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

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

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

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

One of Vanderbilt's top offensive threats injured, will miss season

Vanderbilt’s most productive wide receiver in 2014 will miss all of the 2015 season.

C.J. Duncan sustained a leg injury late in Tuesday afternoon’s practice, the day’s second workout, coach Derek Mason announced Wednesday. Mason said the coaches do not expect to have the 5-foot-11, 200-pound sophomore available this fall.

“I know C.J. is disappointed with the injury, and we share his disappointment,” Mason said in a statement from the athletics department. “He’s one of our most versatile and proven offensive performers, but even more than that, C.J. is very much a team-oriented player. As he recuperates, C.J. will be an encouraging and helpful presence to the receiving corps.

“We have several talented receivers on the roster with the ability to contribute more significantly to our offense. We expect them to step up to this challenge.”

Duncan had 28 receptions for 441 yards and four touchdowns last season as a redshirt freshman. He tied tight end Steven Scheu for the team lead in touchdown receptions. Only Scheu had more catches and receiving yards.

First-year offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig planned to use Duncan in a variety of ways.

A quarterback during his high school days in Montgomery, Ala., Duncan had a team-high nine rushing attempts (for 25 yards) in this year’s Black and Gold game that concluded spring workouts.

“C.J. … will be featured predominately at wideout,” Ludwig said last week on the eve of preseason camp. “But you can see some situations where you come out in a three-wide receiver set and C.J. lines up in the backfield as a tailback.”

Now they won’t see him anywhere.

(Photo: Getty Images)
 

Aug 12, 2015 2:45 PM

Ludwig plans to be 'very creative' to get Sherfield more touches

Vanderbilt was not the first football team that failed to take immediate advantage of Trent Sherfield’s athletic gifts.

In fact, the sophomore wide receiver’s very first team back home in Danville, Illinois, made the very same mistake.

“As a little guy [6 years old], I remember wearing jersey No. 2, and they had me on the offensive line,” Sherfield to the Nashville Post on Tuesday. “My coach gave me a chance to get the ball, gave it to me and I scored. I’ll never forget it. I reversed field and everything. It was a great feeling.

“I never played offensive line. Never again, after that.”

The Commodores did not put Sherfield on the offensive line last fall, his first season in college football. They did keep him on the sideline an awful lot, though.

Numerous times throughout 2014 coach Derek Mason proclaimed that coaches planned to get the ball in the hands of the 6-foot, 200-pounder, yet Sherfield caught just one pass for nine yards and rushed three times for 40 yards.

Perhaps that’s part of the reason offensive coordinator Karl Dorrell was fired last December. Dorrell’s replacement, Andy Ludwig, does not sound like someone who will repeat the mistake.

“There’s two types of receivers — the kind of receiver where the play ends when he catches it or the kind the play’s just starting when he catches it,” Ludwig said. “(Sherfield) is the latter. The play’s just starting when he gets his hands on the football.

“… He’s a guy we can be very creative with in the way we get him touches.”

As a high school quarterback, Sherfield accounted for 4,790 yards and 64 touchdowns in two years as a starter. He also was a three-year starter in basketball, a sprinter on the track team and played baseball through his sophomore year.

He was one of three four-star recruits, according to Rivals.com, in Vanderbilt’s 2014 signing class.

“I really like having the ball in my hands a lot,” he said. “Playing wideout is real fun, the flashy plays and everything else. It’s real cool.

“… Coach Ludwig has a couple plays drawn up for me … just to get the ball in my hands. Coach Ludwig is a genius. He tries to get everyone the ball and if someone can do something with it,  he’s going to draw up something that they can do.”

So Sherfield finally can show exactly what he can do.

“I’m real eager,” he said. “Just preparing with the team, I’m just ready to get out there and make some plays with the receivers.”

Aug 12, 2015 7:06 AM

Vanderbilt names new color analyst for football radio broadcasts

Regardless of whether or not it’s easier to watch, Vanderbilt football will sound different in 2015.

The university’s athletics department announced Tuesday that Norman Jordan, a running back one of the program’s rare bowl teams, will be color commentator on Vanderbilt football radio broadcasts.

Jordan replaces John Gromos, who filled that role for 19 seasons, and joins play-by-play man Joe Fisher, who returns for his 18th season. Mitch Light remains the sideline reporter.

“I’m thankful to be back working Commodore football games with Joe and look forward to working with Mitch,” Jordan said in a release from Vanderbilt. “I also have a tough assignment trying to fill John Gromos’ role but I’m very excited about the opportunity ahead.

“Vanderbilt University and the football program have been extremely important to me since 1978 when I first walked on campus as a freshman. I can’t wait to continue the relationship this year.”

Jordan was a two-year starter at running back (1981-82) when the Commodores, coached by George MacIntyre, relied heavily on the pass. He rushed for just 218 career yards but caught 106 passes for 925 yards and six touchdowns.

As a senior in 1982 he was among the top 10 in the country with 56 receptions. In his final game, the Hall of Fame Classic, he set an SEC record with 20 receptions for 173 yards and three touchdowns against Air Force.

WLAC-AM 1510 is the flagship station for Vanderbilt football broadcasts.
 

Aug 11, 2015 12:29 PM