In his first year, Vanderbilt coach James Franklin emphasized taking chances down the field and exploiting defenses with explosive, “money plays.”
Now, he’ll take fewer bangs for his buck if it means moving the chains.
As the Commodores put on full pads for the first time Tuesday, quarterback Jordan Rodgers focused on hitting his receivers in the numbers – and from short distances.
“The short-game passing has to be a ton better,” Rodgers said. “That is going to keep drives going. At times [in 2011] we stalled, not because of our running game so much, because we didn’t get completions when we needed to. That’s something to do with not finishing games as well.
“We’ll still have an explosive offense but we’re going to be a lot more consistent.”
Rodgers, who played in all 13 games last fall and started the last seven, completed 50 percent of his passes – the highest completion rate by a Vanderbilt quarterback since Mackenzi Adams (55.5 percent) in 2007.
But Rodgers doesn’t believe completing just half of his passes is something to brag about. While he made big connections with tall, physical wide receivers Jordan Matthews and Chris Boyd, short-yardage situations doomed the Commodores, especially on third down, when they converted just 34.2 percent of third downs to rank 105th out of 120 FBS teams.
“We’re light years ahead of where we were last year at this point in the short passing game. We’re confident about it now,” Rodgers, a senior, said. “We believe we can complete balls over and over and over again no matter what the defense gives us. We should be able to pick apart defenses underneath.”
After practice Monday, Franklin said he was pleased with the steady improvement from Rodgers. This was the same quarterback Franklin pulled from the Liberty Bowl last December after Rodgers completed just 4 of 14 passes for 26 yards.
“He’s worked very hard,” Franklin said. “I see him being real comfortable right now with what to do and how. He’s missing a few things but not many. ... Our completion percentage has been way up. He had one day where he threw for 83 percent, which is really what you would like to do in practice. Then you have a chance to be in the 70s on game day.”
Heading into their second year of Franklin’s multi-set offense, the receivers and tight ends are becoming more comfortable with the system – and Rodgers.
A year ago in preseason camp, he slowly regained strength in his throwing arm after shoulder surgery and fell short to eventual starter Larry Smith, whom he later dethroned.
This August, Rodgers is the frontrunner. Therefore he’s spending more time with the primary playmakers, including last year’s top five targets – Matthews, Boyd, Jonathan Krause, Wesley Tate and running back Zac Stacy.
“It’s a ton of 1-on-1 work, them getting comfortable with running the routes, getting comfortable knowing where I am going to go with the ball,” Rodgers said. “That’s really understanding the defense, how the read progression changes with what they do and where the ball should go. ... If we complete 50 percent of our [long] shots and 80 percent of our balls underneath, we’re going to be a really good offense.”