Theron Kadri got a fresh start, but not a starting assignment.
That has not stopped Vanderbilt’s junior defensive end from proving he is right where he belongs.
Four games into the season he has amassed 15 tackles. His total (already four short of his career-high) is the most among Commodores’ defensive ends and second only to defensive tackle T.J. Greenstone (18) for tackles by a lineman. He also has recorded the first three sacks of his career, including a team-high two in last Saturday’s victory at Rice.
He has done all of that as a backup.
“He takes it very seriously when we put him in there,” coach Bobby Johnson said. “That’s the point we’re trying to make with most of our players — if you’re not starting, we’re going to play you. We don’t have enough as it is right now. So be ready to go.”
It’s quite a bit different from late in preseason camp when he was gone. Literally.
Kadri left the team for several days due to personal reasons. At the time, he figured he was finished with football.
Then numerous discussions with teammates and with Johnson convinced him to return.
He rejoined the squad a week before the season-opener against Western Carolina and did so with overwhelming support from the rest of the team. In that first game he recorded the first sack of his career.
“I knew I was making the right choice when I came back,” he said.
Kadri started one game at right defensive end late last season when Broderick Stewart was injured.
This year, he has been the No. 2 left defensive end behind Tim Fugger who has started every game in place of injured senior Steven Stone. For the last two weeks, though, he has been at or near the top of the statistics among the Commodores’ defensive front.
He notched a career-high six tackles in the loss to Mississippi State and followed that with five more against Rice.
“It was nice to finally get a little bit of production,” he said. “The coaches called good plays and that’s just how it set up.”
Four of his five stops last Saturday, including the two sacks, were for no gain or a loss. On a second-and-1 in early in the fourth quarter he stuffed a running play for no gain, and two plays later the Owls punted. He ended another fourth-quarter Rice possession with his second sack, a nine-yard loss on third-and-five.
No other VU defensive lineman had more than three tackles in that contest.
“He had a really good game — probably the best of the defensive ends — the other night,” Johnson said. “He had a lot of production and played with great energy. I was really proud of Theron for going in there and being in a backup role.
“He was ready when we put him in there and he had a very, very good game.”
• Cornerback Jamie Graham, who missed the game against Rice because of a concussion sustained a week earlier against Mississippi State, did not practice Tuesday. That raised doubts about whether he will be able to return to the lineup this week.
• Freshman safety Jay Fullam, who sustained a serious hand injury early in preseason camp, practiced for the first time since he was hurt. He did so with a large protective cast on his left hand.
• Wide receiver John Cole and safety Sean Richardson, both of whom underwent surgery Sunday for hand injuries, did conditioning work on the side. Neither was involved in any team activity.