One back comes back for Vanderbilt, another awaits word on health

Tuesday, August 24, 2010 at 9:20pm

One of Vanderbilt’s dynamic rushers is back in action.

Sophomore running back Zac Stacy is cleared to play in the Commodores' Sept. 4 season opener against Northwestern.

Stacy, VU's second-leading rusher in 2009, suffered a knee sprain in practice on Aug. 13 but recovered faster than expected. The initial time frame for recovery was listed at four-five weeks yet Tuesday he was in pads and participated in drills.

“The knee is still tweaky but it’s progressing every day,” Stacy said. “I got the ‘OK’ from the doctor to be cleared to play against Northwestern so I’m looking forward to it.”

Stacy noted his recovery was even faster than even he expected. Less than two weeks ago he was watching practice on crutches.

He began last season ahead on the depth chart of Warren Norman, the eventual 2009 SEC Freshman of the Year before he was slowed by injuries. He finished 2009 with 478 yards and three touchdowns but missed two games (Week 5 and wWeek 7) with an ankle injury. The lingering ailment also limited his production and playing time in at least two more games.

 This season, staying healthy enough to produce alongside to Norman is his top priority.

“One of my main goals is just to stay healthy and help contribute for a full season,” Stacy said. “Just basically take care of your body, and be responsible for it going back to flexibility. That’s one thing I’ve been working on this offseason is being flexible.”

Good health has been hard to come by this offseason for Commodore running backs during preseason camp.

With Kennard Reeves, Wesley Tate, Norman and Stacy all sitting out of practice with injuries at some point this fall, the position has been shallow.

Norman is scheduled to get an MRI Wednesday to clarify a knee ailment but participated in moderate activity on the sideline Tuesday. He ran routes, made cuts and moved laterally.

“He’s feeling great you can see him out there right now running routes so hopefully things will work out,” coach Robbie Caldwell said. “He got bumped one time, we don’t know if it was in the spring or this fall or some old scar tissue that got loose. Probably what they’ll do is they’ll check it out good and then scope it and clean it out good.”

Freshman Steven Clarke, listed as a cornerback, took reps at halfback for the second practice in a row in an attempt to add depth at running back while the others recover. But Clarke played running back in high school and Caldwell indicated that he might stay at that position due to his speed and progression.

Stacy insists he and the rest of the backs remain confident despite their health issues.

“It really hasn’t affected the mentality of the unit, it’s just football,” he said. “Injuries are going to occur. Warren will be fine. He’ll be fine and we’re looking for Wesley to have a big contribution this year too.”

Briefly

• Redshirt-sophomore linebacker Tristan Strong sat out practice for the first time with a knee injury.

“His knee is sore,” Caldwell said. “He had his knee operated on last year so we’re just being a little cautious.”

• Starting cornerback Jamie Graham was at full speed. He looked as if he has bounced back from a groin strain he sustained last Wednesday.

• Tuesday's practice featured a group of referees. Vanderbilt often hires officials to ref their scrimmages but it was unique to have them in a regular practice. Caldwell said the move allowed the officials to stay crisp for their work and helped his players get used to game time officiating.

“We just wanted to give them a little different picture and let them call some holding or pass interference so everybody knows they’re within the rules,” he said. “We had a couple holding calls which will help us accelerate the fact that you’ve got to have those hands inside.”