With his third season less than six months away, Vanderbilt coach James Franklin’s seemingly endless pursuit to create “SEC depth” continues.
One solution to some of those problems is shuffling the hand he currently holds. So when spring practices begin Friday, a handful of players will settle into new positions, including two in hopes of strengthening defensive tackle.
Redshirt-freshmen Adam Butler moves over from the offensive line and Torey Agee moves inside from defensive end. Franklin’s hand was forced at that position due to two setbacks. Rising senior Jared Morse is no longer in school due to a violation of team rules. Franklin hopes he can return this fall. Junior defensive tackle Barron Dixon also will miss all of spring with an undisclosed injury but is expected to return for fall camp.
Those issues coupled with the graduation NFL hopeful Rob Lohr and Colt Nichter, leave the Commodores thin at defense tackle. Junior Vince Taylor enters the spring as the top returning defensive tackle after he made just 14 tackles last season.
“To compete for SEC championships, we have to kind of think outside of the box,” defensive coordinator Bob Shoop said. “One of the qualities we look for in a guy is versatility. … There is such interaction between defensive coaches and offensive players and offensive coaches and defensive players that we just want to see guys get on the field and have the best opportunity to have success.”
Here is a look at the position changes:
• Torey Agee, DT: Probably the most natural move of all the position switches, the 6-foot-4, 280-pounder moves inside from defensive end after redshirting as a freshman last year.
“That is something we always thought was going to happen naturally anyway,” Franklin said. “We take the approach that we’re going to oversign defensive ends. So if you get a defensive end in high school who is 250-pounds plus we think he has a chance to move inside and be real mobile.”
• Cory Batey, S: The Ensworth product switches from wide receiver following a redshirt year. He leaves a crowded position that includes veterans Chris Boyd, Jonathan Krause and Jordan Matthews and five incoming freshmen. Franklin said Batey was recruited to play both wide receiver and safety. The 6-foot, 210-pounder should add some depth behind returning starters Kenny Ladler and Javon Marshall.
“You probably saw a smile right there,” Shoop said. “To move Cory Batey over, that’s what the safeties in the SEC look like. Cory Batey and Andrew Williamson, both over 6-foot, 205-210 pounds. They can run. They have tremendous ball skills and they’ll hit you. So I’m excited to see what he is capable of.”
• Adam Butler, DT: The redshirt-freshman is listed at 6-foot-4, 298 pounds, behind only Taylor (6-2, 305) as the largest player on the defensive line. With 15 offensive linemen, Franklin feels comfortable in moving Butler, who played a little at defensive end in high school, and moving him to the other side.
“His movement is so good and his size is so good,” Franklin said. “That gives us a 6-foot-3 plus, 300-pound, another guy inside. As you guys know, as well as we do, the game of football, especially in the SEC, is played up front. And we think we’re finally starting to create some legitimate SEC depth on the offensive line and this is going to give us the ability to provide more SEC depth on the defensive line.”
• Josh Grady, QB: This is his second switch in as many years. Recruited to play quarterback, Grady moved to slot receiver last year and dabbled in the wildcat formation. But after catching just seven passes, the third-year sophomore wants another shot at quarterback. The dual-threat athlete will battle Austyn Carta-Samuels and Patton Robinette for the starting job.
• Derek King, RB: The Brentwood Academy graduate leaves cornerback to add some depth behind Wesley Tate and Brian Kimbrow. The third-year sophomore played sparingly on defense and special teams in nine games last year and made just two tackles. He started at running back his junior year of high school. As a senior, he recorded a personal-best time of 10.68 in the 100-meter dash and helped BA to a state title.
“Athletically, he has the ability to do it,” Franklin said. “If you look at his testing numbers and speed and his vertical jump and pro agility. Now it is just how natural will the running back position come to him?”
• Jacquese Kirk, CB: He is another third-year sophomore who played in just two games last year. Like Batey, he leaves a stacked wide receiver position in hopes of breaking through in the secondary. After returning starter Andre Hal and senior Steven Clarke, cornerback is a relatively young position rife with opportunity.