T.J. Greenstone was impossible to miss at Vanderbilt’s most recent spring football workout.
He recovered a fumble early in the live contact portion of the practice on the field at Vanderbilt Stadium. He rooted loudly for his defensive teammates when he was not involved in the play. He even drew the ire of coach Bobby Johnson when his emotions almost got the best of him.
In a way, it was just another day of football for the highly productive fourth-year junior. Then again, it also was part of a conscious effort to increase his profile within the defensive line following an injury a week earlier to one of his teammates, senior Adam Smotherman.
“It’s forcing me to take a leadership role among the defensive line and really to set an example both on and off the field of what a senior leader is supposed to be,” Greenstone, out of Lawrenceville, Ga., said. “It just forces me to step up my maturity level and really become the energy of the defensive line.”
Even with the departure of three seniors, the defensive front figures to be one of the 2010 Commodores’ most experienced units, and no one d seen and done more than Smotherman. A graduate of nearby Smyrna High School, he started 23 of 25 games the past two seasons and earned the team’s strength and conditioning award at its 2009 postseason banquet.
Yet a torn knee ligament, which will require reconstructive surgery, likely will cause him to miss the coming season. At the very least, it leaves Vanderbilt with just four defensive tackles for the remainder of spring practice (the next scheduled workout is Tuesday), and the oldest of those four is Greenstone.
“With ‘Smo’ going down, I’m really going to have to step it up,” redshirt-sophomore Rob Lohr said. “I have a lot to work on. … I’ll be ready, and T.J. is going to be a leader for us.”
Greenstone does not have to prove he can produce.
His 38 tackles in 2009 were tied with departed senior Greg Billinger for the most by a defensive tackle despite the fact that he did not start a game. He also was the only player on the defense – regardless of position – with at least one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.
Then again, the only start that concerns him has nothing to do with who’s on the field first.
“We always say at the beginning of every practice that it starts with us,” Greenstone said. “If we’re not doing our thing up front, the guys in back are not going to be playing very well.”
And if anyone on the Vanderbilt defense makes a good play this season it will be obvious by watching him.
“You’re playing football,” Greenstone said. “It’s fun. Why aren’t you going to have fun and encourage your teammates? If I see a big play and I’m sitting in the stands I’m going to celebrate; if I’m on the sideline I’m going to celebrate; if I’m on the field I’m going to celebrate with them. It’s all about having fun out here.”