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.

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.

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