Vanderbilt tight end plays a numbers game

Wednesday, August 12, 2009 at 7:05pm
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BARDEN

Brandon Barden is all about the numbers. Not statistics …although his were good last season as a redshirt-freshman for Vanderbilt.

No, Barden believes there is value in the number on his jersey. That’s why he is wearing 6 this season after making a name for himself in 87 last fall.

“Actually in high school, I started out with No. 87 as a freshman and I moved to 6 my sophomore year,” Barden said. “Six came open, and I figured I had to try like I did in high school. …I’m hoping things will work out again for me.”

The difference is that in high school, Barden eventually moved from tight end to quarterback.

Given that he was the nation’s leader in receptions by a freshman tight end and the Commodores’ second-leading pass catcher overall in 2008, there is no chance that he’ll make that same switch anytime during the next three years.

“I realize tight end is the spot I’m going to stay at for the rest of my career,” he said.

There’s another number that speaks to that fact – 250. That’s what Barden weighed at the start of Vanderbilt’s preseason practices. It’s an increase of 15 pounds over his weight at the end last season and what he hopes to maintain for throughout the rest of his college career.

He believes it will help him become a better blocker, which he says has been heavily emphasized by the coaches throughout the off-season.

“I think he handles the new weight very well,” coach Bobby Johnson said. “That just gives him the advantage of being able to block better but still being able to run the same kind of routes that he did last year.”

Thrust into a starting role for the final 10 games after an injury to Austin Monahan, Barden caught 28 passes for 209 yards and a team-high four touchdowns. All of his touchdowns came in Commodores’ victories.

Yet those types of numbers tell only part of the story for a tight end.

“Brandon needs to block better and be more consistent,” Johnson said. “Everybody, as a freshman, even if you do make some very good plays your consistency is just not where it should be.

“For him to say he’s going to be a great tight end, he needs to be consistent in everything he does.”

Barden saw an opportunity for consistency of a different sort when defensive back Darlron Speed, who wore No. 6 in previous seasons, decided to skip his final year of eligibility after having earned his degree.

In the three years he wore No. 6 at Lincoln County (Ga.) High School, Barden was a member of two state championship teams and ultimately earned the opportunity to play in the SEC.

“It’s my favorite number, it’s in all my passwords and everything,” Barden said. “I talked to coach Johnson, asked him about it and he said it was OK with him. So everything worked out.”

BRIEFLY

• Redshirt freshman wide receivers John Cole and Akeem Dunham returned to practice during Vanderbilt’s Wednesday morning workout. Both had missed several days with hamstring strains and their participation was limited.

• Freshman running back Zac Stacy, who has gotten a lot of work with the first two units on offense, did not make it through the morning session. Johnson had no immediate word on his condition.

BO KNOWS
(or at least this is what sportswriter David Boclair thinks at the moment)

Sophomore safety Sean Richardson must be a really good player.

Why? Because there have been times throughout the first few days of workouts when coaches have been all over the 6-foot-2, 205-pounder out of Linden, Ala.

One of the truest notions in sports is that coaches expend their energy on those they think have some upside. Richardson is being counted upon to replace Reshard Langford at strong safety, and it’s clear they believe he can have an impact — and right now.

Of course, that line of thinking is no different than a year ago when Richardson was one of only three true freshmen to play for the Commodores. This season, he’s going to play a lot more.