Norman's not running, but VU's leading rusher not standing around either

Thursday, March 31, 2011 at 10:19pm

Warren Norman has found ways to keep busy — even if that means trying out a different position.

The Vanderbilt running back has been sidelined this spring as he recovers from wrist and knee surgeries.

That doesn’t mean he is completely out of commission. The junior-to-be has filled in during drills at defensive back, defensive end and linebacker.

“I am having fun out here,” Norman said after Thursday’s practice. “I just go around, messing around sometimes, just trying to play my part — be a cheerleader, pump guys up, keeping them up and what not. Just doing what I can on the sideline. Anything I can do to help the team out in any kind of way I am out there doing it.”

Defensive stand-in and cheerleader is the best Norman can do this spring because he isn’t expected to practice or put the pads on until summer camp rolls around.

Vanderbilt’s leading rusher the last two seasons, he missed the last four games in the fall after breaking his wrist. The 5-foot-10, 195-pounder had surgery in November, and at the same time had a banged-up knee looked at. Both injuries required follow-up surgery in January and Norman said he jogged on his knee for the first time on Thursday.

The Southeastern Conference’s freshman of the year in 2009 should be Vanderbilt’s top running back and kickoff returner in the fall. He is, after all, on pace to set records in both areas.

“It is kind of tough just seeing everybody else out there, just wishing you could be out there,” the Stone Mountain, Ga., native said. “But it is all a process, part of the game. You get hurt you got to sit out and watch. I think I am handling it pretty well and everything and I am just waiting to get back out there.”

While Norman heals, others are making the most of their chances, including junior Zac Stacy (5-10, 210 pounds) and redshirt sophomore Wesley Tate (6-1, 225), a Pope John Paul II product.

“That is probably one of our positions where we feel like we have probably a little more depth, especially when you get Warren Norman back. We’ve got some guys coming in as well,” Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin said. “Zac and Tate, those two guys are doing some good things. Zac is Steady Eddy and he is a good player and he comes out to work every single day. But there are some plays that Tate makes when he turns it on, he has another gear. I think they will be a nice complement to each other.

"Usually when you say complement, it is a 'big back, little back' deal. We got two big backs and one guy [Tate] just runs exceptionally well.”

Stacy also is back on the field for the first time since he sustained an injury in the fall. A concussion against Florida in November kept him out of the last three games.

He admitted having some nerves during last Saturday’s scrimmage, his first full-contact workout since the injury.

“I was a little timid just thinking about it,” the Centreville, Ala., native said. “But I kind of got back into it, running hard and playing physical and smart. So I feel pretty good.”

Having Stacy at full strength is good news for the Commodores.

He and Norman split carries the last two years. While Norman rushed for a 1,242 yards, Stacy was right behind him with 851 yards.

Stacy's experience should help as Tate (140 yards in 2010) and redshirt-junior Micah Powell (no carries in 2010) plan to play more of a role in the fall.

“[Stacy] is kind of the veteran guy,” offensive coordinator and running backs coach John Donovan said. “You can tell he has played in some games. He has poise about him. He is probably a little bit ahead of the other guys in terms of experience but they have talent. But we are just trying to install plays and learn the offense.

“We are looking at it some, as far as the depth chart goes, but those guys, the way we practice, they roll in and out like crazy so they are all getting pretty good reps. Zac has definitely probably been the leader of the group, as far as guys playing.”

As far as guys who haven’t been able to play, Norman has been right there every step — and more than just a cheerleader.

“He is in every meeting. He is around every drill. He is in every team period. He knows the plays,” Donovan said. “He is very good as far as me asking questions and [Norman] knowing [the answers]. Because of a lot of guys when they don’t do it on the field, they have a hard time learning it. But he has been very good that way. I’ve been impressed.”