When he checked in for fall practice, freshman receiver Jonathan Krause said he wanted to earn a spot on the field. Days before Vanderbilt’s season opener against Northwestern that goal has become a certainty for the speedy wideout.
“He won’t start but he’ll be on the field,” wide receivers coach Charlie Fisher said. “It won’t be long. He’ll be in a rotation of about three-five guys just depending on how things go.”
Krause came to Vanderbilt as part of an exciting group of freshman receivers. Jordan Matthews and Chris Boyd may see the field Saturday against Northwestern as well.
The newcomers have brought new energy and depth to the Commodores’ receiving corps. Last season, Vanderbilt’s receivers combined for only 1,003 yards. That year quarterback Larry Smith started nine games due to injury. Smith is excited at the prospect of a healthy season with Krause as a target.
“He looks really good out there,” Smith said. “He picked up the offense really good and he’s a blazer. He can run with the best of them.”
Krause has the kind of top end speed that excels even at track and field events. At South Gwinnet High School near Atlanta, he produced on a state level as a track star. He ran the 100-yard dash 10.9 seconds and the 200 in 22 seconds.
While any freshman has plenty of room for development, Fisher feels Krause’s speed matches any former Vanderbilt receiver, even Earl Bennett, one of the most productive receivers in SEC history.
“He’s got some burst now,” Fisher said. “(Bennett) was a great combination of speed and power, but Jon’s got as much upper-end speed as anybody we’ve had.”
At 6-foot, 180 pounds Krause is a nimble target, but that doesn’t stop him from running routes inside. Over the past week at practice, Fisher has given Krause significant reps in the slot to get him familiar with the position, yet Krause will play mostly outside to take advantage of his breakaway speed.
“We’ll he’ll probably a little more outside than inside,” Fisher said. “Udom (Umoh) will be our slot mostly even though Krause was practicing that a good bit, because he’s an emergency for us there if we need it.”
That’s something Krause is more than happy with. The freshman wants to be used in any way that helps the Commodores.
“If you need me to run a deep ball I can run the deep ball, if you need me to get open I’ll get open,” he said. “Whatever you need me to do I’ll do it.”
The elder members of Vanderbilt’s receiving corps are excited to see what Krause can do in a game. The offseason was fueled by competition from energetic freshman wideouts, and Krause has earned the attention of experienced Commodores. Redshirt sophomore John Cole led the team in receiving with 382 yards in 2009 and knows what it takes to play in the SEC.
“He’s got a lot of speed, which is something that is crucial in this league,” Cole said. “Absolutely he’s ready to play as a freshman and he’s going to play. Udom and I obviously have a lot of experience but we need playmakers and he’s going to be that.“
As a senior at South Gwinnet, Krause caught 44 passes for 718 yards and eight touchdowns. He has no stats at Vanderbilt, but through his summer progression he’s earned the right to go out and play for some.
“He’s learned what do to and he’s got tremendous speed,” Fisher said. “He’s picked things up, not made mistakes on the practice field and he deserves to play.”
Though soft spoken, the freshman confidently agrees with his coach when asked if he belongs on the field this early.
“To be honest, yeah I do,” he said. “There is still a little more studying I need to do. Here and there I’ll be a little iffy with the plays but by Saturday I’ll be ready.”
• Starting running back Warren Norman continues to progress in his recovery from arthroscopic knee surgery Aug. 25. On Wednesday he was in full pads taking reps at running back. Coach Robbie Caldwell continues to insist that trainers and physicians will guide the decision to play Norman against Northwestern.
“We’ll see tomorrow if it [knee] swells up or not but he was running around there pretty good,” Caldwell said. “He’ll tell you right now he’s ready to go but the thing young people can’t see is two years down the road. I want to make sure he’s completely healthy.”
• With Norman’s participation uncertain and Zac Stacy, Kennard Reeves and Wesley Tate all coming off injuries, Caldwell said he could use a four-back rotation Saturday. Freshman cornerback Steven Clarke has been filling in at running back while they heal up.
“At first nick one could go down you just don’t know,” Caldwell said. “But I think there is going to be something for at least three of them to do if not four.”
• Norman, who returned three kickoffs for touchdowns last season, will not be available for return duty if he does not play. Caldwell said he expects Stacy and receiver Cole to take over while Trey Wilson and Eric Samuels will handle punt returns.
• Cornerback Jamie Graham will likely not play Saturday, Caldwell said. Graham has been recovering from a groin strain suffered two weeks ago.
“It feels pretty good going straight ahead but he has a hard time opening up,” Caldwell said. “I wouldn’t foresee him being out there Saturday. Next week we hope that he’ll be 100 percent.”
• Former coach Bobby Johnson checked back in with Vanderbilt practice Wednesday. Caldwell said the visit was not too professional.
“It was just great to see him out here," he said. "It looked like he had some fun he’s been hitting the golf ball pretty good. He’s there if I need him though. Once you’ve got football in your blood it’s in there.”