Saturday, August 2, 2008

Pre-Season Football Predictions...

I just thought that I would post a few questions/predictions to The Sports VU readers about this coming football season to get some conversation going.

1) Who are you most looking forward to seeing this year: Jamie Graham

2) Who will emerge this year and surprise people: Jared Hawkins

3) Who are we going to beat: Rice, Duke, Kentucky, South Carolina

a) Number of wins: 4
b) Biggest Win: South Carolina
c) Worst Loss: Miami (OH)

4) Will D.J. leave for the NFL after this season? Yes

5) Freshman that will have the biggest impact: Ryan Seymour (DT)

6) Freshman you are most looking forward to seeing: John Cole

7) Biggest Concern: QB play. Our season depends on it.

8) What do you think is our team's biggest strength this year: I know most will say DBs, but I will say WRs.

9) Best home game atmosphere: Auburn

10) Offensive MVP for the season: Jared Hawkins

11) Defensive MVP for the season: Broderick Stewart (D.J. Moore is too easy)

12) Most Improved Player (Offense): Justin Wheeler

13) Most Improved Player (Defense): Greg Billinger

14) Surprise Team in the SEC: Ole Miss

15) Road games you plan to attend: Georgia, Ole Miss.

16) Game you are most excited to see: Georgia. They could be No. 1, and I have never been to UGA. For a home game, I would have to say South Carolina because I think we will win, and it is on ESPN.

If anyone thinks of any other questions, feel free to add them. I'm looking forward to hearing everyone's responses.

Football Notebook: Day 1 Highlights

A look back at the top stories from the Commodores' first day of camp.

1. Fans are going to love Jamie Graham, who's switching from defensive back to wide receiver, writes The Tennessean's Mo Patton.

"I think I can come in and bring that 'fast' mentality to the offense," Graham said, who provided one of the top practice highlights, leaping high between defenders Jared Fagan and Brent Trice to haul in a deep sideline pass from QB Chris Nickson in an early 11-on-11 drill.

"My personality on the football field is a lot more aggressive than it is on the basketball court," he added. "My intensity goes up in football, a whole lot. In basketball, it's high. In football, it'll be out of control."

Johnson agrees.

"Anybody that saw him play in high school would know — he had some unbelievable plays where people couldn't hem him up," Johnson said. "I think he's going to give us an unknown dimension, one that people are going to be fired up about."

2. Few players are more geeked about starting a new season than Chris Nickson, writes ESPN.com's Chris Low.

"I embrace this opportunity more than anything, especially with it being my last year," he said. "I look at it as another opportunity to show the world what you're made of and who you really are deep down inside. I plan to play every down that way."

Johnson said Nickson and Mackenzi Adams will compete for the starting job throughout camp.

"I've got to win the job, and that's how it should be," he said. "When I'm healthy, I feel like I can conquer the world and control the game. It changes things when you don't have to worry about being injured. It allows me to be me and play at a level that I expect."

3. Junior safety Brent Trice has moved to strongside linebacker, reports Brett Hait of The Nashville City Paper.

Coach Bobby Johnson was looking for a way to get Trice on the field and said Trice can be a "hybrid" type of player who is big enough to play linebacker and quick enough to drop back into coverage. He's been playing behind safety Reshard Langford.

4. Hait noted that starting defensive end Steven Stone played some at defensive tackle as the Commodores look to add depth inside.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Doster suspended for season

Redshirt freshman Jermaine Doster was suspended for the entire season by coach Bobby Johnson for violation of team rules, stemming from his arrest two weeks ago for disorderly conduct and two other misdemeanors, Mo Patton from the Tennessean reports.

I'm a little surprised by the harshness of the punishment, but there's no doubt Doster got the message. Johnson holding Doster accountable for his actions should also send shockwaves through the rest of the team to remind them that playing D-1 football is a privilege, and unruly behavior of that magnitude that reflects poorly on the team will not be tolerated.

What do you all think of the suspension? Too harsh? Just right?

The Sports VU: Week in Review

Fall practice begins this morning, which means we're now just 27 days away from the Commodores' season opener at Miami (OH) and The Sports VU is getting restless. Here's a look back at the week's highlights:

Save for the special teams, our position-by-position football preview is completed:

QB Breakdown
RB Breakdown
WR Breakdown
TE Breakdown
OL Breakdown
DL Breakdown
LB Breakdown
DB Breakdown

Five more stories worth checking out if you haven't already:

1. Who's the best Vanderbilt athlete over the past five years?

2. David Price was profiled in this week's Sports Illustrated

3. Ross Neltner and Alex Gordon will be reunited in Turkey

4. The Chicago Bears are already falling in love with Earl Bennettt

5. New NCAA rules are going to put baseball coaches in a bind

Finally, three great videos:

Alvarez talks about committment

Foster posterizes "Fezzy-Winks"

Why I Hate Tennessee

Have a great weekend, everyone.

Vanderbilt Football Preview: DB Breakdown

The Sports VU's position-by-position football preview winds down today with a breakdown of Vanderbilt's talented defensive backs. In case you missed anything, here's what we've looked at so far.

QB Breakdown
RB Breakdown
WR Breakdown
TE Breakdown
OL Breakdown
DL Breakdown
LB Breakdown

STRENGTHS:
Talent and experience. The secondary has a chance to be special this fall, and with the Dores replacing four starters in their front seven, it will need to be for them to be successful. Junior cornerbacks D.J. Moore and Myron Lewis are future pros, as is senior safety Reshard Langford, who's as reliable as they come. Moore is a preseason first-team All-SEC selection after recording 83 tackles and six interceptions in a breakout 2007. Lewis flew under the radar playing opposite Moore, but was equally impressive. At 6'3", Lewis had a team-high 12 pass breakups to go along with 49 tackles, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and one INT. The hard-hitting Langford has started all 35 games of his career and always seems to be around the ball. Redshirt junior Darlron Spead is a premier nickelback who should be fully healthy after playing through arm and leg injuries in '07, while redshirt junior Ryan Hamilton improved significantly in his second year as a starter at free safety.

WEAKNESSES: If you find one, let me know. In all seriousness, it's hard to find faults with a unit that excelled a year ago and should only improve '08. If you're wondering about depth, the Commodores are fine. Redshirt junior Joel Caldwell and junior Brent Trice are capable reserves at safety, redshirt sophomore Alan Strong has a promising future at cornerback while redshirt seniors Josh Allen and Jared Fagan are former starters. If we're nitpicking, I think that Hamilton could be more consistent and take better angles.

TOP QUESTIONS: While most good defenses feature a dominant front four, can the Dores rely on their secondary to carry them? Will Moore be able to live up the ridiculous hype? Is Spead going to be able to hold up physically for an entire season? Will the secondary come up with enough turnovers and big plays to help jump-start the offense?

INSTANT ANALYSIS: It's hard not to be excited about this unit. Moore is one of the most electric players in college football with incredible instincts and ball skills, while Lewis has the ideal build for a corner. Opposing quarterbacks will have a tough time deciding what side to throw to. The fact that Strong can contribute will also allow Moore to slide into the slot on occasion. Both safeties can pack a punch and have a wealth of experience that is invaluable in the SEC. While the rest of the defense is full of unknowns, coach Bobby Johnson knows he is set in the secondary. That hasn't always been the case.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Vanderbilt Football Preview: LB Breakdown

The Sports VU's position-by-position football preview continues today with a breakdown of Vanderbilt's linebacker corps. In case you missed it, here's what we've looked at so far:

QB Breakdown
RB Breakdown
WR Breakdown
TE Breakdown
OL Breakdown
DL Breakdown

STRENGTHS: Intelligence and intensity. The versatile junior Patrick Benoist is as competitive as they come and should thrive in his second year as a starter on the outside. Redshirt freshman Chris Marve is the total package, combining great speed and instincts, which is why coach Bobby Johnson said he has a "great chance" to start in the middle. The other starter will be sophomore John Stokes, who is already drawing comparisons to former VU great Hunter Hillenmeyer. "A big rangy guy who can run, but also just extremely smart," Johnson said. "Knows the defense already. Can do anything for you." The Dores also have depth, with Brandon Bryant and Nate Campbell on the outside and Chris Johnson in the middle, along with true freshman DeAndre Jones.

WEAKNESSES: Experience. You can't lose Jonathan Goff and Marcus Buggs and expect to better, at least not right away. Stokes and Marve have the potential to be as good, if not better, down the road, but they're still young. The good thing is that these guys are all students of the game who are constantly looking to improve.

TOP QUESTIONS:
How will the hard-hitting Brandon Bryant factor into the equation after an injury-plagued '07? Will Marve be able to replace Goff as the quarterback of the defense? Is Stokes ready to replace the extremely underrated Buggs on the outside? Will Jones see action as a true freshman? With a thin defensive line, how will this unit hold up against the run, in particular?

INSTANT ANALYSIS: Vanderbilt might as well be called "Linebacker U." The Dores consistently recruit big-time players at the position and this year is no exception. Marve appears to be a stud, while Benoist has proven that he can play at the SEC level. I love the fact that Benoist went undefeated and won two state titles as a two-year starter at Carroll, the No. 1 team in the nation. Stokes was one of just three true freshman to play last season and has a chance to be a special player. Throw in Bryant, who battled Benoist for the starting job last fall, along with Johnson, Campbell and potentially Jones, and you have a deep and talented unit. They may struggle somewhat early on, but I'd expect them to improve dramatically as the season progresses.

Ranking the best Commodores in recent history

Good friend Chris Lee of the esteemed VandySports.com recently counted down the top 10 Vanderbilt athletes he has covered over the last five years.

Chris provides an in-depth argument for each Commodore on his list, although you have to be a subscriber to read it. Without further ado, here it is:

1. Pedro Alvarez
2. Shan Foster
3. David Price
4. Jay Cutler
5. Earl Bennett
6. Matt Freije
7. Jeremy Sowers
8. Ryan Flaherty
9. Chris Williams
10. Derrick Byars

In addition, Chris includes his "best of the rest":

11. Dominic de la Osa (baseball)
12. Moses Osemwegie (football)
13. Jonathan Goff (football)
14. Warner Jones (baseball)
15. Justin Geisinger (football)
16. David Macias (baseball)
17. Jensen Lewis (baseball)
18. Ryan Klosterman (baseball)
19. Jovan Haye (football)
20. Matt Buschmann (baseball)
21. Corey Smith (basketball)
22. Brian Stamper (football)
23. Ryan Mullins (baseball)
24. Mario Moore (basketball)
25. Casey Weathers (baseball)
26. Mike Baxter (baseball)
27. Alex Gordon (basketball)
28. Marcus Buggs (football)
29. Cesar Nicholas (baseball)
30. Curtis Gatewood (football)

Before I share my own top 10, here are a few thoughts on Chris' list.

* I think David Price deserves to be ahead of Pedro Alvarez. Price will go down as one of the most dominant college pitchers of all-time. Price was the face of the program and led the Commodores to a SEC regular season and tournament championship in 2007. From his overpowering fastball and vicious slider to humbled and outgoing personality, we'll never see anyone quite like him again.

* I would put Earl Bennett ahead of Jay Cutler. Sure, Cutler became a first-round draft pick after a terrific senior season, but to me, they don't get much better than Bennett, who leaves as the SEC's most prolific receiver. Bennett was loved by everyone, and not just because of what he did on Saturdays. He was always approachable, always modest, always smiling. Put simply, it was impossible not to like him.

* You can't go wrong with putting David Price or Shan Foster in the top spot. I'm just fortunate to have covered both of them.

* How in the world is Mario Moore on this list, especially ahead of Casey Weathers or fellow point guard Alex Gordon? And why no Dan Cage in the top 30?

* Derrick Byars, along with Weathers, is clearly hurt by the fact that he did not play three or four seasons at Vanderbilt. Still, watching DeeBee turn to the crowd and yell "We ain't going home!" after that double-overtime thriller in Sacramento is my fondest Commodore memory. Byars played at another level that entire season.

* I think Jonathan Goff deserves to be higher on the list. Goff is the most intense and driven athlete I've met. It was always fun trying to get a quote longer than one or two sentences out of him.

OK, enough rambling. Here's my list:

1. Shan Foster
2. David Price
3. Earl Bennett
4. Pedro Alvarez
5. Jay Cutler
6. Matt Freije
7. Ryan Flaherty
8. Derrick Byars
9. Jonathan Goff
10. Alex Gordon

Feel free to leave your thoughts and comments below.

Around the SEC (7/31)

From Stepen Garcia's return to South Carolina to Snoop Dogg's support of Les Miles, we've got a bunch of Southeastern Conference links to pass along this morning. Let's start with the Commodores first.

The start of Vanderbilt's preseason camp was pushed back until tomorrow after the SEC informed school officials that they were starting too early.

"The league simply said we were mistaken in interpreting when we could start our preseason schedule," said coach Bobby Johnson. "After numerous discussions with the SEC, we decided that delaying practice by a day was the right action."

Brett Hait of The Nashville City Paper takes a look at 10 questions surrounding the Commodores. A couple of the big ones: Is Bryant Hahnfeldt in danger of losing his job? Who has the most to prove during training camp?

Les Miles' weekly Rotary Club meeting was interrupted when his new friend Snoop Dogg stopped by to show him some love. You can watch their hilarious interaction (Miles surprisingly gives Snoop a pretty good hip-hop hug) right here.

“I defend his music, and am much more a fan of the person," Miles said.

Stephen Garcia's return from exile will come two weeks earlier than expected, writes The State's Joseph Person. Still, the highly-touted redshirt freshman will start camp no higher than third on the depth chart behind redshirt junior Tommy Beecher and Chris Smelley.

Jerrell Powe spoke to ESPN.com's Bruce Feldman about the SEC's decision to let him play for Ole Miss this fall.

"I just couldn't give up," he said. "I just couldn't. It's really because of the love I have to play in the SEC, and I just want to represent my home state. I mean, once you fall in love with something and set your mind on it, you just don't wanna give it up. And I could see it happening. I wanna come out of that tunnel and see that field. I wanna rub [the bust of] Chucky Mullins' head and I wanna put us back on the map."

Former LSU Ryan Perrilloux is trying to repair his career and his reputation at Jacksonville State. Looks like he's off to a good start.

SI.com's Stewart Mandel lists Alabama as a potential sleeper.

Ole Miss says it plans to have a 6 p.m. kickoff for the Sept. 20 game against Vanderbilt, pending the SEC TV schedule. You know what that means? More time to enjoy The Grove...

Video of the day: Alvarez on commitment

You don't become an All-American third baseman and No. 2 pick in the 2008 MLB Draft overnight. Former Commodore Pedro Alvarez talks to Stack TV about his dedication to the game that he loves.

"I'm at the field for a big portion of the day," Alvarez said, "and it doesn't really bother me just because obviously baseball's what I love to do and the better you can become, the better you feel about yourself."

Alvarez noted that his strong work ethic came from his father.

"I always knew (dedication) was important because my dad emphasized it a lot, and as a child, I was lucky enough not to be stubborn and I listened to him," he said.



"I sacrificed a lot as a child, but I feel like it's paid off now and will pay off in the future," Alvarez said.

It most certainly will. Best of luck, Pedro, and thanks to the NY Dore for the find...

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

"Young, Gifted And Black": Price profiled in Sports Illustrated

Do yourself a favor and buy a copy of this week's Sports Illustrated, if you're not a subscriber already. Lee Jenkins, who happens to be a Vanderbilt alum, has a terrific feature on David Price, the No. 1 pick in the 2007 MLB Draft, that you can read online here.

To give you an idea about the article, titled "Young, Gifted AND Black," here's the subhead:
The Best Story in Baseball gets better: Phenom David Price is closing in on the majors, which will not only give the remarkable Rays a stretch-drive lift but also help a city—and a sport—reconnect with its African-American heritage.

A few interesting tidbits from the story:

* After getting shelled in an intrasquad scrimmage in January of his freshman year, Price made a decision: drop out of school, quit baseball and work at McDonald's. "It was definitely kind of out there," Corbin said, "but I couldn't laugh because he was so serious." Good thing Corbin talked him out of it.

* Wrote Jenkins: "Today Price is the best African-American pitching prospect since Dwight Gooden."

* In 2007, only 8.2 percent of MLB players were black, the lowest total in more than two decades. In 1975, the number was 27 percent, an all-time high.

* How do you get more inner-city kids interested in baseball? By having visible role models like Price, along with the likes of Carl Crawford and B.J. Upton, who show that not only that baseball is cool, but that you can have a future in it.

"I hear a lot about how African-American kids don't play baseball anymore," said Hillsborough coach Kenny White. "But in Tampa they are still playing. I think kids here look at all the African-American players who have come out of this city—and now all the African-American players who are being taken by the Rays—and they see that it's still attainable, that baseball is still an option."

The bottom line, as Crawford points out, is that young kids often need to see players that "look like them" to become interested. Crawford grew up in Houston and said he didn't recall the Astros have any black players besides Derek Bell.

"I didn't really mind because I loved the Astros no matter what. But a lot of my friends, who were really good players, would complain," he said. "They would be like, 'Why should I care about that team? Why should I care about baseball?' And they stopped playing. It matters where you live. You have to be able to turn on the TV and see players who look like you."

* The article mentions Vanderbilt's partnership with Nashville RBI, which Price and Corbin spearheaded in the spring. I wrote an article about the partnership for VU Commodores that you can read here.

* Price has continued a postgame tradition that he started at Vandy. "After his team wins a game that he started," Jenkins writes, "he stands outside the clubhouse, congratulating everyone on their way inside, making sure to enter last."

* In the sidebar, which can't be read online, Baseball Prospectus' Joe Sheehan writes that Price will probably be called up as a reliever, filling the same role that Joba Chamberlain had with the Yankees last season.

* Added Sheehan: "Price has major-league-ready pitches that include a mid-90s fastball and a big, biting slider. He also has superior command, having struck out 68 wand walked just 19 in 71.2 innings through Sunday. As Chamberlain did, Price would most likely work off his two best pitches as a reliever, largely putting his above-average changeup away until next season...For the Rays, adding Price to their bullpen mix would be like a great trade-deadline pickup."

UPDATE: If you need another reason to buy the issue, two former Commodores are highlighted in the football preview. Jay Cutler, the 12th-ranked quarterback, is listed as a "sleeper," with SI writing, "after being diagnosed with and treated for Type I diabetes in the off-season, he has regained much of his stamina and arm strength." Meanwhile, Earl Bennett is listed as an "impact rookie," with SI noting that "the SEC's all-time leader in catches, at Vanderbilt, should rise quickly on Chicago's thin depth chart."

Photo [tampabay.com]

Vanderbilt Football Preview: DL Breakdown

The Sports VU's position-by-position football preview continues today with a breakdown of Vanderbilt's defensive line. In case you missed it, here's what we've looked at so far:

QB Breakdown
RB Breakdown
WR Breakdown
TE Breakdown
OL Breakdown

STRENGTHS: Pass rush. Redshirt junior Broderick Stewart is coming off a breakout season in '07 in which he recorded a team-high six sacks along with six QB hurries and 8.5 tackles for loss. With redshirt junior Steven Stone on the opposite side, the Commodores should be able to get into the opponent's backfield often. Stone is as steady as they come, notching 45 tackles, four sacks and eight tackles for loss last season. Meanwhile, sophomore Theron Kadri has a ton of upside after being just one of three true freshman to see time a year ago.

WEAKNESSES: Depth. The Commodores are very thin along the front line, particularly at tackle after losing starters Gabe Hall and Theo Horrocks to graduation. Junior Greg Billinger is poised for a breakout season while the Commodores are counting on a big season from redshirt sophomore Adam Smotherman, who was sidelined for much of '07 with a lower leg injury. Beyond that, however, defensive line coach Rick Logo will look to redshirt junior Derrius Dowell and redshirt freshman T.J. Greenstone for help inside. On the outside, Kadri should rotate in with Stone and Stewart, while redshirt sophomore Terial Brannon and redshirt freshman Tim Fugger add depth.

TOP QUESTIONS: Will this unit be able to withstand any injuries? Are Billinger and Smotherman ready to play full-time at one of the most demanding positions? While the pass rush should be strong, how will the Dores fare at stopping the run? Will any true freshmen earn playing time?

INSTANT ANALYSIS:
The secondary should be terrific and Vanderbilt always seems to be solid at linebacker, which leaves the defensive line as the biggest question mark. Replacing Curtis Gatewood, who's at camp with the Washington Redskins, shouldn't be too difficult with Stewart, Stone and Kadri returning. Filling the void in the middle left by Hall and Horrocks won't be as easy, but if Billinger fulfills his potential and Smotherman stays healthy, the Dores should be OK. And, at the end of the day, Vandy still has Coach Logo, who has done wonders with the front four over the past two seasons.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Around the SEC (7/29)

A few Southeastern Conference links to pass along on this Tuesday evening...

ESPN.com's Chris Low takes a look at which SEC teams are hated the most. Alabama takes the title, followed by Tennessee and Florida. The Commodores are the least-hated team because, as Low writes, they "haven't won enough for anybody to hate them." He's got a point.

By now, I'm sure you heard that defensive tackle Jerrell Powe has finally been cleared to play at Ole Miss. Powe hasn't played in three years, but if he's ready to contribute, the Rebels' d-line should be outstanding. It already has defensive end Greg Hardy, who led the SEC with 10 sacks last season, and Peria Jerry, a defensive tackle who had 14 tackles for a loss in '07.

Despite key losses on offense, Kentucky coach Rich Brooks thinks the Wildcats can beat anyone their schedule.

It also looks like Kentucky sophomore Mike Hartline will be the starting QB after projected starter Curtis Pulley has a possession of marijuana citation and a traffic arrest from two separate incidents this summer. Ouch.

Best party school in the country goes to...the University of Florida. Won't they let other schools win something for a change?

Phil "What subpoena?" Fulmer feels the Vols are underrated.

Six Arkansas players have been arrested over the past few months and Bobby Petrino decided to make a statement, suspending two players for the first two games of the season.

Tony Barnhart of the AJC lists five reasons why the media picked Florida to win the SEC East over Georgia. I think their respective schedules is the biggest factor.

Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson is a lot like Toby Keith, according to an Arkansas reporter who compares each SEC coach to a famous person/character. Why? Because he's "Ford tough." I like the comparison between Les Miles and George W. Bush.

Finally, ESPN.com's Chris Low (he's a busy guy) rates the SEC's most bitter rivalries. His top five:

1. Alabama vs. Auburn
2. Alabama vs. Tennessee
3. Florida vs. Georgia
4. Alabama vs. LSU
5. Florida vs. Tennessee

At least one Alabama fan has a problem with the rankings. He said he hates Tennessee more than Auburn, among other things...Just watch and enjoy.



And I don't like pumpkins!

Vanderbilt Football Preview: OL Breakdown

The Sports VU's position-by-position football preview continues today with a breakdown of the offensive line. In case you missed it, here's what we looked at last week:

QB Breakdown
RB Breakdown
WR Breakdown
TE Breakdown

STRENGTHS: Athleticism. "We're probably more athletic on the offensive line this year than we were last year with the exception, of course, of Chris Williams," said coach Bobby Johnson. Redshirt junior Bradley Vierling should be an upgrade at center, while redshirt junior Thomas Welch has a chance to be a star at tackle. Throw in dependable guards Ryan Custer and Drew Gardner and tackle Eric Hensley, all redshirt juniors, and you have a unit that's not nearly as inexperienced as some have suggested.

WEAKNESSES:
Depth. All five starters have game experience and have been with the program for four years, but the same can't be said for the second unit. Redshirt sophomore Joey Bailey will handle back-up center duties, while the Commodores will need production from redshirt freshmen Kyle Fischer and James Williams along with converted defensive end Reilly Lauer at tackle. Depth at guard, however, might be an even bigger concern with only Ryan Vance returning. Put simply, Vanderbilt cannot afford to have many injuries in the trenches.

TOP QUESTIONS: While all five starters have experience, are they ready to play full-time against some of the nation's quickest and strongest linemen? Can Welch, who scouts are quite high on, handle protecting the quarterback's blind side? Is Hensley, who was suspended for the final eight games last season due to a DUI, mature enough to handle more responsibility? With such little depth, particularly at guard, will any true freshmen be asked to contribute?

INSTANT ANALYSIS: On paper, it looks like replacing all five starters will be a daunting task. Of course, losing Chris Williams is going to hurt, but beyond that, Johnson isn't too concerned. Vierling averaged 30 plays per game, Welch was the top tackle reserve and often spelled Brian Stamper, Gardner subbed in for Merritt Kirchoffer and Custer has played a lot the past two seasons behind Josh Eames. Depth is obviously a concern, but when is it not with the Dores? It may take some time for the unit to gel, but offensive line coach Robbie Caldwell is terrific and should have them ready to go. "We expect our offensive line to step up and be as good as we were last year," Johnson said. I think so too.

Commodore Banter (7/29)

Former Vanderbilt pitcher David Price was dazzling over eight innings Monday night, allowing just hits and striking out seven in Double-A Montgomery's 9-2 victory. While both hits were home runs, Price (5-0) retired 24 of 26 batters.

After witnessing another dominating performance, Brad Shephard of The Huntsville Times asked the question: Should Price expect the call-up soon?

"I just take it one game at a time down here and expect a call every morning saying I'm going to Tampa," Price said. "Until I get that call-up, I'm working hard, anxious. I want it more than anything.

"Every day, it crosses my mind. Every time I see professional baseball on TV, I say I can play with those guys and compete against those guys."

Meanwhile, make sure to check out this hilarious column called Why We Love David Price by The Love of Sports. Among the many highlights:
Next time you’re in a discussion with your friends about who’s going to emerge from the American League, toss this one out there:

“I really like Tampa’s chances. I mean, they’ve been in the thick of it all season long, and David Price will be a huge difference maker down the stretch.”

Your friends will think you’re a little left of center. Don’t worry about it, though. Sit back, watch Tampa Bay call him up and you’ll be proven to be a genius. You can thank me later.

Meanwhile, there's a great story about Price's former teammate, Casey Weathers, who went from an being an outfielder to an Olympic pitcher seemingly overnight.

SI.com included Memorial Gym on its list of the the nation's best sports venues. Make sure to check out former Commodore Bill Trocchi's great description of Memorial.

In football news, looks like there is going to be some competition at kicker, where incoming freshman Ryan Fowler will challenge incumbent Bryant Hahnfeldt for the starting job.
"I see I have a senior in front of me. Bryant's the kicker, and he's a great kicker," Fowler said. "I'm just coming in to add a little fire, a little competition, and maybe that'll spice it up a little on special teams. I just want to provide the competition that's needed for Vanderbilt to rise to that next level."

As an undrafted free agent, former Commodore Curtis Gatewood is playing with a chip on his shoulder during camp with the Redskins.

Vanderbilt's season opener at Miami of Ohio (6:30 p.m. CT) is going to be the first ESPNU event to be broadcast in HD.

McClements rebounds after VU left him devastated

When Vanderbilt opted to disband its men's soccer program in January 2006, students were outraged, but only for a day or two, maybe a week. Then they went back to their lives, not paying much attention to the aftermath.

Well, I checked up with coach Tim McClements in mid-October of that year, and wrote this column for The Hustler:
Devastating.

That’s how Tim McClements described the university’s poorly timed decision to disband the men’s soccer program in January.

“There’s no other way to put it,” said McClements, who earned Missouri Valley Conference Coach of the Year honors after leading Vanderbilt to a third-place league finish. “You invest so much time and effort into a place. My family loved Nashville and the school. And then it’s gone.”

Whether or not Vanderbilt was justified in cutting the men’s soccer team is not even the issue. It’s about how the university went about doing so. McClements deserved better. So did his wife and two children.

“The fact that it’s done and how it’s done are two completely different things,” McClements said.

By the time Vanderbilt officials announced the decision, all head coaching vacancies had been filled. McClements was stuck without a job or a home, and while he ultimately became an assistant coach at Southern Methodist University, the transition from Nashville to Dallas has not been a smooth one.

“Every day it gets a little bit easier, but without a doubt, it was the hardest thing I have ever had to experience as a coach,” McClements said.

Life still isn’t normal for McClements. It’s the small things, like enrolling his two children in school, ordering a new driver’s license and unpacking (which he still hasn’t finished), that have made the move so difficult. As he said, “our whole life was disrupted.”

“It was hard because it was just so unexpected,” McClements said. “We had things going in the right direction and all of a sudden it’s gone.”

But, as McClements stressed countless times during our conversation yesterday morning, he’s moved on. He simply cannot afford to dwell on something that he can’t change.

“I’m going to put that behind me,” he said. “If I do, I’ll find success. If I keep looking back, that’s just not how I operate.”

The focus now is on something much more important than a whistle or a soccer ball. As much as he’d like to be a head coach next fall (and is more than qualified to be one), his loved ones come first.

“The main thing is to get my family back together,” McClements said. “I’m going to do what I’ve always done – work hard, do things the right way and let the future take care of itself. If I stay here, it's a great place. If there's a better fit or opportunity for my family, I'll look at it then."

While the past 10 months have been far from enjoyable for McClements, SMU is 13-0-1 and the No. 1 team in the country, and many of his former players are finding success at other schools.

"I'm just trying to move on with my life and it's been difficult," he said. "But being number one helps, doesn't it?"

It most certainly does. But it still doesn't take away from what Vanderbilt did to him. McClements should be coaching his players, not checking up on them through another school's website.

And while he does his best to move on, and most students forget the soccer team was ever here, I'm still upset.

I'm glad that McClements stayed true to his word because last week he was introduced as the head coach at SMU.

"The thing I remember most about him is that he is a player's coach," said Joe Germanese, who played at Vanderbilt under McClements before transferring Duke after the program was eliminated. "He has the ability to really challenge players to improve and get better on the field, but at the same time off the field he really cares about his players and how they're doing regarding school and family. He helped me get better on an individual level and really challenged me to take care of all the little aspects of the game that get overlooked.

"Additionally, he is without a doubt one of the best recruiters in the country," added Germanese, who now plays for the New England Revolution of the MLS. "He has the ability to recruit nationally, and at Vanderbilt, he was able to find `diamond in the rough' players who he was able to model into our system and culture. Players at Vanderbilt came in as freshmen at one level and by the time they were juniors and seniors, they were at a whole different, much higher level because of Coach's ability to develop players."

Jerrell Powe finally declared academically eligible

For three years, all Jerrell Powe wanted to do was play football for the University of Mississippi. This fall, he'll finally get that wish.

The Jerrell Powe sage came to an end Monday as the Southeastern Conference deemed the 21-year-old defensive lineman fully eligible to practice and play football this season for the Rebels.

"I am deeply grateful to Ole Miss and to the SEC for the opportunity to be admitted here and to prove that I can succeed academically and on the football field," Powe said in a statement. "I have always had faith and a plan, and both are beginning to show results."

For those of you not familiar with this unbelievable story, here's a brief timeline provided by the Memphis Commercial Appeal:

Feb. 2, 2005: Powe, a five-star recruit and one of the nation's most feared defensive lineman, signed with Ole Miss

Aug. 4, 2005:
Powe was declared academically ineligible

Feb. 1, 2006: Powe again signed with Ole Miss after spending a year at the Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia

Aug. 26, 2006: Powe was declared academically ineligible by the NCAA, which contended that Powe had received too much assistance completing his coursework

Aug. 8, 2007: Powe, who was diagnosed with learning disabilities, including dyslexia, re-took courses at his high school and Penn Foster Career School during the year, and then signed with Ole Miss for a third time

Aug. 28, 2007: Powe was declared academically ineligible, but was allowed to receive financial aid and attend classes in Oxford

July 28, 2008:
After Powe completed 24 credit hours over two semesters with a 2.31 GPA, he was declared eligible by the NCAA and will play for Ole Miss this season

I strongly encourage you to read the full article because the short version simply does not do Jerrell Powe's story justice. Coincidentally, I was reading Bruce Feldman's book Meat Market this afternoon, which provides an inside account of Ole Miss recruiting under former coach Ed Orgeron, and Powe's recruitment in particular.

Orgeron, who convinced Powe to play for him despite offers from SEC powerhouses LSU and Auburn, never could have imagined then that it would take three long years for his prized recruit to play a down for the Rebels.

And while Orgeron may not be here to coach him (he was fired after the 2007 season), you can bet that he broke into a smile upon hearing the news.

"He just kept working hard, kept believing, and finally his dream's coming true," said Marcus Boyles, Powe's high school coach. "I couldn't be happier for him. The thing I'm proudest of is that this young man never quit. He got knocked down a few times. People kept saying that it would never happen, never happen, never happen. And finally, it happened."

Monday, July 28, 2008

Gordon, Neltner reunited in Turkey

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Former Vanderbilt basketball players Alex Gordon and Ross Neltner will be playing together for a professional team in Bursa, Turkey, reported Brett Hait of The Nashville City Paper.

Neltner signed a contract earlier in the summer and Gordon followed suit last week after mulling options from teams in France and Germany.

“I always told myself that if I had the opportunity to go play with somebody I knew, I was going to take that,” Gordon said. “That came about and it’s going to be a good experience for me, being out of the U.S. and being out of my element and playing with somebody I know.

“We already have a chemistry that most people don’t have. It should be great.”

Bursa finished 12-18 last season, but you can bet that Neltner and Gordon are ready to right the ship.

“Maybe I’m a little na├»ve going into international basketball, thinking we can make a huge difference, but we’ve always been on winning teams,” Neltner said. “Hopefully we’ll bring that winning mindset and winning mentality over there.”

Neltner and Gordon plan to head overseas following a wedding in Indianapolis on August 9. The friend getting married? None other than former Vanderbilt teammate Dan Cage.

Around the SEC (7/28)

A few Southeastern Conference links to pass along on this Monday evening...

Shortly after three-star tailback Zac Stacy committed to Vanderbilt, another running back, the 5-foot-10, 191-pound Warren Norman, did the same.

“(Vanderbilt has) great coaches,” Norman told the AJC. “They just want to win. They feel like they need a couple of great players to win, and they said I’m one of them.”

ESPN.com's Chris Low answers an interesting question: Who are the SEC's best fantasy players? Low lists his top-10 (some Tebow guy is No. 1) along with 10 sleepers. No Commodores are mentioned.

Low also ranks the 25 best SEC players after The Gainesville Sun did the same. While Vanderbilt CB D.J. Moore is No. 17 on The Sun's list, he is nowhere to be found on Low's.

The Sun also ranks the receiving corps of each SEC school and the Commodores are 10th, ahead of Kentucky and Mississippi State.

The Birmingham News has some fun predicting what the SEC will look like in 25 years. Among the changes:
After openly gay athletes come forward in professional leagues, the trend trickles down to colleges, even in the South. Vanderbilt, before leaving the SEC and being replaced by Louisville, produces the SEC's first openly gay athlete in a major sport.

Tennessee tailback Arian Foster is relishing his leadership role, writes Drew Edwards of the Knoxville News-Sentinel.

2008 looks like it will be the year of the center in the SEC.

With the allure of the spread offense, college football is now full of more Tim Tebows than Matt Staffords, which might have an impact on the NFL.

Lastly, Eric Crawford of the Louisville Courier-Journal takes a look at the number of student-athletes smoking marijuana and makes this suggestion: standardize testing and procedures.

Should college athletes be paid?

The question has been debated for years: Should college athletes be paid? And for the longest time, my answer was an unequivocal "yes."

However, yesterday's article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution got me thinking a little deeper.

The AJC also includes a guest column by Dr. Boyce Watkins, who makes a compelling case to pay student-athletes:
I have witnessed students being taken out of class for an entire week to play in a nationally-televised football or basketball game, with academics (and the fact that the student's grade has been jeopardized) becoming an afterthought. Players are treated like professional athletes, not students, and a weak performance on the field will cause them to lose their scholarship. Any institution operating as a government-sanctioned cartel, riddled with hypocrisy, disproportionate and exploitative compensation schemes, and glaring disregard for educational values should be scrutinized more carefully.

On the whole, Watkins' assertion is sadly far too accurate: the NCAA is no longer the "amateur institution" it claims to be. Watkins goes on to argue that "the problem is that the NCAA is allowed to operate as a cartel."

In other words, all schools work together to make price-fixing agreements that prevent players from having any other options. This practice is illegal in nearly every other industry, because the source of labor then has no bargaining power.

NCAA President Myles Brand has the pleasure of presenting the case for the other side, and guess what? His argument is equally, if not more, compelling than Watkins':
Here is big news. Student-athletes have always been the only amateurs in amateur collegiate sports. From nearly the beginning of college sports 150 years ago, there have been paid coaches, and then paid administrators, and then all the rest. They are professionals. Intercollegiate athletics is their job.

Playing sports is not the "job" of students. They are not professionals at playing sports. They are amateurs.

If both sides are right, what's the solution? For starters, I don't buy the educational argument from Brand and others until all universities make a real commitment to helping their student-athletes graduate.

Furthermore, I think that Drs. Watkins and Richard E. Lapchick, president and CEO of the National Consortium for Academics and Sport and founder of the Center for the Study of Sport in Society, are on to something.

Their suggestion is to "tilt financial assistance toward under-privileged student-athletes," especially when the time commitment to their teams makes it impossible for them to earn part-time jobs.

"I've always felt that student-athletes should get some additional income, particularly those who come from families with less than traditional support," Lapchick said. "It's a huge, big business. Somehow, we have to find a way to give student-athletes more of a fair share."

Watkins said, "It makes no sense that a guy could be worth $10 million or $15 million a year to a school, and his mother is being evicted from her apartment."

No, it doesn't. Not at all. And while it's pretty clear that Brand will never pay student-athletes under his watch, Watkins and Lapchick may have found a pretty good compromise.

Commodore Banter (7/28)

Here are a few links to enjoy as we celebrate the fact that the Commodores kick off their season at Miami (OH) exactly one month from today.

First, in baseball news, junior Mike Minor pitched 9.2 scoreless innings in Team USA's 1-0 victory over Japan in Sunday's gold medal game of the FISU World Championships. The Americans finished their summer undefeated (4-0) and set a national team record for lowest staff ERA (0.88) thanks in large part to Minor, their ace.

Minor faced the minimum through nine innings and gave up just four hits and struck out nine without issuing a walk in the finale. For the summer, Minor was 3-0 with a microscopic 0.75 ERA in a team-high 36 innings. He gave up just 21 hits and 13 walks to go along with 37 strikeouts.

In football news, Maurice Patton of The Tennessean talks to a number of Vanderbilt fans, including VandySports.com's Jesse Johnson and The Sports VU's own Andrew Hard, to answer these questions: Can Vanderbilt win? And does anyone care?

"We don't go into the season planning on being unsuccessful," said coach Bobby Johnson. "We plan on being successful. We do everything we can possibly do to make that happen. We've changed over the years. If there's something we're missing, we'll hunt for it and we'll keep hunting. We won't rest until we do get it done."

Vanderbilt vice chancellor David Williams is certain of that.

"To me, Bobby Johnson is as good a coach as I believe we're ever going to have here," he said. "We keep seeing improvement in the program. We're going to get this job done. I'm convinced of that."

Make sure to check out Ron Higgins' profile of John Stokes, Vanderbilt's starting outside linebacker, in the Commercial Appeal.

"I'm tickled to death," said Stokes. "There's no way I thought I would play as a true freshman and start as a sophomore."

You might want to take a look at the Knoxville News-Sentinel's Vanderbilt football preview.

In an age where college athletes are finding themselves in police reports far too often, Vanderbilt's George Smith is a refreshing reminder that there are some who get it, writes Christopher Walsh of Tidesports.com.

"We have a gift. We're playing on a collegiate scholarship," he said. "I just pray that guys don't try and abuse that gift, abuse their situation."

Finally, in recruiting news, the Commodores received a commitment from 3-star running back Zac Stacy of Bibb County [Ala.] High, reports Brett Hait via VandySports.com.

Stacy's stats are impressive. He averaged 10 yards per carry, scored 27 touchdowns and piled up more than 2,000 yards of all-purpose yardage in 2007. He is the nation’s No. 40 tailback by Rivals.com and first three-star running back to commit to the Commodores since Rivals.com started those rankings in 2002.

Bears already falling in love with Bennett

This shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who watched him play over the past three years, but Earl Bennett is making huge strides early in training camp with the Chicago Bears, writes Larry Mayer of chicagobears.com.

The third-round pick has impressed Chicago with his speed, quickness and hands. Some highlights include a leaping catch with a defender all over him, a sliding catch on fourth down to keep a drive alive during a two-minute drill and a big 26-yard grab on a skinny post in another two-minute drill.

“He seems to make a couple big plays each day,” said Bears coach Lovie Smith. “But we expected that out of him. He’s a good football player. He made a lot of catches at Vanderbilt, and hopefully it’ll continue.”

The coaching staff could not say enough good things about Bennett, who seemed to spend the entire summer studying the playbook.

“He’s a great route runner,” said Greg Gabriel, the Bears’ director of college scouting. “He’s got excellent hands and he’s very good after the catch. On top of that, his character is impeccable.”

“He’s having a real good camp,” said offensive coordinator Ron Turner. “He’s made great strides in the little time he’s been here. He’s very intelligent, which helps. We’re moving him around more than I anticipated we could at this time, and mentally he’s handling it really well.”

“His play speed is a lot better than it was when he first got here, and I think a lot of it is he’s more comfortable,” Turner added. “He’s getting a feel for the system. When he first came in, he was thinking so much he couldn’t really run.”

Both Bennett and the coaching agree that he has improved tremendously from the team's mini-camp and OTAs in the off-season.

“I stayed in the playbook, stayed looking at my sheet and notes that I took, and just come out here and try to relate it to the field," Bennett said. "Just staying focused and working hard—mental preparation—that’s the key thing out here. When you add those it gives you the edge when you’re on the field.”

Bennett has also worked hard to come off the line of scrimmage with more explosiveness. Still, despite his success, Bennett isn't taking anything for granted.

“There are older guys here who have already proven themselves,” he said. “I just have to come out and prove myself all over again, like when I went to high school and when I went to college. Now I’m in the pros and I just have to continue to get better and improve on the little things.”

We don't doubt that he will.

Photo [chicagobears.com via AP]

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Video of the day: Foster posterizes "Fezzy-Winks"

Vanderbilt's all-time leading scorer Shan Foster recently competed in two summer leagues with the Dallas Mavericks, who selected him with the 51st pick in the 2008 NBA Draft.

In five games in Las Vegas, Foster averaged 8.6 points, 2.6 rebounds and 1.8 assists. He shot 49 percent from the field, which was tops among the Mavs' perimeter players, and also displayed a well-rounded game that had to please Dallas coaches and execs.

However, Foster's shooting stroke abandoned him in the Rocky Mountain Revue in Salt Lake City. In six games, the 2008 SEC Player of the Year averaged 6.5 points (good for fifth-best on the team) on just 33 percent shooting, including 2-for-11 from 3-point range.

Still, Foster was 11-for-12 from the foul line and averaged 3.2 rebounds, grabbing eight boards in the finale against Utah, 1.3 assists and 1 steal, and added one absolutely monster dunk over Utah’s Kyrylo “Fezzy-Winks” Fesenko, sparking a Jazz timeout. Feel free to replay several times.



While I am certainly not speaking from experience, posterizing an awkward white dude named "Fezzy-Winks" has to be one of the best feelings in the world. Conversely, there's probably not much worse than backpedaling awkwardly on a fast break in an attempt to protect the basket only to watch helplessly as a 6'6" NBA hopeful/talented musician with major hops skies over you on his way to the rim.

And if "The Truth" (see, is it that hard to come up with a normal nickname?) was 50-50 to earn a roster spot before that dunk, how do you cut him now?

New rules put college baseball coaches in a bind

Think all Vanderbilt student-athletes are coming to school for free? Think again.

Our friends at The College Baseball Blog alerted me to an interesting story in today's Dallas Morning News that sheds light on the scarcity of Division I scholarships:
The NCAA considers revenue sports football and basketball "head-count" sports, meaning all the scholarships awarded in those sports are full – typically room, board, tuition, fees, books and meals. On the women's side, basketball, gymnastics, tennis and volleyball fall into that category.

The rest of the sports offered by universities are considered "equivalency" sports and can divide scholarships. The minimum amount of aid that can be awarded is 25 percent, meaning a student-athlete might receive books and meals but nothing else.

"Even for the parents of top players, they are still going to have to participate financially and participate in a fairly significant way," said Texas baseball coach Augie Garrido, who has won five national titles and more games than any other baseball coach in Division I history.

Having to divvy up the financial aid puts coaches in a precarious position.

For baseball coaches like Vanderbilt's Tim Corbin, it just got even harder.

Beginning this fall, the NCAA will adopt stricter scholarship and transfer rules in order to eliminate "tryout scholarships" and drive up player retention, according to Brian Davis of the Dallas Morning News.

Roster size limits will be put in place (no more than 35) and teams must now give 30 players at least 25 percent of a full scholarship. Beginning in 2009-10, that number will drop to 27. Keep in mind that baseball programs have just 11.7 scholarships available to begin with. Also, players will now be required to sit out one year if they transfer to another NCAA school.

The rule changes were enacted "to help improve grades in in a sport long criticized as having some of the worst GPAs in college sports," Davis writes.

Still, many coaches are opposed, most notably former Mississippi State coach Ron Polk, who wrote a passionate 18-page letter describing how this rule, along with others, was ruining the game. Here are a few Polk's major points:

1. College baseball gives out the smallest number of scholarships based on the average roster size of each sport, both men and women. It has just 11.7 scholarships to spread among a team with 35+ players.

2. College baseball is now the only sport that will have a roster cap placed on teams' coaches and players.

3. College baseball is now the only "equivalency" sport that is required to provide a minimum scholarship (25%) and determine the number of players who can receive scholarships (30).
Texas A&M coach Rob Childress can list several players he's coached who came to school on less than 25-percent scholarships. Take A&M sophomore right-hander Travis Starling, for example.

Starling redshirted in 2006 and appeared in 15 games in 2007. Last season, Starling was 8-2 with a 3.70 ERA for the Big 12 champion Aggies.

"The stories you've heard about the Travis Starlings of the world, that's going to be a thing of the past and that's sad," Childress said.

4. College baseball is now the only "equivalency" sport that will have a no-transfer rule. All other "equivalency" sports allow student-athletes to transfer one time without being forced to sit out a year.

Here's one example that should help illustrate why these changes are problematic:

Say, for instance, that Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin has 24 underclassmen in his program. Of those 24, he thinks four will be drafted in June's MLB Draft, which would leave him with 20 returning players.

Therefore, he offers seven recruits a partial scholarship. Then, the four players he thought he would lose in the draft decide to return to school for their senior seasons. And since all the recruits decide to enroll, Corbin is left with 31 players, although just 27 are allowed to be on scholarship.

Now, what does Corbin do? Four of those players will either have to become one of the eight alloted walk-ons (since the roster cap is 35) or transfer to another school, where they'll have to sit out a year before being eligible to play.

As Polk put it, "The coach who does not care about student welfare will always have to go over his number in the recruiting process, for the only way he can ever hit the magic number 27 on the button is by protecting himself and his baseball program by signing more players in hopes that he somehow can work himself down to 27 players on scholarship. The caring coach interested in student-athlete welfare could be facing situations every year where he has well below the 27 scholarship players, for he refused to gamble with a student's welfare. Who is going to win more baseball games? The answer is very easy: the uncaring coach."

I'm going to get Corbin's thoughts on the rule changes when I return to campus in a couple of weeks, but I think I know where he stands, and that's right next to Ron Polk.