Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Football spring practice underway

In the South, it's never too early to talk football, and with spring practice now officially underway, I figured it'd be a good time to go over a few of the top storylines.

1) Who is the starting quarterback?

The most visible and important battle this spring will be between Mackenzi Adams and Chris Nickson. In today's Tennessean, Maurice Patton reports that Nickson "suffered a hip injury two weeks into the '07 campaign and a shoulder injury the next week," confirming what many of us had suspected.

Adams is a fierce competitor and strong leader, but I still think the Commodores' best chance of winning comes with a healthy and effective Nickson behind center. Whether he can regain that form, however, remains to be seen.

While a starter won't be named for quite some time, one thing's for certain: Vanderbilt is going to have a bunch of question marks on offense and quarterback can't afford to be one of them.

2) How will the Dores hold up in the trenches?

Vanderbilt must replace all five starters from the offensive line. While the task certainly seems daunting, coach Bobby Johnson is optimistic. Still, it's not as if there is another Chris Williams waiting in the wings to protect the quarterback's blindside.

Hopefully the first-team unit, which consists of tackles Thomas Welch and Eric Hensley, guards Ryan Custer and Drew Gardner and center Bradley Vierling, can use this spring to gel.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Commodores must replace defensive tackles Theo Horrocks and Gabe Hall and defensive end Curtis Gatewood, which is no easy task.

3) What is the team's biggest strength?

It's got to be the secondary, where the Commodores bring virtually everyone back. I expect D.J. Moore and Myron Lewis to take another leap this fall and become two of the SEC's elite cornerbacks. At safety, future-NFLer Reshard Langford returns for his final season, and Ryan Hamilton should be much more comfortable in year two as a starter. Nickelback Darlron Spead will be limited this spring as he recovers from a shoulder injury, but should be ready to go in the fall.

The Commodores also have depth in the secondary with players such as Joel Caldwell, Josh Allen, Brent Trice and my favorite basketball player Jamie Graham.

What's on tap: The Black & Gold Scrimmage is 10 a.m. March 29 at Vanderbilt Stadium.

While football talk will pick up in April, I can't help but ask: What are your expectations for the 2008 Commodores?

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