Two straight conference defeats, Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson said he is looking for more consistent play from his team’s pass catchers.
Just don’t expect to see Jamie Graham, who had 17 receptions last year, back on offense in a full-time role, he said.
“I don't think we have the people available to take (Graham) and put him on offense right now,” Johnson said Monday at his weekly press briefing. “Things just go back to fundamentals and doing the things you know to teach them. Our guys just weren't doing a very good job of concentrating or they were uptight about not moving the football, and when it got to pressure time, they just didn't make the big or small catches.”
Graham’s reception total from a year ago was second among players who returned this fall. However, he was moved to cornerback in spring drills and by the start of the season earned the job of third cornerback. He played the second half of last Saturday’s game against Mississippi State in place of starter Casey Hayward, who was out with a migraine.
To complicate matters, Graham ended up with a headache of his own on Saturday. He sustained a concussion and as of Monday afternoon was considered questionable for this weekend’s game at Rice.
“We've got guys who catch (passes) all the time in practice, so hopefully that was a one game thing and we can put that behind us,” Johnson said.
Hayward, a sophomore who entered the weekend as the SEC leader in tackles for losses, has had issues with migraines. This was the first time it happened in a game, however.
“In the past, I think his migraines have been triggered by dehydration, but he thought a hit to the head caused this one,” Johnson said. “It was one where there was no way he could play with it.”
Before the onset of the headache, Hayward made three tackles – one for a loss.
Hope for Hawkins
Johnson said senior running back Jared Hawkins has a chance to play this week after having missed the first three games — and the majority of preseason workouts — with a foot injury.
“We hope that he can get in there and get some action, but it will all depend on how he reacts in practice,” Johnson said. “We've had this hope before and it hadn't worked out. He had some different treatment that has helped him a little bit more.”
Staying with Smith
Johnson said it is unlikely he will make a change at quarterback.
Starter Larry Smith has completed just 23 of 56 pass attempts the last two games. He has been intercepted twice and has not thrown a touchdown pass.
“If Larry shows us in practice that he cannot and will not improve, we'll have to make a change, but I don't think that is going to happen,” Johnson said. “Larry is a hard worker and he wants to do the right thing every time and I think he will answer the call.”
Running back Zac Stacy was forced to leave the Mississippi State game with an ankle injury. It was not considered severe and Stacy is expected to be able to play this week.
Cornerback Eric Samuels (ankle) went through pre-game warm-ups but did not convince coaches he was close to 100 percent. He was held out for a second straight game.
Defensive end Steven Stone (broken foot) has started jogging but is not considered close to playing.