Saturday, August 9, 2008

Commodore Banter: Weekend Edition

After 1,200 miles in the car with my old man (spread over three days, thankfully), I'm finally back in Nashville. Apologies for the slow week on the site, but we should be good to go from here. Anyways, onto the links from the past couple of days...

First, in basketball news, Shan Foster will play in Italy next season. While Foster's dreams of playing in the NBA will be put on hold, it seems like the best business move for him.

Vanderbilt's all-time leading scorer signed a one-year deal with JuveCaserta, a first-division club. The Mavs still retain his NBA rights.

"He performed well in summer league but this gives him a chance to improve," said Mavs president Donnie Nelson. "His future is very bright, and we're excited about him rejoining us next summer."

Meanwhile, we've got some unfortunate news to report on two former Commodores. Offensive tackle Chris Williams, a first-round pick by the Chicago Bears, will mis 10-12 weeks after having surgery to repair a herniated disc in his lower back.

In addition, New York Giants linebacker Jonathan Goff will be out indefinitely after fracturing his transverse process (an injury to the vertebra) in his first preseason game. Hopefully the injury doesn't turn out to be too serious.

As for the current Commodores, here's a look back at some of the top stories from the past few days:

* The Tennessean's Mo Patton breaks down the defensive line. He notes that Steven Stone has bulked up to be able to play both end and tackle, and sophomore end Theron Kadri looks poised to play on a full-time basis. Meanwhile, redshirt freshman T.J. Greenstone and true freshman Rob Lohr have looked good at tackle, and true freshman Josh Jelesky may earn time at end.

* In this notebook, Patton discusses the impressive play of wide receivers Udom Umoh and Justin Wheeler, as well as kicker Bryant Hahnfeldt.

* Brett Hait of The Nashville City Paper has a great story about Corey Chavous' recent inspirational speech to the Commodores.
Chavous challenged the Commodores to become the school’s first team to post a winning season and play in a bowl game since 1982. To the surprise of some players, he knew them by name and says he watches Vanderbilt games on television whenever possible.

“This is my school and I love them to death,” he said. “It’s good to come back and let them know people like me are following their every move.

“I’m proud of what they’re doing here. They’re close to being over the hump, and I just want to let them know how close they really are. We’re at the point with this program now that we’ve been trying to get to for years.”

* Hait also has an in-depth feature about Chris Nickson returning to form. While coach Bobby Johnson has yet to name a starter, this comment was particularly telling.

“I think we're going to be much better at quarterback this year because Chris Nickson is confident and healthy again,” Johnson said.

* National observers have great respect for the job Johnson has done with the Commodores. Need proof? Read this story from Patton and another one by Hait.

In addition,'s Stewart Mandel lists Johnson as the nation's most underrated coach. Explanation here:
How can a coach that's gone 20-50 in six seasons be "underrated," you ask? Because record be damned, Vandy is no longer your father's Vandy. The Commodores, for the first time in a quarter-century, are a legitimately competitive SEC team (and this at a time when the conference has never been tougher).

Over the past three years, they've beaten the likes of Tennessee, Georgia and South Carolina while losing heartbreakers to the Vols and Dawgs last year and Florida in '05. And they've come within a couple plays of reaching bowl games in two of those seasons. Hopefully Johnson will get that reward soon to tangibly reflect the impact he's had on that program.

Well said.

* Patton has a good piece about two fifth-year seniors, Jared Fagan and Josh Allen, who are providing depth at cornerback.

"Those guys are still good players," Johnson said. "We just recruited two pretty outstanding guys (D.J. Moore and Myron Lewis) that moved in front of them. We always say in recruiting, our goal is to get better players than we have right now. That's our goal every year, to get better players."

Have a great weekend, everyone, and we'll be back in full force on Monday. Just 19 days and counting until the season opener...

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Chris Williams undergoes surgery

First-round draft pick Chris Williams' professional debut will have to wait. The former Vanderbilt offensive lineman, who was selected 14th overall by the Chicago Bears in the NFL Draft, had surgery to repair a herniated disc in his lower back that had sidelined him for the last two weeks.

The good news is he won't be put on Injured Reserve, meaning the Bears think he'll be good to play again this season.

Earl Bennett, however, was able to make his professional debut in the Bears' preseason game against the Kansas City Chiefs, returning three kickoffs for a total of 52 yards and one punt for nine yards. Not exactly Devin Hester, but at least he didn't fumble any balls.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Commodore Banter (8/6)

A few links to pass along as I finish packing for my trek back to Nashville, which begins tomorrow morning...

The best preseason is one in which nobody gets hurt. Unfortunately for the Commodores, the injury bug has already hit. Starting wide receiver George Smith will be out for at least the next four weeks with a stress fracture in his right foot, reports Brett Hait of The Nashville City Paper.

Smith, a senior co-captain and team’s leading returning receiver, is scheduled to undergo surgery Thursday and will likely miss the season opener Aug. 28 at Miami of Ohio. Redshirt freshman Udom Umoh might assume a starting role in Smith's absence.

"Udom came up big today and has been having a great camp,” said coach Bobby Johnson, who also singled out Justin Wheeler for having a solid camp and noted that freshman John Cole will be a factor. Throw in two-way player D.J. Moore and redshirt freshman Jamie Graham and you have a strong receiving corps. Still, it's an important loss for the Commodores nonetheless.

The Tulsa World has a feature on Mackenzi Adams, who seems to get overlooked as everyone focuses on the quarterback he's trying to beat out, Chris Nickson.

"We're not enemies or anything," Adams said. "I'm just going to go out there and worry about me."

Despite the loss of first-round pick Chris Williams and four other starters, Bobby Johnson isn't concerned about the offensive line, writes The Tennessean's Mo Patton. Couldn't agree more.

"We're experimenting, doing a lot of moving around," said offensive line coach Robbie Caldwell. "Everybody's learning two positions. Our motto's always been, play the best five. If it means changing position, they should know how to do that."

In baseball news, David Price is "very close" to the big leagues, according to his Double-A manager Billy Gardner Jr.

"He's going to be a No. 1 guy, he's going to be anchoring a staff, down the road," Gardner said. "And if he stays healthy, he's going to win a lot of games on the major league level and be an All-Star. He's a very gifted guy."

Meanwhile, talks between Pedro Alvarez and the Pittsburgh Pirates have gone nowhere and with just 10 days remaining in the signing period, the pressure is on.

"We are extraordinarily interested in signing Pedro Alvarez," said team president Frank Coonelly. "But we're not going to take every dollar that this club has at its disposal this year and will next year and give all that money to a player who has yet to take a swing in professional baseball."

In other words, there's still a small chance for Alvarez to return to Vanderbilt...

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Commodore Banter (8/5)

A few links to pass along as we anxiously wait for the fall to get here...

In 2005, Earl Bennett broke onto the scene as a true freshman. Looks like John Cole has a chance to do the same, writes The Tennessean's Mo Patton.

Without Bennett and Alex Washington, who's recovering from a knee injury, Cole has a chance to contribute. The 5'11", 170-pound Cole won the Kentucky 100 meters and caught 164 passes for 3,519 yards and 51 touchdowns over the past two seasons.

"We don't have pads on, but he's showing what we thought he would be, all the skills we saw when we signed him," said Vanderbilt receivers coach Charlie Fisher. "He's got a good feel for the game. Obviously he's very quick and very fast. Hopefully he'll keep progressing."

As we talked about in last week's preview, Vanderbilt's linebackers are already drawing praise for their effort and knowledge, writes Brett Hait of The Nashville City Paper.

With junior Patrick Benoist and sophomore John Stokes on the outside and redshirt freshman Chris Marve in the middle, Johnson said he likes what he says. Also, former safety Brent Trice should thrive as a third-down specialist because of his coverage skills.

In NFL news, Earl Bennett is taking lessons from Devin Hester on how to field punts.

Over the weekend, Casey Weathers pitched a 1-2-3 ninth to close out the game for Team USA as they prepare for the Olympics.

Finally, Tennessee had the nation's largest athletics recruiting budget in 2007 at more than $2 million, according to a recent study by The Chronicle of Higher Education. Following UT are Notre Dame ($1.75 million), Florida ($1.45 million), Auburn ($1.37 million), Kansas State ($1.3 million) and Georgia ($1.28 million).

Looks like the Vols didn't get much bang for their buck.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Commodore Banter (8/4)

A few links to pass along on this Monday morning...

To understand what Chris Nickson went through in 2007 what a type of person he is, check out this story by The Tennessean's Mo Patton.

"When you've been through what I've been through, you no longer play for the people that criticized you," Nickson said. "I have nothing to prove to anybody except the God I live for. No longer are people involved in what I do. That changed over the past season."

Brett Hait of The Nashville City Paper has a great feature on Reshard Langford, the leader of the Commodore defense.

Center Bradley Vierling plans to take his co-captaincy seriously, write Mo Patton of The Tennessean.

"Nobody likes being put down, but it's how you're going to respond to it," he said. "We're the dog of the SEC and we like it, and we're going to come and bite you. We kinda' dislike it, but it gives us fuel for the fire and we're ready to burn something up."

D.J. Moore spent Sunday's practice with wide receivers and fielding punts, a sign that Moore will be doing pretty much everything for the Commodores this fall.

Hait has more tidbits in this football notebook. Among them:

* The defense dominated Saturday's practice
* Freshman WR John Cole is living up to the hype
* This will be the final season for redshirt junior Jake Bradford

Vanderbilt has become a haven for football players looking for a change of scenery, writes Patton. The Commodores have four transfers this season, third most in the SEC.

"Academics are taken more seriously here," said Andrew Diomande, who will play this fall as a senior after transferring from Clemson. "Clemson was more lenient toward football players. Here, everyone's at the same level. I had to get adjusted to that."

In baseball news, David Price improved to 10-0 in 14 Minor League starts. He gave up one up run on four hits and struck out a career-high 10 over seven brilliant innings Saturday.

"[Price] doesn't expect to have bad outings," Biscuits catcher Matt Spring told the Montgomery Advertiser. "He said earlier in the year that he expects a perfect game every start and that's the attitude he shows every time. You can't teach his drive on the mound."