This spring feels different for James Franklin.
It should look different to Vanderbilt fans too — mainly because for the first time in more than 10 years they’ll be able to soak in every spring practice.
James Franklin, beginning his second year as head coach, announced on Wednesday at a press conference that all 14 spring practices over the next four weeks would be open to the public, beginning at 4:15 p.m. on Friday.
“I think one of the best things since we arrived on campus is the access we have given people,” Franklin said. “All the different videos we’ve put out [on the school’s website] have really allowed people to have access to our program and get to know us as people. I talk about this with my wife and friends all the time; it is so much different going to a game when you feel like you have a personal relationship with the people on the field.”
Franklin expects to get a different vibe from his team this spring too.
Last year, he was barely four months on the job and other than sporadic team meetings and individual conversations the spring was his first encounter with the crop of players he inherited. One year later, in the wake of a 6-7 season and Liberty Bowl appearance, he believes his team is “more confident in themselves, in their bodies, how they look, how much stronger they are, how much quicker they are.”
“Yeah, it is different, especially with having a better understanding of what he wants and what we need to give him,” cornerback Trey Wilson said. “We definitely have a better grasp of his systems and stuff like that. Going into spring ball, it is going to be a lot more competition and having fun rather than a big learning curve to get through.”
The quarterback competition has taken on a much different look as well.
Last spring, Larry Smith, Charlie Goro and John Townsley took snaps along with Jordan Rodgers, though Rodgers was limited due to shoulder surgery. Smith and Goro are gone. Townsley, a walk-on, has moved to wide receiver.
Rodgers returns after playing in all 13 games last year and taking over the starting duties from Smith before the seventh game. But Franklin pulled him in the Liberty Bowl in favor of Smith.
Rodgers’ stiffest competitor this season most likely is Wyoming transfer Austyn Carta-Samuels, a junior who was the Mountain West Conference freshman of the year in 2009. Patton Robinette is listed at third on the depth chart. The 6-foot-4 freshman is a mid-term enrollee after graduating from Maryville High early. Vanderbilt could still add another quarterback before the fall as the Commodores hope to be in the lottery for Maryland transfer Danny O’Brien.
“Obviously Jordan was able to come in and give us a shot of enthusiasm and playmaking into our team last year and really helped us,” Franklin said. “I think it is going to be a really, really good competition between those two guys [Rodgers and Carta-Samuels]. It is two experienced guys. It is not like you have a good player behind him that you haven’t seen how he is going to react in game-time situations before. We’ve got two proven guys.”
Franklin freed up space on the depth chart after switching all three of last year’s freshman quarterbacks to new positions. In December, Lafonte Thourogood, a four-star recruit, moved to running back.
Josh Grady (wide receiver), the third-string quarterback in 2010, and Kris Kentera (H-back) have followed suit with embracing new positions.
“These two kids are unbelievable competitors and they are two of our better athletes,” Franklin said. “They don’t want to be on the bench. The likelihood of them starting at quarterback next year, I don’t know if that was going to happen. So it allows us to get those two guys on the field and compete for starting jobs.”
No different than last year, Franklin said every starting job is open and there is “no tenure.”
New this spring, though, is that fans can watch these competitions unfold, culminating with the spring game on April 14.
“I want to raise our level of competition even more so,” Franklin said. “That is our goal for the spring is to have the most competitive, aggressive, violent spring we possible can have.”
• Players gone: Offensive lineman Mylon Brown has been dismissed due to “breaking team rules,” Franklin said.
The 6-foot-5, 300-pounder is the second offensive lineman to be booted from the program since the end of last season. Center Logan Stewart is also no longer on the team.
Safety Andre Simmons, who was arrested on two felony counts in November, has been dismissed as well.
In addition, wide receiver Brady Brown, who did not play the last two seasons, decided not to return.
The following redshirt-juniors are expected to graduate this spring and will not use their remaining year of eligibility: wide receiver John Cole, defensive end Dexter Daniels, running back Micah Powell, linebacker DeAndre Jones and offensive lineman Caleb Welchans.
Tight end Mason Johnston’s collegiate football career also is over. Last fall, as a sophomore, he sustained a season-ending leg injury for the second straight season. He is using a medical redshirt but is still on scholarship at Vanderbilt and is expected to help the football team as a non-participant.