Vanderbilt has broken in a number of its young defensive backs via a series of quick fixes.
In loss to LSU and Mississippi State the last two weeks the Commodores experienced a maddening series of injuries to its defensive backs.
Ryan Hamilton was lost for the season with a torn chest muscle in the first half of the LSU game. Cornerback Jamie Graham failed to finish either of the contests (ankle and concussion, respectively) and against Mississippi State safety Sean Richardson (leg) was injured.
Consequently, players were forced to move up and around the depth chart, sometimes on a series-to-series basis. It was a blow to continuity but it also helped build an early base of experience for true freshmen Eric Samuels, Eddie Foster and Trey Wilson. Samuels has had an injury issue of his own.
“We had a rough situation in the LSU game and in the Mississippi State game,” coach Bobby Johnson said. “We didn’t win either game, which was bad, but we got some experience for those guys – playing different positions and not freaking out when somebody says, ‘Hey get in there at safety’ or cornerbacks having to go to nickel back or whatever.”
Their comfort level will be tested Saturday at Rice (7 p.m., CSS-Comcast Ch. 27), a game Graham will not play and Richardson for which Richardson’s presence is not guaranteed.
The Owls’ base offense includes four wide receivers and they have two players who can perform at each spot. Through their first three games eight different wide receivers have multiple receptions.
“It’s going to be a patch-work thing,” Johnson said. “They have a lot of (wide receivers) and they’re used to throwing the ball. That’s their M.O.”
With the combination of Rice’s receivers and Vanderbilt’s health issues, it’s not likely that Samuels, Foster and Wilson will have to wait for something to happen to someone else before they see the field. They’ll be asked to take care of business, not to mention to take care of themselves.
“Our main objective is to stay healthy but still to play assignment football,” senior cornerback Myron Lewis said. “We want to have everybody go out there and play hard, play physical and play fast.”
In previous weeks they were expected to be quick learners.
Barring any kind of unforeseen setback, senior running back Jared Hawkins will play Saturday. It will be his first action of the season following an extended and frustrating rehab after offseason foot surgery.
“My foot’s feeling really good,” Hawkins said. “There were definitely times I was real frustrated and real upset.”
Hawkins was the Commodores’ leading rusher last season with 593 yards. He also scored a career-high four touchdowns.
“It helps to have a seasoned guy in there who’s done it before,” Johnson said. If his foot holds up, his legs ought to be real fresh and might give us a boost running.
“It would be nice if we could spread it out and get some reps for everybody, but we haven’t set a number (for Hawkins’ carries).”