Vanderbilt unleashed a beast last year on defense when it installed a new scheme.
But, according to his coaches, defensive tackle Rob Lohr is just getting started.
“He’s got a lot of potential, man,” defensive line coach Sean Spencer said after practice Wednesday. “I don’t think he’s reached the top of where he needs to go yet. He has the physical tools and we’re trying to get his mental level up to where it needs to be."
Lohr enters his senior season as one of the leaders of the defense. The big, athletic 6-foot-4, 290-pounder returns as the team’s active leader in tackles for loss (20.5) and sacks (9).
He did most of his damage in 2011. He was second only to defensive end Tim Fugger, who was drafted by the Indianapolis Colts, with 11.5 tackles for loss, five sacks and two forced fumbles. He also made a career-high 41 tackles, taking advantage of Spencer’s aggressive “get off” scheme for his linemen.
Before Spencer arrived prior to the 2011 season, the Commodores used a read scheme. That forced them to wait for the offensive linemen’s move before they countered. Now, they attack right away, willing to trade the occasional offsides penalty for a sack or tackle behind the line of scrimmage.
“I’m able to use my athleticism,” Lohr said. “Compared to other lines in the SEC some people might consider us undersized. But we look at that as an advantage because we are able to use our speed and movements and get pressure in the backfield. Once you learn the plays and you feel comfortable with the system you’re able to play faster. When you play faster you make more plays and disrupt the backfield.”
That aggressive mentality also led to some “bumps and bruises.”
Lohr played in all 13 games despite the pain but his numbers declined mightily. In his last six apearances, he had just one sack and only 15 tackles. He also missed all of spring workouts due to an undisclosed injury.
“I think Rob has got a chance to be a special player,” coach James Franklin said. “I think the fact that we have more depth this year will help him, keep him fresh longer. If you look at the first half of the year, he played really well but he got worn down a little bit, he wasn’t as productive late in the year.”
Named to the third-team defense in a preseason poll of SEC coaches, Lohr is trying to regain that form. Preseason camp marks his first practice in eight months.
“After not playing since the bowl game, I’ve got a little rust on me,” Lohr said. “But it is good to come out here and just be able to go full speed, have some contact and get back in the swing of things. I feel good. I feel great. I’m ready to get going.”
Now that Lohr isn’t a secret anymore – “There is no surprise in Rob Lohr,” Spencer said – he is trying to stay there.
The next step, Spencer and Lohr believe, is taking the mental approach to become a leader. With a year of the new system under his belt, Lohr is no longer a student; he has become another coach.
“When you become an older player the game slows down for you,” Spencer said. “Now, I don’t just tell you, ‘Here’s the blitz.’ You know why we’re doing the blitz versus that protection. Why we are stunt versus that protection. Because that just makes the game essentially go faster. When you lineup you know exactly what to expect and exactly what to do “I told him I want him to be a coach on the field.”