VU coach sees opportunity to keep defensive tackles fresh

Monday, August 24, 2009 at 9:43pm

Rob Lohr and Colt Nichter got to see the speed and the atmosphere of Southeastern Conference football up close and in person last fall.

As they did, Rick Logo came face to face with temptation.

Logo, Vanderbilt’s defensive line coach, repeatedly resisted the urge to play Lohr and Nichter in 2008, when both were true freshmen but also high enough on the Commodores’ depth chart to be members of the traveling party. In so doing, he divided all of the playing time at defensive tackle between just three people – Greg Billinger, Adam Smotherman and T.J. Greenstone.

“I was tempted, but I think those three guys inside and the rest of the defensive line closed ranks when we started getting hurt a little bit,” Logo said. “They pushed through it and made it through.”

Logo’s conviction allowed the Commodores to redshirt Lohr and Nichter and guaranteed it won’t be tested again this season.

Lohr, Nichter and a third redshirt-freshman, Taylor Loftley, all are available in 2009 to help lighten the load for Billinger, Smotherman and Greenstone, each of whom is back.

“We have a lot of good depth this year; I’m excited about it,” Smotherman said. “… We can get a little bit more of a rest and be fresh. It will help a lot.”

Billinger and Greenstone both finished among VU’s top 10 in tackles last season. The only other defensive lineman in that group was end Steven Stone.

Billinger was seventh with 47 stops, including a season-high seven in the Music City Bowl victory over Boston College. There were four other games in which he made at least five tackles, three of them within the first seven weeks.

Greenstone was ninth with 33 tackles. His season-high was four, which he accomplished five times, the last of those in the Music City Bowl. Three of the other four were in the first six contests.

Smotherman, likewise, matched his season-high for tackles (four) in the Music City Bowl, which of course was played more than a month after the final game of the regular season – when they had time to rest.

This season, even with VU scheduled to play 12 games in 12 weeks, that trio can expect to get some rest along the way and – likely – to maintain a consistent level of production from start to finish.

“They’ll be a lot better,” Logo said. “Knowing that you can save some of those guys in a game situation and be able to keep them fresh throughout a game certainly helps throughout the second half of the season.

“You get worn down as the season progresses, but having more bodies helps.”

In the cases of Lohr and Nichter, it’s two bodies that should not be wide-eyed when they see what they’re up against.

“Those two young men were able to travel and able to see the game speed,” Logo said. “Thank goodness we didn’t use their redshirt years. As far as having seen what happens on game day, I think it will be great for them as they take on that role of coming in and playing for us this year.”

BRIEFLY

• Senior running back Jared Hawkins was back on the practice field Monday. He had missed time with two separate issues – a hamstring and a foot – in the preceding two-plus weeks.

His appearance was a welcome one to coach Bobby Johnson, despite the fact that several younger backs have made a good showing in Hawkins’ absence.

“Jared gives you that experience,” Johnson said. “Those other guys have some juice in them, but he has juice and experience, which is good. And he’ll be a great role model for those young guys.”

• All of the freshmen team members left practice with 10-15 minutes remaining so that they could take part in one of the week’s orientation activities on campus.

“They have orientation, which is extremely important at this school,” Johnson said. “You have to know where to be and what to do. … They had a good summer grade-wise, so they’re off to a good start. We have to keep it that way.”

• Among the freshmen who practiced was cornerback Trey Wilson, who had missed every previous workout because of a toe injury he sustained when he dropped a bed on his foot as players moved into dorms a day before the start of camp.

“I really like the way he moves around,” Johnson said. “We’re going to have to take a look at getting him ready.”

• Tuesday will be the final day filled with meetings followed by practice. On Wednesday, classes begin at Vanderbilt and the nature of the players’ days will change significantly.