Vanderbilt opens football training camp tonight with 26 days to prepare for the Sept. 1 season-opener against Richmond.
During that time, the Commodores have numerous questions to answer. Here are 10 that we thought you might ask:
1. Which freshman is the most likely to emerge during training camp and secure playing time this fall?
More than likely, it will be Whites Creek High product Jamie Graham, whose speed might allow him to return punts and kickoffs right away. In addition, Graham could help provide depth at a cornerback position, an area in which the Commodores are seeking stability.
Another freshman to watch is Virginia Tech transfer Brandon Barden, who could work his way into the mix at tight end.
2. Who’s the No. 2 quarterback behind Chris Nickson?
Until proven otherwise, it will again be Mackenzi Adams, who served as Nickson’s primary backup in 2006. Adams is a fiery competitor and got a taste of playing time a year ago.
During training camp, Richard Kovalcheck and Jared Funk will push Adams for the second-string spot. Incoming freshman Larry Smith is headed for a redshirt season.
3. Who will start at defensive tackle alongside Theo Horrocks?
Good question. While Horrocks is a proven starter at one tackle spot, the other is up for grabs between Greg Billinger and Gabe Hall. Billinger provided key depth as a true freshman in 2006. Hall, a senior, had a solid spring and hopes to close out his career in memorable fashion.
4. Can Bryant Hahnfeldt get back on track?
Vanderbilt’s placekicker was solid as a freshman two years ago, drilling 12 of 17 field goals. Last season, he made only eight of 17 after coming off reconstructive knee surgery. Finally healthy, the Nashville native is looking to regain his freshman form.
5. Is Jeff Jennings finally back to full strength?
Yes, from all indications. It’s been 21 months since the junior tailback sustained major knee damage, and he missed the entire 2006 season while rehabilitating. Jennings says he’s as good as new. If so, he will be counted on to provide tough, hard-nosed running the Commodores sometimes lacked last season.
6. Earl Bennett is a star at wide receiver. Who’s going to emerge as a second threat?
The most likely candidate is George Smith, who caught 21 passes last season after hauling in 23 the year before. VU needs those numbers to rise this season to help relieve pressure off of Bennett, one of the nation’s best receivers.
7. Will Vanderbilt have the best offensive line its had in recent memory?
Offensive line coach Robbie Caldwell believes that will be the case, but much depends on the health of senior right tackle Brian Stamper, who missed most of the 2006 season after undergoing back surgery. Then, when attempting a comeback in the spring, Stamper sustained a stress fracture in his foot. If healthy, the former All-SEC pick will give the Commodores five seasoned seniors on their offensive front.
8. Who will be the starting cornerbacks?
This position has been a revolving door Vanderbilt hopes will stop spinning in 2007. Sophomores D.J. Moore and Myron Lewis are the early front-runners to start, and both should be improved with another year of experience. Waiting in the wings are Josh Allen and Jared Fagan, who offer plenty of experience.
9. A new starting defensive end is needed. Who will it be?
Sophomores Broderick Stewart and Steven Stone will be locked in a battle this month for the starting job at the defensive-end spot vacated by Chris Booker. Stewart offers tantalizing speed off the edge and posted five sacks in 2007. The sturdier Stone might be more prepared for every-down action. Keep an eye on this one.
10. Is there a redshirt freshman to watch?
Several players who redshirted last season could be ready to play this fall. For our money, the one to keep an eye on is linebacker Nathan Campbell, who was good enough to have played last season if needed.
Others who could see action are cornerback Alan Strong, defensive tackle Adam Smotherman and defensive end Teriall Brannon.