With eight games remaining in the regular season, Warren Norman will be a last resort option for Vanderbilt at running back.
Coach James Franklin told reporters after Wednesday’s practice that Norman, the team’s leading rusher in 2009 and 2010, most likely will not see the field this fall as he continues to recover from a knee injury.
“Right now, Warren is an emergency [option],” said Franklin, whose team plays at No. 2 Alabama on Saturday. “We’re not going to play him unless we need to. If we have some injuries we will play him. But, if not, there is a possibility of redshirting him.”
Norman, a junior from Stone Mountain, Ga., sat out spring workouts after undergoing offseason wrist and knee surgeries. He was back for preseason camp in August but was limited, and at times worked only on agility drills with strength coach Dwight Galt.
Franklin said Norman was available to play in the first three games and he traveled with the team to South Carolina.
Norman, who is listed at 5-foot-10 and 198 pounds, burst onto the scene two years ago. He was named SEC Freshman of the Year and set two league records — all-purpose yards by a freshman (1,941) and kickoff return yards (1,050). He returned three kickoffs for touchdowns and had a total of six touchdowns as he finished with a team-high 783 rushing yards.
Last year, Norman rushed for 459 yards, averaged 25.4 yards on kickoff returns and made six starts despite a nagging knee injury. He injured his hand against Arkansas in the eighth game and missed the rest of the season.
Norman remains the No. 3 running back or “emergency” option, Franklin said, behind starter Zac Stacy and true freshman Jerron Seymour.
“It is the best option for everybody [to redshirt Norman] if he is not ready and we don’t need him,” Franklin said. “But if we have an injury and he is ready to go, we’re going to play him. We’ll do whatever we’ve got to do to win.”
• Running again: The Commodores hope to hit the ground running again after a disappointing performance at South Carolina two weeks ago.
After rushing for 281 total yards against Ole Miss, Vanderbilt netted just four yards against South Carolina. Stacy, who had a career-high 169 yards against the Rebels, gained just 18 yards on seven carries. Seymour had only 14 on seven rushes.
“It kind of hurt, that South Carolina game,” Stacy said. “Things just didn’t go well. We just have to move on and focus on the next one.”
It won’t be any easier against Alabama, which ranks first in the nation in rushing defense, allowing just 39.6 yards a game.
“They are known for their stout defense, big guys upfront,” said Stacy, who is from Centreville, Ala. “But we play in the SEC just like they do. We are going to come in with a dominant mentality, go out and execute and we’ll be fine.”
• Line shuffle: The offensive line could feature a new look on Saturday after the unit allowed six sacks against South Carolina.
On Wednesday, sophomore Logan Stewart took repetitions at center, where he started the last six games of 2010. But he missed almost all of preseason camp due to mononucleosis. He started practicing on the offensive line again in early September and played in his first game at South Carolina, spelling Chase White at left guard. The redshirt freshman started the last three games after Jabo Burrow’s career ended due to concussion syndrome concerns.
Wesley Johnson, who started at center the first four games, moved back to left tackle, which he played last year. Richard Seymour moved one spot over to left guard. The right side stayed the same, with Mylon Brown at guard and Kyle Fischer at tackle.
“What is good is most of those guys have played multiple positions, so it allows us to have some flexibility to find what is the best five to get on the field,” Franklin said.
• Offensive injuries: Tight end Brandon Barden is expected to play — and possibly start — on Saturday.
The senior sat out the last two games after spraining his ankle against Connecticut on Sept. 10. He was set to travel to South Carolina but did not make the trip. Barden led the team with receptions (34) and receiving yards (425) last year. He has caught three passes for 35 yards this season.
Franklin did say he expects to have wide receiver John Cole back by the end of the season. Cole did not play against South Carolina due to a leg injury and was wearing an orthopedic boot last week.