Mason: Keeping quiet on quarterbacks helps them prepare

Derek Mason believes he gains a competitive advantage because he won’t publicly name a starting quarterback in advance of Vanderbilt’s season opener.

It’s not that the uncertainty makes it more difficult for Western Kentucky’s defense to prepare. It’s that the silence makes it easier for the top two Commodores’ quarterbacks, sophomores Wade Freebeck and Johnny McCrary, to get ready for Thursday night’s game at Vanderbilt Stadium (7 p.m., SEC Network).

“My idea is to take the pressure off these guys and let them go play the game,” Mason said Tuesday. “It’s not about who the fans want to see or what they need to know. It’s about what puts these guys in the best possible situation to play well and right now I’ve been able to sort of provide a shield around these guys so we can focus on the task at hand.

“The task at hand is not who’s the starter. The task at hand is to go win. That’s (how) we’re functioning. These guys haven’t had to answer any questions. They’ve been about getting the work they need to to push this offense forward and that’s where we’re going to stay.”

Mason said he and first-year offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig settled on the starter a little more than a week ago.

The Week 1 depth chart lists McCrary or Freebeck – in that order, which is not alphabetical. Perhaps that is an indication of what is to come.

Then again, McCrary is a third-year sophomore and has seniority over Freebeck, a member of the 2014 signing class. So maybe that’s why they are listed in that manner.

Another explanation is that McCrary was listed first and Freebeck second – minus the ‘or’ – in the media guide, which was produced early in the summer, before the two battled it out in preseason camp. It’s possible, therefore, that it’s a simple matter of cut-and-paste.

What’s important to Mason is that McCrary and Freebeck know – and they know why.

“A decision was made and you talked to both of the young men and you say, ‘OK, let’s move forward,’” Mason said. “That’s what we did. Just make sure you have a discussion. Make sure you’re up front and honest and that you provide the data for those young men about what it looked like and then you move forward.”

This way, everyone with an interest in Vanderbilt football has something to look forward to at the start of the game.

The trick is make sure whoever plays does so well enough that he and the Commodores are worth watching throughout the entire game and beyond.

“I won’t tell you what’s going to happen on Thursday – what these quarterbacks will or will not do – but I’ve been here, this is my fifth season now and I’ve seen some guys train hard,” center Spencer Pulley said. “These guys have been working harder or just as hard as some of the great quarterbacks I’ve been around.

“So I’m very excited and I think people will be pretty pleasantly surprised Thursday night.”
 

Sep 2, 2015 5:05 AM

Vandenburg, Batey due back in court next week

Former Vanderbilt football players Brandon Vandenburg and Corey Batey are due back in court next week for a status hearing in advance of their new trial.

Judge Monte Watkins ordered the hearing Tuesday so that prosecutors and defense attorneys can update him on the progress of the case, according to WKRN-TV (Ch. 2).

Vandenburg and Batey are among four former players who face multiple charges of aggravated rape and aggravated sexual battery in an alleged on-campus attack in June 2013.

A jury found the pair guilty on all counts in January. Watkins declared a mistrial in June, though, following a hearing regarding the conduct during jury selection of a man who eventually was selected and served as foreman.

New indictments were delivered and a new trial was scheduled to begin Nov. 30.

Two others, Brandon Banks and Jaborian McKenzie, also have been charged but have not been tried.
 

Sep 1, 2015 9:15 PM

Discovery of lost list has Mason better prepared for game situations

If it seemed there were times during games last season that Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason was not sure what to do — let’s be honest, there definitely were times it seemed that way — perhaps this is the reason.

Even though the second-year coach has added the role of defensive coordinator to his duties for 2015, Mason said Tuesday he feels better prepared for whatever happens in a game because of a recent discovery he made in his personal football library.

“I had a sheet that I had been looking for for the last 18 months,” Mason said. “Lo and behold, about two weeks ago, it popped up. I found it in my library of football books.”

What he found was a detailed list of game situations and what he should do in each of them. According to his timeline, he had it when he accepted the job at Vanderbilt last January (or shortly thereafter). He was without it, though, when the Commodores went 3-9 and failed to win an SEC game for the first time in five years.

“I had already gone through that list and really remembered a couple of items on there that needed to be checked off,” Mason said. “Now, I feel really good about what we’re doing and where we’re at.”

He noted that the ‘gameday checklist’ he has produced for this season includes 65 items “and it covers everything I need to know.”

“I’m never going to go into a game unprepared for the situation at hand,” Mason said. “Some things come up, but with that I’ve got to be charged with making good decisions and making sure our football team goes forward.”

 
(Photo: Joe Howell/Vanderbilt athletics)

Sep 1, 2015 1:50 PM

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

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

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

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

For first time under current scheduling format, Vanderbilt hoops to face Kentucky twice

For the first time in three years, Kentucky is on Vanderbilt’s men’s basketball schedule twice.

The Southeastern Conference adopted an 18-game schedule and did away with divisional alignment two years ago. That did away with most of the traditional home-and-home series that had been common, such as the one between Vanderbilt and Kentucky.

The Wildcats did not visit Memorial Gymnasium last season. In 2013-14, the Commodores did not make it to Rupp Arena.

The SEC released its complete 2015-16 conference schedule Wednesday, and Kentucky is one of the five teams Vanderbilt will play twice. The others are Tennessee, Auburn, Florida and Texas A&M.

Each of the Commodores’ final four games will be return matches from earlier in the season – Feb. 23 at Florida, Feb. 27 vs. Kentucky, March 1 vs. Tennessee and March 6 at Texas A&M.

Vanderbilt’s conference opener is against LSU, Jan. 2 at Memorial.
 

Aug 19, 2015 9:34 PM

Vanderbilt to set sail with alternate uniforms sometime in 2015

We know how they look.

When we’ll actually see Vanderbilt’s new alternate football uniform, however, is unclear.

The Nike-designed ‘deep water’ wear was revealed Sunday at Dore Jam, the annual interactive, preseason fan festival. It features matching gray jerseys and pants with light gold numbers outlined in black. The pants feature the ‘Anchor Down’ slogan on the outside of each leg.

The helmet is the black version of the redesigned one (also in white) that was premiered earlier this month. The plan is to wear the ‘deep water’ uniform once this season. Which game was not revealed.

The rest of the time, the Commodores will stick with some combination of the white, black and gold jerseys and pants.

There are some obvious options for when players and coaches might want to break out the new look.

Sept. 3 vs. Western Kentucky: It is the first game of the season and nothing provides a fresh perspective like a new look. Plus, it’s a primetime game on a Thursday night so a lot of people will be watching.

Sept. 12 vs. Georgia: Speaking of a large audience … this one is the SEC opener and a Saturday afternoon national telecast on CBS. If there is any competitive advantage to new, exciting uniforms this would be a time to exploit it.

Nov. 21 vs. Texas A&M: It’s the final home game of the season and the lead-in to Thanksgiving week. If the primary idea is to enhance merchandise sales with an expanded product line, what better time to showcase the look than days prior to the busiest shopping day of the year?

Vanderbilt entered an apparel deal with Nike prior to the 2014-15 academic year. Earlier this summer the two signed a long-term deal that made Nike the apparel provider for all of the school’s 15 athletics teams through 2023.

Check out more glimpses of the new look here.

 
(Photo: Vanderbilt/Nike)

Aug 17, 2015 5:20 AM