Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Vanderbilt Football Preview: RB Breakdown

The Commodores kick off their season on Thursday, August 28, at Miami of Ohio. In the meantime, The Sports VU will take a look at a different position each day. Tuesday we dissected the quarterbacks. Today we'll break down the running backs.

STRENGTHS: Versatility. Each running back adds a different dimension to the rushing attack. With the departure of Cassen Jackson-Garrison, redshirt junior Jared Hawkins should see an expanded role after rushing for 267 yards on 60 carries in '07. Hawkins reads blocks well, hits the hole hard and has the ability to run both inside and outside the tackles. Redshirt senior Jeff Jennings appears to be in great shape two years removed from a knee injury and should thrive in short-yardage situations. The elusive Gaston Miller adds a home-run threat to the ground game, while fellow redshirt sophomore Kennard Reeves and redshirt freshman Ryan van Rensburg are capable back-ups.

WEAKNESSES: No game-changer. The Commodores are still looking for that stud tailback who can rush for 100 yards week in and week out and has the ability to break a 60-yard run. Without a complete tailback, it makes it harder for Vanderbilt to establish the run on a consistent basis.

Who is the starter, Jeff Jennings or Jared Hawkins? Is Hawkins ready for a featured role, and will Jennings return to top form with the knee no longer a concern? Is the 5'7" (generous) Gaston Miller ready to contribute in the SEC? How do Reeves and van Rensburg fit into the picture, if at all?

I doubt the Commodores are too worried about replacing Jackson-Garrison's production. Regardless of who's named the starter on the depth chart, Hawkins and Jennings should both see plenty of carries. Although the offensive line is new, both RBs should be significantly better in '08. The wild card in all of this is Miller, who coach Bobby Johnson thinks has the potential to be a solid change-of-pace back. The bottom line is that while all three RBs should be effective in their own way, don't expect opposing defenses to be too worried about any of them.

NOTE: I'm off to see Dark Knight, but I'll have a full recap of day one from the SEC Media Days later tonight.

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