The quarterbacks had to worry about more than just being on target Saturday during Vanderbilt’s fourth full-contact workout of spring drills.
They also had to concern themselves with the fact that they were targets.
In a noticeable change from recent years, coach Bobby Johnson and his staff have taken the red jerseys off the quarterbacks for select workouts and opened them up to the same level of hitting as the rest of the team.
“We actually did it on Tuesday as well,” defensive tackle Rob Lohr said. “I don’t remember ever doing that since I’ve been here. It just makes it a lot more competitive. … It makes it a lot more enjoyable.”
Lohr sacked Jared Funk on the first play of the last of three scrimmage sessions the team performed inside Vanderbilt Stadium. First, the offense and defense matched up in third-down scenarios. Then they worked with offense 20 yards from the end zone. Finally, it was standard drives with the offense starting from its own 30.
For the most part, it was the defense that got the better of things. It won on six of the 10 third-down plays, forced three field goal attempts (all were good by kicker Ryan Fowler) and a turnover when backed up to the 20 and allowed one first down on four drives that started at the 30.
“We’re doing some different things on offense and we have to get them down,” Johnson said. “It’s only our sixth practice and only our fourth one hitting, so it’s pretty much what we expected.”
The one first down in the final segment came on a 15-yard scramble by Jordan Rodgers, the fourth quarterback to work that scenario.
Other notable plays by the signal-callers included a first-down run by Charlie Goro on a third-and-6 during the third down period. Last year’s starter, Larry Smith, stared down a corner blitz by Jamie Graham and completed a pass to running back Warren Norman for a conversion on third-and-8 during the same portion of practice.
“We have to get them some hits,” Johnson said. “I think that will pay off. Just being used to seeing people come around them instead of people slowing up and giving them a false sense of security in the pocket.
“They’re tough. They’re football players. They have equipment.”
They also get little — if any — sympathy from the members of their defense.
“It’s not fun going as hard as you can, getting to where you can make the play and then having to just give them a shoulder or something,” Lohr said. “You want to be able to take them to the ground.
“You’re going against your own team. It’s not like you’re going against an opponent, so it’s a little different. But by letting you hit the quarterback, I’ll tell you what — it makes you go harder.”
• An estimated 100 high school juniors and members of their families watched Saturday’s workout as part of a day of activities for the prospective recruits.
“We have a number of people who have come in here come to check out our program, and that’s a good sign,” Johnson said. “We have a great thing to show them. We have a great university. So were looking forward to a great day.”
• The Commodores made it through the workout without any apparent injuries, unlike the previous season when defensive tackle Adam Smotherman (knee) likely was lost for the 2010 season and tackle Ryan Seymour (shoulder) was sidelined for the next couple months.
“You go around thinking about that too much and … we just have to go out, practice and do the best we can, teach them the right technique,” Johnson said. “Hopefully we won’t get people hurt.”