Redshirt players becoming integral part of Vanderbilt football’s rise to respectability

Monday, March 30, 2009 at 1:00am

Ryan Seymour knows relatively little about the Vanderbilt offense — and it’s not necessarily because he was a defensive lineman in the fall.

Seymour was switched to the offense shortly before the start of spring practice but he is no more green at that spot than Richard Cagle, Michael Bryant or Caleb Welchans — three offensive linemen who, like Seymour, were redshirted in 2008.

“You have to realize that these guys who we redshirted last year got no coaching in our system,” coach Bobby Johnson said. “They were running the other teams’ plays all year long. We worked with them on individual techniques, but they weren’t learning the playbook.

“…We can’t expect them to come out here and be completely sure of themselves or know exactly what to do.”

Of those who participated in Saturday’s Black and Gold scrimmage, 21 (slightly more than 25 percent) were redshirt-freshmen.

The redshirt program has become an integral part of Vanderbilt’s rise to respectability in the Southeastern Conference and nationally. Only 16 players on the current roster were not kept on the bench for a season to help them develop.

“I would recommend redshirting to anybody,” Seymour said. “Just getting used to the program, just getting up to the tempo from high school to college is a tremendous difference. I definitely recommend that to everybody. You get experience with bigger guys, getting used to the tempo, learning plays, learning the coaching staff.

“I’m very fortunate to be a redshirt.”

Of course, there are no standard statistics for offensive linemen, but a number of those players did show up on the stat sheet from the scrimmage, which lasted roughly an hour and attracted an estimated crowd of more than 1,000 to Vanderbilt Stadium.

Wide receiver Akeem Dunham’s 51 receiving yards were the second-most among all players, and he scored a touchdown. Running back Chavez Scott also got to the end zone once among his five carries for 13 yards.

On defense, safety Al Owens and linebacker DeAndre Jones each made three tackles, including one for a loss. Linebacker Archie Barnes had two quarterback pressures in addition to a tackle, and defensive end Johnell Thomas had one quarterback pressure and a tackle.

“Sometimes it makes you look bad because you have a young guy in there with all the rest of them and he doesn’t do the right thing,” Johnson said. “But he has to be put in that situation enough times to where he’ll react the right way.”

For the vast majority of redshirts, the decision was made prior to the start of the season to pursue that option. Thus, while they assimilated into the campus culture they never really got the opportunity to get into their respective playbooks.

Yet there are exceptions.

Wide receiver John Cole, for example, played in the season-opener against Miami (Ohio) but sustained an injury in that contest, which caused him to miss the remainder of games. His participation was limited enough that he qualified for a redshirt.

Rob Lohr and Colt Nichter, both defensive tackles, were on the two-deep roster all season but never got into a game. Veterans Greg Billinger, Adam Smotherman and T.J. Greenstone stayed healthy and allowed coaches to preserve the team’s depth and a year of eligibility for a number of players.

“I never actually went to the scout team,” Lohr said. “I still took reps with the team all year. Then after the season, obviously, I was redshirted. So I had a different experience than a lot of the other guys, but I think it helped me for the long run.

“I was getting reps with the second team all year, so it gave me a lot of extra practice.

… The goal of redshirting (is) to get better and to get prepared to play. I’m pretty excited.”

No position group produced more redshirts for the Commodores last fall than the defensive line, where three tackles and three ends still have four seasons of play ahead of them.

That does not even include Seymour, who was among their ranks during the fall. It was only during postseason conditioning that coaches approached him about the possibility of moving to the offensive line.

Seymour was an all-state performer at Camden County (Ga.) High School, where at some point during his career he played all five positions on the offensive line.

Thus far during the spring he has been used only at left tackle.

“I’m thrilled,” Seymour said. “If I was going to move to the line, which I did, that’s the one position I want to play. I feel like with my size and my skill level I can do pretty well there.

“(Offensive line coach Robbie Caldwell) is going to keep me at one position. He doesn’t want to confuse me right now. A lot of guys go two ways — tackle and guard, or center and guard. He’s just keeping it simple right now.”

After all, it’s hard enough to do something different. Then again, he’s not the only one.

“We’re trying to get some young guys caught up,” Johnson said. “They have to learn from the coaches; they have to learn from the older guys and it’s just a process that you have to go through.”

Once you exchange that redshirt for the ‘black and gold’ anyway.

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