Tuesday, July 29, 2008

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.

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.


Tony Arnold said...

I think it is great we are at a point where having redshirt freshman on the depth chart is considered a weakness. For far too long, our depth chart was often true freshmen.

Still not equal to other SEC teams in depth, but Bobby has us going in the right direction. Our backups now have more experience than those 10 years ago.

Jarred Amato said...

That's a great point. The depth on the defensive side of the ball, particularly at linebacker and defensive back, is even more impressive. The Dores are still thin on the defensive line, however.

Jarred Amato said...
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