Running backs Warren Norman and Zac Stacy saw plenty of action last fall. Then last week they opened Vanderbilt’s spring football drills with a new look.
Both changed their numbers — from double digit ones to single digits. That was just fine with coach Bobby Johnson provided their numbers on the stat sheet go in the opposite direction.
“What makes them think they’re faster or play better or their mama can find them or whatever, I’m fine with it,” Johnson said.
Norman and Stacy, as true freshmen, were first and second, respectively, in all-purpose yards for Vanderbilt during last season’s 2-10 campaign. Between them, they combined for more than 220 yards per contest, more than 1,200 of the team’s 1,920 rushing yards and half of the Commodores’ 12 rushing touchdowns.
“It was good to get our feet wet and to get some playing time freshman year, just to get the feel of the speed of the game in the SEC,” Stacy said. “I think we can be even more productive this year with the game experience that we have.”
They already guaranteed they’re going to look different.
Norman earned Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Year honors and numerous Freshman All-America awards and set school and conference records while wearing No. 27. All the time, he had his eye of the No. 5, which belonged to cornerback Myron Lewis, who is likely to be selected in next month’s NFL draft.
“I’ve worn it for most of my life,” he said.
Stacy was the Commodores’ second-leading rusher in the No. 21. For a time in recent weeks he worked to keep that number despite the desire of safety Sean Richardson to assume it.
Eventually Stacy agreed to go with No. 2, although it should be noted that when the Commodores opened spring drills last week Richardson was still in the No. 38 he wore last season.
“I decided to let him have it and I’ll just go with 2,” Stacy said. “It was my high school number. I decided to go with a single digit.”
Rather than focus on the numbers on their backs, Johnson has looked closely at how they have performed in the weight room, the meeting room and on the field.
“You can see their confidence has grown,” Johnson said. “They’re able to step up and they’re starting to understand things even better than they were. It’s hard to play as a freshman in the SEC, I’ll tell you that. There’s so many things that are happening real fast.
“They’re progessing just like we want them to.”
• The first full contact practice of the spring took place Saturday and exacted a toll.
Adam Smotherman, a two-year starter at defensive tackle, sustained a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee, which is likely to cause him to miss the 2010 season.
Ryan Seymour, a backup tackle in the fall who started late in the season at left tackle, sustained a shoulder injury, which also will require surgery.
"I feel bad for both Adam and Ryan," Johnson said. "I can't tell you how hard Adam worked to repair an earlier knee injury and become a starter for this team. I know he will do all he can to get back on the field. Ryan is the same kind of young man as Adam. He'll get back with us as soon as he can.”