvin Taylor, Florida
    WR: Demarcus Robinson, Florida *
    WR: Travin Dural, LSU *
    WR: Josh Reynolds, Texas A&M *
    TE: O.J. Howard, Alabama
    OL: Sebastian Tretola, Arkansas
    OL: Alex Kozan, Auburn
    OL: Devonte Dazney, Auburn
    OL: Brandon Shell, South Carolina *
    OL: Jordan Swindle, Kentucky *
    C: Evan Boehm, Missouri
    AP: Speedy Noil, Texas A&M

DEFENSE

    First Team
    DL: Robert Nkemdiche, Ole Miss
    DL: A'Shawn Robinson, Alabama
    DL: Myles Garrett, Texas A&M
    DL: Chris Jones, Mississippi State
    LB: Reggie Ragland, Alabama
    LB: Jordan Jenkins, Georgia
    LB: Curt Maggitt, Tennessee
    DB: Vernon Hargreaves, Florida
    DB: Cyrus Jones, Alabama
    DB: Jonathan Jones, Auburn
    DB: Jalen Mills, LSU
    Second Team
    DL: Jonathan Bullard, Florida
    DL: Derek Barnett, Tennessee
    DL: Jonathan Allen, Alabama
    DL: Montravius Adams, Auburn
    LB: Kendell Beckwith, LSU
    LB: Antonio Morrison, Florida
    LB: Kentrell Brothers, Missouri
    DB: Tony Conner, Ole Miss (117)
    DB: Cameron Sutton, Tennessee
    DB: Will Redmond, Mississippi State
    DB: Tre'Davious White, LSU
    DB: Tony Conner, Ole Miss
    Third Team
    DL: Carl Lawson, Auburn
    DL: Davon Godchaux, LSU
    DL: Caleb Azubike, Vanderbilt
    DL: Ryan Brown, Mississippi State
    LB: Leonard Floyd, Georgia
    LB: Cassanova McKinzy, Auburn
    LB: Lorenzo Carter, Georgia
    DB: A.J. Stamps, Kentucky
    DB: Eddie Jackson, Alabama
    DB: Rohan Gaines, Arkansas
    DB: Johnathan Ford, Auburn
    DB: Trae Elston, Ole Miss

SPECIALISTS

    First Team
    P: JK Scott, Alabama
    PK: Marshall Morgan, Georgia
    RS: Pharoh Cooper, South Carolina
    Second Team
    P: Jamie Keehn, LSU
    PK: Austin MacGinnis, Kentucky
    RS: Leonard Fournette, LSU *
    RS: Isaiah McKenzie, Georgia *
    Third Team
    P: Drew Kaser, Texas A&M
    PK: Elliott Fry, South Carolina
    RS: Darrius Sims, Vanderbilt
    RS: Speedy Noil, Texas A&M

(Photo: Getty Images)

Aug 25, 2015 4:36 PM

Curran does enough to put two Commodores in FedEx Cup field

Jon Curran has not had the best season on the PGA Tour.

When he’s been good, though, he’s been good enough.

The former Vanderbilt golfer is one of nine first-time qualifiers among the 125 players in contention for the FedEx Cup, the tour’s version of a playoff, which begins this week with The Barclays.

He made the cut in barley half of the tournaments he entered this season (14 of 27), his first as a full-time PGA Tour player, but five times ended up in the top 25. That included the Puerto Rico Open in March, when he finished tied for second after a five-man playoff.

It was enough for him to finish 105th in the FedEx Cup standings, seventh among the nine rookies.

The first-time FedEx Cup qualifiers (points position in parentheses): Justin Thomas (36), Tony Finau (39), Daniel Berger (46), Scott Pinckney (78), Adam Hadwin (95), Nick Taylor (102), Jon Curran (105), Zac Blair (106) and Carlos Ortiz (112).

Curran climbed as high as 81st in the standings after he tied for 10th at the Travelers Championship in late June. Since then he missed the cut in four of six events and finished no better than 60th.

He was an All-SEC player and All-American at Vanderbilt in 2007, when he finished eighth at the NCAA Championship. He shot a 64 in the second round at the NCAA Championship that year, which is tied for the third best score in program history.

Another former (and better known) Commodore, Brandt Snedeker, is 13th after eight top 10s, one championship and one runner-up finish.

The top 100 after The Barclays will remain in contention for the FedEx Cup.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Aug 25, 2015 2:40 PM

Lane College gives second chance to former Vanderbilt player charged in high-profile rape case

Brandon Banks, one of four former Vanderbilt football players charged in a high-profile rape case, has been given a second chance to further his education and to play football.

A defensive back from Brandywine, Md., Banks received a scholarship from Lane College and is on campus.

Logan Hampton, the school’s president, confirmed Banks’ enrollment to The Jackson Sun and said he and other university officials discussed the matter in depth. Ultimately, the conclusion was that Banks could benefit from a Christian-based education.

Lane is affiliated with the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church.

“He’s a student who’s seeking to be educated, and we are a college that’s focused on educating the whole student,” Hampton said, according to The Sun. “I think there’s certainly an opportunity for him, and for any student, to benefit from a Christian education.

“ … If the church isn’t open to him, who is?”

Banks has not been tried in the alleged on-campus rape of a Vanderbilt co-ed in June 2013. He still faces five counts of aggravated rape and two counts of aggravated sexual battery.

Two others, Brandon Vandenburg and Cory Batey, were convicted in January but a mistrial was later declared. Prosecutors say they plan to re-try the pair.

A fourth former player, Jaborian “Tip” McKenzie, also has not been tried. He did, however, testify for the prosecution during the first Vandenburg-Batey trial. McKenzie is a member of Alcorn State’s football team and played in all 12 games last season.

Banks planned to play football at Butte College in California last summer but the coach removed him from the team in early September citing “backlash from the community.”

“This is certainly the first [time] in my administration where we accepted a student who had been associated with another case in a high-profile manner," Hampton said. "Certainly we want to consider it."

Aug 25, 2015 7:27 AM

Vanderbilt plans to make good, varied use of Sims this season

Don’t look for Darius Sims at one position this fall.

Expect the ball to go wherever he is, though. At least that’s the plan for first-year Vanderbilt offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig and his staff.

“There’s a guy that’s real dynamic with the ball in his hands,” Ludwig said. “So whether he’s playing wide receiver or tailback for us, we have to be real creative in the way he gets touches.”

The junior from Memphis has spurred the imagination coaches from the moment he arrived on campus in 2013.

James Franklin and his staff saw him as a cornerback and return specialist. He was one of three true freshmen who played for the Commodores that season, when he made 10 tackles and averaged 23.1 yards on 22 kickoff returns.

Derek Mason took over last year and he envisioned something different. He played nickel cornerback on defense and continued as a kick returner but also saw limited action on offense. He made his biggest splash against South Carolina, when he returned two kickoffs for touchdowns (91 and 100 yards) and was named SEC Specialist of the Week.

Since the end of last season he has been considered a member of the offense. He is listed as a wide receiver/return specialist, but that is only part of the story.

“During the spring I started off at running back, just basically learning the blocking schemes and the running and everything like that,” he said. “The second half of the spring I played wide receiver, where I could get both of the experiences. It’s been a smooth transition.”

The idea is that it will be difficult for defenses to keep track of him but for Vanderbilt’s quarterbacks to look for him as often as possible.

“I’m ready to take whatever package they give me,” he said. “If it’s as an every-down (player) I’m more than ready to handle that. My main goal is to help this team win and be better than last year. My role has become bigger, as far as special teams and offense, but I’m ready to take on anything.

“… Just trying to get the ball in my hands, just trying to get out in open space we’re just trying to do everything this year.”

(Photo: Getty Images)
 

Aug 21, 2015 12:43 PM

Swanson 'back on track' with first professional home run

Dansby Swanson has started to get into the swing of professional baseball.

The No. 1 pick in this year’s MLB draft hit his first professional home run Thursday, a three-run shot in the eighth inning that accounted for all of his team’s runs in a 5-3 loss.

“The biggest thing is being able to get back on track,” Swanson said, according to MiLB.com. “Honestly lately, I'm just trying to get my timing down. Not playing for two months, coming back from the injury ... you're kind of learning how to square balls up again almost. That's been my biggest issue.

“I'm just excited about having gotten my timing down a bit and being able to move forward and draw some confidence from it.”

It was just the fifth hit for the former Vanderbilt star. All five have come in the last five games, though, and four of the five have been for extra bases (two doubles, one triple, one home run).

He’s batting just .172 but averages more than one RBI per game (eight in seven).

It was nearly two months from the time the 21-year-old played his last game with the Commodores until he made his professional debut. He waited through prolonged negotiations on his contract with the Arizona Diamondbacks and then was sidelined by a concussion after he was hit in the face by a pitch.

“I'm seeing the ball well,” Swanson said. “It's just a matter of getting my foot down at the right time. Baseball is a tough game, I have to remind myself of that cause I'm somewhat of a perfectionist when it comes to hitting and defense.”
 

Aug 21, 2015 11:08 AM

Ziomek narrowly misses out on no-hitter with Tigers' farm team

Kevin Ziomek came close – really close – to a no-hitter Wednesday night.

Pitching for the Class A Advanced Lakeland Flying Tigers, the former Vanderbilt left-hander was one strike away but could not get the out he needed. He gave up a two-out double on a 0-2 pitch and then allowed two more base runners before he was pulled.

“At that point, it's hard not to think about it and I felt like I made two quality pitches there to [Tampa outfielder Dustin Fowler] at the end,” Ziomek said, according to MILB.com. “Unfortunately I made an 0-2 pitch that wasn't exactly where I wanted it, it caught too much of the plate.”

Lakeland ultimately won 3-1 in the seven-inning affair, the second half of a doubleheader with Tampa, a New York Yankees affiliate.

A second-round draft pick by Detroit in 2013, Ziomek was perfect through the first four innings. He allowed a leadoff walk in the fifth but – courtesy of a double play – faced the minimum number of batters through six innings.

“I guess in the fifth, I kind of stated to think about [the bid] a little, but you just go out there and you try not to think about it,” Ziomek said. “Once you start thinking about it, that's when it starts to rattle you a little bit.”

Currently ranked the Tigers’ No. 9 prospect, the 23-year-old improved to 7-10 on the season with a 3.70 ERA. He has 128 strikeouts in 136 1/3 innings.

Aug 20, 2015 2:10 PM

Vanderbilt loses another starter on offense to season-ending injury

For the second time in a little more than a week, one of Vanderbilt’s best players on offense sustained a season-ending injury.

Starting left tackle Andrew Jelks hurt a knee during Wednesday night’s workout on the team’s indoor practice facility. Thursday morning coach Derek Mason announced the Jelks would miss the entire season, which kicks off in two weeks.

“I’m really disappointed for Andrew because he’s such a fine young man,” Mason said in a release from the athletics department. “Andrew was having an excellent camp and was looking forward to having a big year. He’s a tremendous talent who commands respect throughout the locker room. Andrew’s a dedicated, hard worker and I know he will come back even stronger.”

Jelks (6-foot-6, 307 pounds), out of Henry County High School, redshirted in 2012, which means 2016 will be his final season of eligibility unless he petitions the NCAA for a sixth season of eligibility. He started 22 games the last two years, including all 12 at left tackle last fall. He was an SEC All-Freshman selection in 2013.

According to the preseason depth chart, the top four backup tackles include redshirt-freshman Bailey Granier, junior college sophomore Egidio DellaRippa and true freshmen Justin Skule and Jared Southers – none of them have any game experience with the Commodores.

“It’s time for others to step up and claim a more substantial role in the success of our offense,” Mason said. “We definitely have players on our roster that can fill the void left by Andrew’s departure.”

Early last week, wide receiver C.J. Duncan, the Commodores’ second leading receiver in 2014, was the first to sustain a season-ending injury.

(Photo: Vanderbilt athletics)
 

Aug 20, 2015 1:14 PM

Mason, Ludwig not ready to name Vanderbilt's starting quarterback

There are two obvious ways for Vanderbilt fans to look at the fact that a starting quarterback has not yet been named for the season opener, which is now just over two weeks away.

Either no one has done enough to distinguish himself at this point, which would be bad. Or the coaches plan to take as much time as possible so that they’re certain of their choice, which would be good given what happened last year with the position.

Here’s a third option. Maybe Derek Mason and offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig are just waiting for what they think is the right time.

A year ago, it was one week before the opener that Mason named Patton Robinette the starter, and it sounds like the second-year coach is working on a similar timetable this time.

“By game week we’ll have a guy,” Mason said. “That guy will take the reps in practice and you’ll see who we trot out there on game day.”

The competition, of course, consists of two players, third-year sophomore Johnny McCrary and true sophomore Wade Freebeck (pictured). Freshman Kyle Shurmer is not completely out of it but the preference is to go with someone who has some experience.

• Mason on McCrary: “I think Johnny is doing a terrific job of just making sure he’s going through his reads. When there’s nothing there he uses his legs. He finds ways to extend plays.”

• Mason on Freebeck: “Wade is doing a better job looking off the defense when he needs to and delivering the ball.”

Ludwig called the competition “a day-to-day thing.”

“We’re making progress every day,” he said. “The one thing I’ll tell you is I’m very proud of the way they’re working and they’re improving and they’re competing every day. The best man’s going to win the position and I’m excited to watch him play two weeks from Thursday.”

The fan base will be glad to hear him name the winner – likely a week from Thursday.

(Photo: Getty Images)
 

Aug 20, 2015 7:06 AM