In case any Vanderbilt players or coaches needed a reminder that the path to a second consecutive bowl appearance will be challenging they got it Friday morning, hours before the start of their first formal practice for the 2009 season.
The preseason USA Today Top 25 Coaches’ poll was released, and five of the top 15 were teams on the Commodores’ schedule this season.
“It lets you know that the SEC is the toughest conference out there,” quarterback Larry Smith said. “… If we keep working hard, I think we’re going to be OK.”
Actually only four of those teams are conference opponents.
The rundown: No. 1 Florida 9 (Nov. 7, Gainesville), No. 9 LSU (Sept. 12, Baton Rouge), No. 10 Ole Miss (Oct. 3, Nashville), No.13 Georgia (Oct. 17, Nashville) and No. 15 Georgia Tech (Oct. 31 Nashville).
“It’s a great challenge for us,” coach Bobby Johnson said. “If you can’t get ready for those teams and get your mind ready to play those games then there’s something wrong with you.”
Senior cornerback Myron Lewis was named to the preseason watch list for the Jim Thorpe Award, which is presented annually to the nation’s best defensive back.
Lewis tied for fourth on the team in tackles in 2008 with 76 and had five sacks and five interceptions.
“You can’t find many cornerbacks who had those stats that he did,” Johnson said. “He’s 6-2 or 6-3, over 200 pounds and he runs.”
Among the 31 players on the watch list were seven from the SEC, including Lewis.
One of the more notable plays of the first practice occurred when Smith connected with wide receiver John Cole on a deep post pattern against cornerback Casey Hayward.
It was good coverage by Hayward, a real good throw by Smith and an excellent adjustment and body control by Cole – good stuff all around.
Vanderbilt fans will need a roster to recognize several players in the season-opener, Sept. 5 against Western Carolina.
Among those who changed numbers during the offseason are: running back Jermaine Doster (from 41 to 26), kicker Ryan Fowler (94 to 48), linebacker Dexter Daniels (48 to 18), running back Gaston Miller (from 27 to 7), tight end Brandon Barden (from 87 to 6) and linebacker Tristan Strong (from 24 to 32).
• Wide receiver Terence Jeffers-Harris, whose eligibility is uncertain due to his academic standing completed the second summer session Friday. He was on the field with a jersey but in running shoes and no helmet. He did not participate in drills.
• Redshirt-freshman wide receiver Akeem Dunham only made it through about half the workout before he pulled up with what Johnson said appeared to be a hamstring injury. Dunham will be evaluated during the weekend.
• Offensive lineman Mike Bryant, a redshirt-freshman from La Vergne, left the team Thursday and was removed from the roster.
• Freshman defensive back Trey Wilson is sidelined because of a toe injury he sustained when he dropped a bed on his foot as he moved into a dorm room.