Vanderbilt football in a hurry to improve conditioning, become more competitive

Monday, March 21, 2011 at 11:22pm

Virtually anyone would agree that there are no quick fixes for the Vanderbilt football program.

One thing that’s obvious about practices under first-year coach James Franklin is that everyone looks as if they’re in a hurry. Players move quickly between periods and between plays — and when they don’t a coach is quick to point it out.

We’re active, we’re running drill to drill [so] we’re ready for the fourth quarter,” defensive tackle T.J. Greenstone said following the initial workout of spring drills Friday afternoon. “We’re not there yet, but we will be. It’s just been exciting so far.”

The Commodores will hop to it again Tuesday for the third of the third of their 14 scheduled workouts in advance of the Black and Gold scrimmage, April 17. They will practice Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday each of the next three weeks.

“Everybody was anxious to get out on the field and just show the coaches what they can do,” safety Sean Richardson said Friday. “At the same time, it was a tough and challenging day because we weren’t used to practicing at that type of a tempo. We’ve always practiced at a high tempo, but it was a little more intense and had a little more running and conditioning.”

Conditioning was considered a major issue last fall, when Vanderbilt went 2-10 for the second consecutive season.

Injuries were a consistent problem. So was the team’s ability to stay productive throughout all four quarters. The Commodores scored fewer second-half points (85) than they allowed in just the third quarter (89).

Among the ways Franklin and his staff have decided to push the pace at practice is to set the play clock at 35 seconds during select periods. That allows five seconds fewer than what actually exists in games.

“I want it faster than what the game would be so they have to run back and get set,” Franklin said.

That attitude extends beyond the practice field.

Despite the historical struggles of the program — one winning season and one bowl appearance since 1982 — no one is preaching patience for the coming season, which begins Sept. 3 against Elon and includes road games against South Carolina (Sept. 24), Alabama (Oct. 8) and Florida (Nov. 5).

“Football is a fun game but also I think there’s a sense of urgency here,” Greenstone, who will be a senior, said. “You have to practice differently. You have to think differently. You have to live differently.

“It’s time to start doing things instead of just talking about things. I think coach Franklin and his staff have done a great job of both — doing things and talking about it.”

Good thing for the players, though, that there is a little bit of time between now and the start of the seson.

“We have the spring and the summer to get in tip-top shape,” Richardson said. “We’re going to be one of the best teams in shape and conditioning.”