You could be a cynic and say that whatever improvement the Commodores' offense made this spring had something to do with going up against their defense on a daily basis.
And until Vanderbilt displays that it can consistently move the ball and score points against legitimate Football Bowl Subdivision opponents, it won't return to the respectability it enjoyed during its winning 2008 season.
But one couldn't blame coach Bobby Johnson and long-suffering Commodore fans for showing optimism after the offense ended spring practice April 17 with a bang, scoring three touchdowns in a 44-play scrimmage.
It was a welcome sign, particularly after the offense failed to dent the end zone once in the program's featured Black & Gold Scrimmage on April 10. There were big plays in both the running and passing game to end the spring.
What had to be encouraging was the team's quarterback play. Incumbent starter Larry Smith appeared to show improvement and had to, being pushed as he was by transfer Jordan Rodgers and holdover backup Jared Funk.
The offense's main strength -- running back depth -- again was evident. SEC Freshman of the Year Warren Norman, Zac Stacy and Kennard Reeves each showed why they deserve playing time in the fall, although Norman goes in as the clear No. 1.
Injuries were the other major storyline of spring practice. A spate of key players on each side of the ball sat out parts, if not all of, the spring, including middle linebacker Chris Marve.
While all are expected to be ready for August drills, it's still a reminder of the biggest disadvantage this program has -- an overall lack of depth as compared to every other SEC program.NOTES, QUOTES
--QB Jordan Rodgers, the younger brother of Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers, did some good things in the spring and will have a chance to win the job in August. Rodgers might be the program's best pure passer since Jay Cutler was putting up the points from 2002-05.
--One problem the offense had last year reared its ugly head in the last scrimmage April 17. On four inside running plays from the 2-yard line, it was unable to punch home a touchdown. The line will have to produce more of a surge in those situations when the season starts Sept. 4 against Northwestern.
DE Theron Kadri -- A part-time performer the last two years who almost left the program at one point, Kadri was impressive in the spring and figures to start August practice atop the depth chart. Kadri showed the ability to get to the quarterback, something the defense needs after the graduation of Broderick Stewart and Steven Stone.
RB Kennard Reeves -- While sophomores Warren Norman and Zac Stacy are ahead of him on the depth chart, Reeves showed his versatility again in the spring. He can run inside or outside the tackles and can also catch the ball out of the backfield, giving whoever wins the QB job a nice safety option to beat blitzes.
QB Jared Funk -- The senior was at his best in the spring and could steal the starting job if he has an excellent preseason camp. Funk made good decisions with the ball and knows the playbook to a T because of his time in the program.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Offensively, we're starting to move the football and see some positive results from the work we're putting in" -- Vandy coach Bobby Johnson after the offense scored three TDs in a 44-play scrimmage that wrapped up spring practice April 17.STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
2010 OUTLOOK: The law of averages would dictate that the Commodores have better injury luck than they did last year, when they were putting fingers into dikes every week during a 2-10 disaster. Vanderbilt must improve its offensive line in order to generate more points that might keep an overworked defense off the field. There will be little margin for error early against a schedule which includes Northwestern, LSU, Ole Miss and Connecticut in the first four weeks.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: There is big-play potential in the backfield with SEC Freshman of the Year Warren Norman and Zac Stacy at running back. The keys will be whether the team can get better QB play, improved production by the wide receivers and more consistent work from the offensive line. Unless two of those three things happen, points and wins will again be hard to come by for this squad.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: While this unit did some good work last year, it was also more vulnerable to the running game than it had been in a few years, largely because it spent too much time on the field. The starting 11 again figures to compete decently against SEC opponents but can't afford too many injuries. The front seven must stiffen against the run.
SCOUTING THE SPECIAL TEAMS: Norman returned three kickoffs for touchdowns last year, giving this team the potential of a quick score in the kicking game on any touch. Sophomore Ryan Fowler improved markedly as the season went on with his field goal accuracy. The team needs a new punter to replace three-year starters Brett Upson.
OG Grant Ramsey -- Given this team's trouble on the O-line last fall, any newcomer would appear to have a shot at immediate playing time. Ramsey certainly fits that mold and has the kind of build that could be conducive to seeing the field right away -- if he plays well in August.
QB Jordan Rodgers -- If he plays well in the spring, he could wrest the starting job from Larry Smith in September. A product of Butte JC in California, Rodgers could be the best pure passer this program has had since Jay Cutler.
WR Jonathan Krause -- While small at 5-foot-11 and 168 pounds, Krause offers excellent speed (4.41 in the 40-yard dash) and has a 34-inch vertical leap, allowing him to play taller. Krause has a good shot to earn instant playing time.
--MLB Chris Marve missed most of spring practice due to injury but is expected to be ready for preseason practice. Marve has been the team's leading tackler the last two years.
--DT Adam Smotherman (ACL tear) sat out the last three weeks of spring practice and his status for August practice isn't known. Smotherman has been a two-year starter in the defensive line.
--OG Chris Aaron suffered a neck injury in the April 10 Black & Gold Spring Game that had the coaching staff worried. But Aaron should be available to the team for preseason practice and has a chance to earn playing time.
Previous Report: 04/11/2010