Thursday, July 24, 2008

Vanderbilt Football Preview: WR 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, Wednesday we broke down the running backs and today we'll analyze the wide receivers.

Speed. Senior Sean Walker can flat-out fly as can redshirt junior Justin Wheeler, who could be a pleasant surprise as he moves into a starting role alongside Walker and senior George Smith. And then when you add two of the best athletes in the program, redshirt freshman Jamie Graham and junior D.J. Moore, into the mix, the possibilities for offensive coordinator Ted Cain are endless. Vandy also has depth with Clemson transfer Andrew Diomande, redshirt freshman Udom Umoh and true freshman John Cole and Akeem Dunham vying for playing time.

No #10. No matter how anyone tries to spin it, it is not going to be easy to replace Earl Bennett's production. Opponents always had to worry about where No. 10 was on the field, often putting two (and occasionally three) defenders on him. Bennett was also fearless over the middle and as reliable as they come. Furthermore, with the exception of Walker and Smith, the receiving corps is extremely young and unproven.

With Earl Bennett off to the NFL, can Walker or Smith emerge as a go-to receiver? Is Wheeler poised for a breakout season? Is the lock-down basketball defender Jamie Graham ready to contribute on the gridiron? Will Ted Cain be more creative and unpredictable in his play-calling? Will Cole and/or Dunham be able to make the transition from high school to the SEC? What can we expect from Diomande, who caught just four passes at Clemson?

INSTANT ANALYSIS: While there a lot of questions surrounding this unit, there is a lot of potential too. Walker (20 catches for 270 yards and three TDs in '07) and Smith (32 catches for 397 yards and three TDs in '07) should be solid, while Wheeler (10 catches for 87 yards and 1 TD in '07) could thrive in the slot. It'll be interesting to see how Cain uses Graham and Moore, as well as Walker. I'd bet on a good amount of reverses, end-arounds, screens, anything to give the speedsters a chance to make plays in the open field. Also, make sure to keep an eye on Cole, who's already a polished route-runner and runs a 4.4 40. And the bottom line is this: While no WR will come close to matching Bennett's production, expect the quarterback to share the wealth among several players, who should all finish somewhere between 10 and 40 catches. Hopefully it'll be enough.

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