Bobby Johnson has not yet seen anything to indicate one of his running backs can serve as a short-yardage specialist. Then again, the Vanderbilt coach has not seen much to distinguish any of his ball carriers from one another.
“I don’t know if we have anybody who’s that much different than anybody else on the team that we could say, ‘Well this guy is a short-yardage specialist’ at the tailback position,” Johnson said.
Kennard Reeves got an opportunity in Saturday’s loss to Mississippi State.
Two minutes into the second quarter, after a fumble recovery gave the Commodores a first-and-goal at the Bulldogs 6, the junior out of Duluth, Ga. was given the ball three straight times.
“I’m glad they had the confidence to give it to me down at the goal line,” Reeves said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t get it.”
He gained half of the necessary yards on first down and then got to the 1 with a two-yard gain on second down. On third down, he was dropped in the backfield for a two-yard loss.
Vanderbilt settled for a field goal, which were its only points of the night.
“I definitely thought I was going to get in the second time,” Reeves said. “The third time, someone just came free from the backside and blew up the play.”
At 6-foot, 204 pounds, Reeves is slightly larger than either of the Commodores’ two freshmen rushers – Zac Stacy (5-9, 194) and Warren Norman (5-11, 188). Norman scored on a two-yard run in the opener against Western Carolina. He also converted a third-and-1 against Mississippi State with a six-yard gain.
Sophomore Ryan van Rensburg has the size (6-1, 234) more commonly associated with the role of a short yardage specialist. He, however, is not a true tailback. Instead, he lines up at fullback and tight end.
Like Norman, van Rensburg scored from two yards out against Western Carolina. He also moved the chains against Mississippi State with a three-yard gain on third-and-2 early in the third quarter.
Another possibility is senior Jared Hawkins (5-10, 203), who has missed the first three games with a foot injury. He has shown improvement in recent days, though, which has raised optimism about his potential return to the lineup.
Johnson is not adverse to having a player fill that role, but someone has to show he can do it.
“Whoever it is, it doesn’t matter,” he said. “If it’s Ryan van Rensburg, or Jared, or Zac or Warren it doesn’t matter.”
As of now, though, it’s none of them.