Quarterback competition generates interest at Vanderbilt's spring workouts

Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 11:10pm

Vanderbilt quarterback Jordan Rodgers doesn’t need the push from others to rev his competitive drive.

He is getting it any way.

“I think it is more me pushing him right now,” junior Austyn Carta-Samuels said. “He is top dog. That is the way it works. But Jordan is a great guy and me and him are always going to compete. That is just the way it is going to be.”

A week into spring practices, the quarterback competition attracts a lot of attention.

Rodgers, a rising senior, is the frontrunner to begin the fall as the starter, a role he gained midway through last season. Carta-Samuels brings in two years of Division I experience. The Wyoming transfer was named the Mountain West Conference freshman of the year in 2009. He arrived on campus in August but had to sit out due to NCAA transfer rules.

“It is obvious that Jordan has a played a year in the system and in the SEC and had that experience,” coach James Franklin said. “Although Austyn’s played before, he hasn’t played in this offense. So there is still an adjustment going on.”

After his third practice on Tuesday, the 6-foot-1, 224-pound and strong-armed Carta-Samuels emphasized he is still not up to speed — literally — with the rest of his teammates.

“It is fast. It is fast, fast, fast,” he said. “Playing in the SEC now, you got quite a defense I’m looking across at for one thing. But also it is my first time doing this stuff, especially under center, and there are no excuses there but I haven’t been quite up to speed as much as I would have wanted to be. But I’m getting more comfortable with it every day. ... I’ll start to get it here quickly.”

Also in the shuffle is incoming freshman and mid-term enrollee Patton Robinette out of Maryville High.

Listed third on the depth chart, he hit his spots on most long heaves, though he did throw consecutive interceptions in 11-on-11 drills. Still, Franklin has been impressed with the three at 6-foot-4 Robinette, the tallest of the three.

“I think Patton, for a freshman, is doing pretty good. He really is,” Franklin said. “He has a lot on his plate and he is handling it very well.”

After recovering from shoulder surgery last offseason, the 6-foot-1 Rodgers emerged as a dual-threat quarterback in his first season competition at Vanderbilt. After the sixth game, he replaced then-senior Larry Smith as the starter. Completing 50 percent of his passes for 1,524 yards, Rodgers threw nine touchdowns with 10 interceptions. He was also the second-leading rusher behind Zac Stacy with 420 yards and four rushing touchdowns.

At times, though, he battled with inconsistency and struggled on short yardage situations. Those areas plagued him in a Liberty Bowl loss to Cincinnati on New Year’s Eve. He completed 4-of-14 passes for 26 yards and threw an interception, which led Franklin to pull him for Smith.

“It leaves a bad taste in your mouth,” Rodgers said. “It is something you want to forget about it but it is something you want to keep in the back of your mind a little bit every now and then to think about.”

Experiences from the past are enough to keep Rodgers motivated heading into his final season — not looking over his shoulder to see if someone is nipping at his heels.

“I don’t worry about anybody else but me,” he said. “I don’t have to worry about how they are performing because I have standard for myself. If I don’t reach that then that is on me. I’m going to help them with the offense as much as I can. We’ve been up there watching film and I love those guys. But I need to focus on me and fine-tune parts of my game. I don’t need to worry about anybody else’s.
 “If I need someone to push me then I’m not doing enough myself. That is how I approach my game.”

• Pro day on Friday: Eight former Commodores will participate in workouts and drills on Friday in front of NFL scouts. The event, which is not open to the public, will be held at noon at the McGugin Center.

Cornerback Casey Hayward and safety Sean Richardson, both draft hopefuls who attended the NFL combine last month, are expected to participate. Others scheduled to take part in the two-hour workouts are tight end Brandon Barden, offensive lineman Kyle Fischer, defensive end Tim Fugger, defensive tackle T.J. Greenstone, quarterback Larry Smith and wide receiver Udom Umoh.

Many of those players took in practice on Tuesday, including Smith who has chopped off his familiar dreadlocks.