Warren Norman is the exclamation point in an offense filled with question marks.
As Vanderbilt approaches the start of workouts for the 2010 season, there is uncertainty at virtually every position on offense except at running back.
There, Norman, a sophomore out of Stone Mountain, Ga., already has shown the ability to turn heads and make headlines. As a freshman, he broke records, including one held by the legendary Herschel Walker, and created a sense of optimism for a unit that scored just five touchdowns in eight Southeastern Conference games last fall.
“Coming in as a true freshman, you’re willing to do anything it takes just to get on the field,” Norman said.
About the only question with Norman concerns just how good he can be.
There was no doubt he was the Commodores’ best offensive player in 2009, when he scored seven of the team’s 21 total touchdowns. He had three rushing, three on kickoff returns and one receiving. He set a conference record for all-purpose yards by a freshman (previously held by Walker) and became the first SEC player with more than 1,000 kickoff return yards in a season.
“[He] just came in and just quietly went about his business,” interim coach Robbie Caldwell said. “We hope to give him an even bigger role. … We look to take him to another level. He’s excited about it. He’s working in the weight room to get ready, to prepare his body.”
The challenge for the rest of the offense is to try to keep pace.
Quarterback Larry Smith was inconsistent and occasionally injured in his first season as a starter, and in December, junior college transfer Jordan Rodgers, the younger brother of NFL quarterback Aaron Rodgers, was signed. At this point, there’s no telling who will be under center at the start or the finish of this season.
The Commodores’ receivers struggled to get open and too often dropped the ball when they did. Whether or not there is a bona fide playmaker among that group is undetermined.
The offensive line lost all five of its primary starters (four to graduation, the other to transfer) and it is not necessarily clear who will fill all of those spots.
“We’re using last year as motivation for this year,” Norman said. “We recognize what we did last year, and it wasn’t the type of season we wanted. So we use it as motivation this year to do even better.”
The truth is that Norman probably did not even realize just how well he, himself, had done last year.
It had been more than a quarter-century since Walker, as a freshman, led the SEC in total yards and set off on a course that eventually earned him the Heisman Trophy and a national championship for the University of Georgia.
It had been 20 years since Walker was involved in one of the most infamous trades in NFL history and more than a decade since his professional football career ended.
“We try to explain to him to about Herschel Walker [and] breaking that record,” Caldwell said. “… We know who Herschel Walker was. [Norman] had to Google and find out who he was.
“A tremendous young man. Never says a word.”
Not to worry because his achievements speak for themselves … and loudly enough to warrant an exclamation point.