There appears to be some clarity developing as to who is going to earn the last starting spot on Vanderbilt’s offensive line.
Mylon Brown and Jabo Burrow have been competing at left guard throughout preseason practice.
Recent events suggest that redshirt sophomore Burrow, a third-year sophomore, has inched ahead of the redshirt-freshman Brown. Both insist that the competition has been healthy and, regardless of who wins the spot, for the betterment of the team.
“It’s kind of like a ‘we help each other kind of thing,’ there’s no kind of bad blood at all,” Burrow said. “If someone has a question we ask each other and we’re just competing against each other in a good way.”
The fact of the matter is that both players will be expected to contribute no matter what. Vanderbilt must replace four starters on the line this season, and both Burrow and Brown bring size and potential to the table.
“He’s getting better every day and I’m getting better every day just pushing each other,” Brown said. “I believe we’ll both be able to contribute whoever is the starter.”
Burrow’s progression during camp was slowed when he sustained a concussion a little more than a week ago. As Burrow sat out, Brown saw significantly more reps at guard.
Thursday, head coach Robbie Caldwell saw Burrow return to form.
“Jabo stepped up (Thursday), he kind of looked like his old self,” Caldwell, the former offensive line coach, said. “I don’t know if he’s got girl problems or what but he looked like he got his mind right. He’s a young man with his heart in it, there’s no doubt. “
At 6-foot-4, 290 pounds, Burrow is the smaller of the two. But the discrepancy in size used to be much greater.
During the 2009 season, he switched from defensive line to offensive line, and in the offseason he completed the transition by bulking up significantly. He added around 40 pounds to his frame.
“I think I was always meant to be a big guy, I’ve always had a big frame,” he said. “But then you get up here and they feed you four meals a day at camp. They make you eat and get with (strength coach John) Sisk and all that. So it was an easy transition weight-wise.”
Offensive line coach Herb Hand noted that Burrow’s concussion set him back but he also said he sees things falling into place mentally. Burrow is acquiring a firmer grasp on Vanderbilt’s system and how he fits into it with every practice.
“The learning curve is really starting to kick in for him and the lights are starting to come on,” Hand said. “I think that he is starting to get to that ‘Ah ha!’ moment.”
A bit of time spent on the offensive line in 2009 makes Burrow more experienced than Brown, though neither player is seasoned by any means.
What Brown brings to the playing field first and foremost cannot be taught: size and power.
At 6-foot-5, 310 pounds, he is an imposing figure even amongst other D-I football players. His bulk is unmistakable, but Hand has also noticed an increase in Brown’s heart during line drills in recent weeks. He has been digging deep as he fights to hold up would-be pass rushers instead of retreating after initially locking in.
“Mylon is a big, strong, physical dude and when he brings it he can bring a punch,” Hand said. “What he has really gotten better at in the past couple weeks, we like to call it ‘the strain.’ You have to strain to block people. Particularly in pass protection, we’re finishing a block and straining, giving that extra effort.”
Hand stressed that the position is still undecided but the head coach let on the status of the competition on Wednesday.
When asked if Burrow was securing the spot with his play Caldwell responded: “I think so, mentally he’s further ahead. Physically Mylon has all the tools he’s just got to learn.”
• Vanderbilt continued to prep for the Sept. 4 season opener against Northwestern on Thursday. The fist team defense went against a variety of Vanderbilt offensive players simulating aspects of Northwestern’s offense.
“(Northwestern is a) well-coached football team, very disciplined,” Caldwell said. “It’s going to be quite a challenge for us. One thing I like about them is that they don’t make mistakes.”
• The starting lineup has not been announced but Caldwell suggested that the coaching staff knows who will be playing. He said quarterback coach Jimmy Kiser is not ready to announce Larry Smith as starting quarterback but that will likely be the case.
“I’m ready right now (to announce starters), I’m just trying to get these other coaches to jump on board,” Caldwell said. “But we try to be diplomatic about it, but they know.”
• Freshman cornerback Steven Clarke practiced at running back for a third straight time.
Sophomore running back Zac Stacy practiced in full pads, in a white offensive jersey instead of the yellow injury top for the first time since suffering a knee sprain Aug. 13. Caldwell expects Stacy to play in the season opener.