Vanderbilt receivers unwittingly hold on to bad habit of dropping passes

Tuesday, August 23, 2011 at 10:26pm

To head coach James Franklin, the dropped passes were a hiccup he hopes to fix before Vanderbilt’s season opener against Elon arrives on Sept. 3.

If not, it could be déjà vu for Commodore fans.

During Saturday night’s scrimmage, multiple receivers dropped passes from quarterbacks Larry Smith and Jordan Rodgers. Though dropped passes are not officially kept, they doomed the Commodores at inopportune times last year as the offense sputtered during a second straight 2-10 season.

When asked about the offensive struggles during the scrimmage after Monday’s practice, Franklin objected to that phrasing. But he did say the dropped passes were concerning.

“We dropped the ball [Saturday], which we hadn’t been doing,” he said. “That’s what we got to fix. I think the other thing is getting used to the lights in [Vanderbilt Stadium]. The lights are fairly bright. ... That is not an excuse — but what my point is coming in here and working on this field, catching the ball at night, we got to get some reps in.”

At least four different receivers dropped passes that hit them in the hands: wide receivers Udom Umoh and John Cole and tight end Brandon Barden and running back Zac Stacy.

Umoh, a senior, had the most trouble holding onto the ball. He dropped at least four. However, he did catch the only touchdown pass of the night — a 6-yard toss from Smith during a goal line situation that started on the opponents’ 5-yard line.

The drops were frustrating for Umoh, who did much of the same last year. He finished fourth on the team in receiving yards with 194 and was responsible for the team’s longest reception — a 65-yarder. But he had just 12 catches in 11 games.

“I think it is all just the finer points of just receiving — running a good route, coming out of your break and eying the ball, looking at the white stripe all the way into your hands,” he said. “A lot of times [Saturday] I didn’t catch it with my hands. I just tried to catch with my pads. When that happens, it will obviously bounce off. I just need to definitely focus and use my hands more.”

Franklin has been underwhelmed by his wide receiving corps this fall, even moving Wesley Tate over from running back to help with what he sees as a position of concern. Umoh and Cole are both two-year starters but their names haven’t come up when Franklin has been asked about who has impressed him. Instead, he has mentioned sophomores Jordan Matthews and Jonathan Krause.

As the season opener approaches, the competition for starting spots heats up and the drops — for everybody — must decline.

“Practice is where you can make a mistake so you can learn from it,” Umoh said. “I definitely am going to watch film with the rest of my team and listen to the coaching [staff] and just do the things I can for the next time.”

• Camp ends: Preseason camp officially ended on Tuesday as classes begin on Wednesday.

Franklin said the team would spend most of Wednesday’s practice in Vanderbilt Stadium to once again get used to working under the lights.

“[Monday], we were a little inconsistent. [But] I thought this was probably our best practice [Tuesday],” Franklin said. “We did some things to change up practice, which I think helped us. We had the music, had the crowd noise, had the fight song going, so I thought we had a heck of a practice [Tuesday].”

Franklin soon will begin to close practices, starting with Thursday’s. During the season, only Wednesday practices will be available for media to attend.