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Vanderbilt Football Spring Report

Coming off a very disappointing 2-10 season in 2024 that ended with ten consecutive losses, many of which were not competitive, head coach Clark Lea made significant staff changes in an effort to right the ship. Among those include the replacement of offensive coordinator Joey Lynch with former New Mexico State mastermind, Tim Beck. Defensive coordinator Sam Howell was demoted and ultimately left the program and that role will now be filled by Lea himself. The most notable addition to the staff is none other than Jerry Kill. Kill is noted for being adept at rebuilding projects and has been added as an advisor to the program. With the departure of AJ Blazek, offensive line duties are now directed by Chris Klenakis, most recently who was the offensive coordinator at Kennesaw State. In effect, the entire staff looks different, but that isn't all. Multiple player exits came as well, especially in the quarterback room, where only one returnee exists. For everyone involved, spring practice in 2024 for the black and gold, is a fresh start with the hopes of recapturing the forward momentum generated by winning two conference games in 2023. Let's take a look at what has been happening with the Vanderbilt football program in Nashville.

The Venue

The biggest difference one will see is that Vanderbilt will not be holding an organized spring game. Due to the construction at both ends of First Bank Stadium, the playing surface is not yet ready and due to the logistics, it is much easier for the team to hold weekly scrimmages at an off-site location. That construction project captured a lot of attention in 2024, most of it on the negative side, however, massive progress has been made and both projects appear to be completed on time. The schedule currently is for the North End Zone facility, the basketball operations center, to open for use on November 2nd, however the premium seating associated with that project will be available for the 2024 season. In the South End Zone, the football operations facility will open its doors in 2025.

Vanderbilt Football

Now to the team. The biggest change for Clark Lea and his staff will be on the offensive side of the ball. Gone are former OC Joey Lynch, and quarterbacks AJ Swann, Ken Seals, and Walter Taylor, all of whom started games for the Commodores in 2023. Replacing them will be Nate Johnson (Utah), Diego Pavia (New Mexico State), Blaze Berlowitz (New Mexico State) along with incoming recruits Whit Muschamp (son of Will Muschamp) and Jeremy St Hilaire. The aforementioned Pavia will arrive on campus during the summer months as he is currently completing his coursework at New Mexico State. The only returnee is Drew Dickey, who has thrown zero passes in his career. A focal point to date in spring practice has been ball security by the quarterback and Tim Beck has been less than pleased with that effort. After the team's most recent scrimmage on Saturday, April 13, Beck stated "My biggest frustration so far has been ball security. We have to have good drive starters and not put ourselves in second and long situations or turn the ball over. That and energy level. Those are my two biggest frustrations at this point."

Three areas that need massive improvement from what was shown in 2023 are along the offensive line, wide receivers, and running backs. Currently, the situation is very fluid with a lack of depth and several injuries along the front. Currently, there are only eight offensive linemen available. Looking at the wide receivers, finding replacements for Will Sheppard and London Humphries will be key. Tim Beck will look to utilize TE Cole Spence in that area and he has had a very good spring showing. Quincy Skinner and Junior Sherrill are being leaned on by WR coach Alex Bailey, they need to also step up and have done so. As for the running back position, AJ Newberry and Sedrick Alexander have shared top billing with a slight edge shifting to Alexander as the spring ball begins to wind down.

One area that could be considered a strength for the 2024 team is the defense. With returning starters CJ Taylor and Langston Patterson at linebacker, Clark Lea's defense has dominated the entire spring. After Saturday's scrimmage at Ensworth High School, Lea stated "We are more ahead defensively than we are offensively and that is not a surprise. Defensively, they have bought into what we are doing and are having a lot of fun, and I'm having fun with them. Are we perfect? Absolutely not, but, I love the attitude and I love the spirit. And every day when we come in to work we are having fun and there is something to be said for that." It is also noteworthy that the secondary has gotten their hands on multiple passes in every practice. The back end of the defense has been strengthened by the play of Tyson Russell and Martel Hight, as well as the addition of newcomer Dontea Carter. The defensive line, coached by Jovan Haye, has been buoyed by the play of Khordea Sydnor.

With a severe lack of depth along the offensive line, look for head coach Clark Lea and offensive line coach Chris Klenakis to work the spring transfer portal for guys they think would be a good addition the the program. Without addressing that area of need, it will be hard for the guys from West End to make many improvements in the upcoming season. On the defensive side of the ball, the Commodores have the look of a group that could prove to be solid. Much of that will depend on getting help from the offense so they can stay fresh.


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