Players reported to campus on Wednesday and preseason football camp was set to begin Thursday — exactly four weeks before Vanderbilt’s season opener against South Carolina on Aug. 30.
In the wake of a 6-7 season and their second bowl appearance in four years here are five things to look out over the next four weeks and into the fall.
• The return of Warren Norman: The running back missed all of 2011 as his surgically repaired knee took longer to heal. The 2009 SEC Freshman of the Year offered hope to coaches when he practiced in full pads during the last two spring practices for the first time in more than a year. If fully healthy, Norman bolsters an already strong backfield that features 1,000-yard rusher Zac Stacy.
• Linebacker depth: Chase Garnham is expected to get most of the reps at middle linebacker, which is a big question mark after the graduation of Chris Marve. But if the soft-spoken Garnham is slow on the uptake, senior Archibald Barnes, the team’s top returning tackler, could move inside. Karl Butler and freshman Darreon Herring, who practiced in the spring, ooze talent but are low on experience.
• Consistency from Jordan Rodgers: The way coach James Franklin talked this offseason, it would be a huge shock if Rodgers didn’t start at quarterback against South Carolina. Wyoming transfer Austyn Carta-Samuels and freshman Patton Robinette will get opportunities to dethrone Rodgers in preseason camp, but this competition has less mystery to it after Rodgers broke away from the pack in the spring. Still, Rodgers, who played in all 13 games in 2011 and made seven starts, must improve on a 50 percent completion rate.
• A frontrunner at kicker: Neither Carey Spear nor Ryan Fowler grabbed firmly took hold of the job last year as neither converted consistently from beyond 40 yards. Spear missed a 27-yard field goal against Arkansas that would have forced overtime and Fowler missed two kicks in an overtime loss to Tennessee. It’s a position of importance, especially due to the new NCAA kickoff rules which will put touchbacks at the 25-yard line.
• The use of Brian Kimbrow: Franklin’s biggest recruit to date, the four-star freshman running back from Memphis will see the field this fall. But expect the 5-foot-8 scatback to be used in a variety of ways. With blazing speed — he has been clocked at 4.24 seconds in the 40-yard dash — Kimbrow is an obvious choice to return kicks in addition to spelling Stacy in the backfield.
None of the first 10 practices are open to the public but fans can interact with the team at the Dore Jam on Sunday. The annual free fan day, which features activities for kids and autographs from the players and coaches, runs from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the John Rich Practice Facility behind the McGugin Center.