Wesley Tate showed he could pick up some tough yards. Of course, that was one play after the offensive line made it easy on him.
Tate, a freshman running back out of Pope John Paul II, scored the first touchdown Tuesday in Vanderbilt’s first full contact practice session of 2009. He ran behind the right side of the line and powered in from about two yards out after he had gotten the second team offense to that point with a long run courtesy of a huge hole from his blockers.
“It did feel pretty good (to score),” Tate said. “I had that long run and … once you’re that close you have to get it in. That was my mindset going into the next play.”
Tate was just one of three freshmen backs who – in some ways – were the central figures to the practice session.
With senior Jared Hawkins out for the second straight day because of soreness related to cramping following Sunday’s workout, Tate, Zac Stacy out of Centerville, Ala., and Warren Norman, from Stone Mountain, Ga., also had plenty of opportunity to show what they can do.
“These young running backs are really helping out, and I can’t wait to get (Hawkins) back,” center Bradley Vierling said. “… They’re all doing great. They’re all learning on the fly. They’re all picking it up quickly.
“We’re just excited. We’re having fun up front.”
Junior Kennard Reeves took the field for the first series with the starting offense and had a long run of his own – also through a significant hole – which turned out to be the only bright spot of that sequence for the offense.
From there, the running load largely fell to the freshmen with veterans Gaston Miller and Jermaine Doster worked in along the way.
“(The offensive line) had a good night, and (we) had some good runs,” coach Bobby Johnson said. “And the backs ran hard too. The (freshmen) have some get-up-and-go, but Kennard had one and Gaston’s been playing good. So we feel like we’re going to have a stable to choose from.”
As far as the freshmen were concerned Stacy, like Tate, had a long run. His dash came late in the session with players well down the depth chart on the field for both the offense and the defense. The difference was that he took is the distance.
Not long before that, Norman had a chance to match Tate’s touchdown run. On a sweep left, however, he fumbled and the ball went out of the side of the end zone, which in a game would result in a touchback for the defense.
“Part of the reason I came here is I knew I had the opportunity to play early,” Tate said. “All three of us think we can get a shot to play early.
“Each day we’re getting better and better and learning the system. That’s the biggest thing at this level. It’s more mental than physical. Eventually we’ll be pretty good at it and know everything.”
• The most notable passing play of the game was a long touchdown pass from Larry Smith to sophomore tight end Austin Monahan. A starter last season before he was injured in the fourth game, Monahan’s longest reception of 2008 was 18 yards. This one was at least twice that.
• Sophomore cornerback Casey Hayward, the likely replacement for D.J. Moore, got in front 6-foot-6, 232-pound receiver Justin Green and broke up a pass. Hayward is 6-0, 182.
• Left tackle Thomas Welch and strong safety Sean Richardson both participated after having sat out Monday’s practice. To balance things out, backup tackle Ryan Seymour sat out because of illness and backup safety Joel Caldwell was held out with a groin problem.
• Johnson said there will be additional contact sessions in the coming days and the work week will conclude with a full scrimmage on Saturday.