Overshadowed by the performance of Vanderbilt’s two freshmen running backs in last Saturday’s season-opening victory over Western Carolina was the play of three other first-year backs — true freshmen defensive backs Eric Samuels, Eddie Foster and Trey Wilson.
“As freshmen they did well,” coach Bobby Johnson said. “It was great for those guys to have the opportunity to play, as they did late in the game. Eddie Foster, I think played well. Trey Wilson, we think, is going to be a good cornerback.”
Samuels was responsible for half of the takeaways by the Commodores’ defense. He had a fumble recovery and an interception, the latter of which he returned for 19 yards, in addition to two tackles.
Foster also had two tackles. Wilson was not credited with any.
“In the secondary, most of the backups are going to be really young guys,” defensive coordinator/secondary coach Jamie Bryant said. “We’ve tried to bring them along as fast as we could.”
Samuels and Foster showed early in preseason camp that they likely would get on the field.
Conversely, Wilson was little more than a rumor during most of camp because of a foot injury he sustained the day he moved into the dormitory. Once healthy, though, he quickly figured into the defensive plans.
“He was in every meeting, knew what was going on and tried to keep up mentally,” Johnson said. “He stepped right in there.”
Regardless of what happens Saturday at LSU, Samuels won’t have the opportunity to be seen.
He did not practice Tuesday or Wednesday and only sparingly Thursday because of an ankle injury. Johnson said he would not play.
Commodores’ quarterbacks typically wear red jerseys during practices. On Thursday they wore black while the rest of the defense wore their typical white.
Johnson said the new look had to do with contrasts and how well the quarterbacks could be seen among other offensive players.
VU uses quarterbacks to help signal plays from the sideline during the game and is considering using different colors to help distinguish them.
“We just tried it out (Thursday) on the sideline,” Johnson said. “You have to find your signal guys. We’ll have something on them so they can be seen on the sideline.”
Linebackers Patrick Benoist and Chris Marve, the Commodores’ top two tacklers in 2008, each had four stops against Western Carolina.
For Benoist, that was fewer than in any game last season when his low was five (three times). For Marve it was less than all but one game.
Still, that doesn’t necessarily signal a change in the way the defense functions. After all, only defensive tackle T.J. Greenstone, with five, has more after one game.
“We play a gap-control defense, so (the linebackers) are set up to make a lot of plays,” Benoist said. “Really … if we all play our assignments, it will all work out.”
Johnson said the fact that Vanderbilt opens SEC play (against a nationally ranked opponent no less) this weekend has created a different attitude among the players in practice.
“You can’t fool them,” Johnson said. “They know what’s going on and who they’re playing. You know they’re not who we played, so they have to step up and do better than we did last week.”