One of our weekly staples is back for football season! (WHOA, football!) Thanks to the help from Christian over at Anchor of Gold, we’ve got ourselves a Q&A! Thought you knew about the Commodores? Think again.
Let’s get scootin’ through the questions.
1. With Sophomore Kyle Shurmur penciled in as the starting QB going into this season, what kind of progress has he made this offseason and are fans and coaches viewing him as the QB for the next 2-3 seasons?
Shurmur's big advantage last fall was that he avoided the backbreaking mistakes that doomed the Vandy offense under Johnny McCrary. While he completed fewer than 43 percent of his passes he had a 5:3 TD:INT ratio, light years better than McCrary's 6:12. He's dialed in his accuracy and developed a stronger rapport with his starting receivers over the spring and summer, and that includes C.J. Duncan, who missed the 2015 season thanks to injury.
He'll have more weapons and more composure in the pocket this fall, so I expect a solid step forward now that he's entrenched as the team's starter. He'll have to prove he can identify SEC defensive sets in a game situation, but he's a smart player who picked up the team's playbook quickly enough as a true freshman last fall. He's still growing, but he has a definite blueprint for success in 2016.
2. After putting together a sophomore season with over 1,100 yards on the ground to go along with 24 consecutive starts, RB Ralph Webb looks like the go to player for the ‘Dores offense. Do you foresee his production increasing in 2016 or was 2015 the peak?
The impressive thing about Webb's 1,100-yard season is that it came for a team with suspect blocking and essentially zero credible passing threats. Webb is a grinder, but he has underrated breakaway speed that allows him to break off big runs once he accelerates past the line of scrimmage. I expect him to improve on his 2015 campaign if the Vanderbilt offense can sustain enough of an aerial attack to keep opponents from putting eight defenders in the box every first and second down.
The junior RB has said his area of focus this summer was turning eight-yard runs into 20-yard ones by being more elusive in the second level. If he finds a way to add an extra gear, he'll be scary this fall.
3. Bouncing off the last one, the offensive staff is bound to get Webb as many touches as they can in 2016. If you had to name a second playmaking option other than Webb, who would it be?
Tight end is an area of focus for Derek Mason's offenses, and DeAndre Woods is a talented athlete who can wreak havoc up the seam. He was underutilized in 2015, but averaged 18.4 yards per catch in three games before missing the rest of the season due to injury. If he's healthy, he's a significant weapon who can bail Shurmur out of trouble and move the chains for an offense that stagnated last season.
4. Derek Mason is 7-17 in his two seasons as head coach. Would a similar record in 2016 earn him a fourth season in Nashville? A quick glance at the schedule doesn't favor the 'Dores too much.
There hasn't been too much talk about Derek Mason's tenure beyond 2016, which is probably a good thing for the third-year coach. He has the team trending upwards, but a two or three-win campaign could be all the evidence Vanderbilt needs to fire him. There are several winnable games on the team's schedule, especially with a top-25 defense locking down opponents. While a bowl game is the goal, a five-win season is the baseline for Mason's job security this winter.
5. Vanderbilt's defense was one of the best in the league last year, holding teams to an average of 21.0 ppg. and only allowing 22 TD's the entire season. Should we expect the same dominance out of this year's unit?
Yes. While losing Stephen Weatherly and Caleb Azubike hurts, Vanderbilt will field one of the SEC's top secondaries and one of the nation's top inside linebacking groups. Zach Cunningham is the team's headliner, but veterans like Adam Butler, Jay Woods, Torren McGaster, and Nigel Bowden will make the Commodores one of the nation's stingiest defenses. Add in young, highly-touted athletes like Nifae Lealao, Donovan Sheffield, and JoeJuan Williams, and you've got the makings of a unit that won't just be good in 2016, but for years to come.
6. While the defense has been enough to win games, the offense could only muster 15.2 ppg game in 2015. What kind of schematic changes do you see the 'Dores making in 2016 in hopes of increasing the offensive production?
With Andy Ludwig calling the plays, you pretty much know what to expect: a West Coast-inspired offense that shades more towards run offense. This won't be James Franklin's trick play happy Vanderbilt; instead you're going to get a gameplan that looks like page three of a Madden pre-play screen. This will be occasionally boring but ultimately significantly less stressful for all Vandy fans involved.
The biggest improvements to the team's offense will come through its personnel - more experienced starters and new contributors who can operate as the team evolves into more of a spread offense. Last season, Vanderbilt's limited offensive depth chart meant it was often contained in a small box that didn't extend much beyond the team's tackles. That should expand -- slowly, at first -- as Ludwig and his players grow more comfortable.
Well that’s a wrap for now, but before we go, here’s a link to my answers to their questions.
Thanks again for the help guys!