As if the academic requirements at Vanderbilt are not stringent enough, members of the football team all have added an additional course this semester. It’s called Franklin 101.
First-year coach James Franklin and his staff have asked players on both sides of the ball to learn new schemes. In some cases, the amount of information presented to them is significant, even for those who have been proficient on the field in recent years.
“It’s getting to the point where I’m staying in the playbook more than I am in my school books,” junior running back Zach Stacy said. “That playbook is another class for us, but there’s a lot of good things in there, a lot of good things for us as running backs and offensive skill players to get the ball, do something with it and make plays.
“We’re excited about it.”
The Commodores will have their first lab Friday when they open spring drills, a series basically of three practices per week over the next five weeks capped by the final exam — the Black and Gold Scrimmage on April 17.
It won’t be a pass-fail scenario. Instead, the players’ performance during spring workouts will help determine the "curriculum" for preseason drills later in the summer.
“We’re going to install our offense and install our defense, and I think after spring we’ll have a better idea of what our kids can do and what our strengths are and what our weaknesses are,” Franklin said. “So it will evolve between spring and summer camp, but really we’re going to install what we’d like to do, see what makes sense to our personnel and build on it.”
Up to this point, players have worked with strength and conditioning coach Dwight Galt to hone their bodies. Their minds have been sharpened through regular meetings and study sessions with their respective position coaches.
Friday afternoon’s workout will be the first opportunity to put theory into practice as they test the impact of new weight room drills.
“Coach [Ricky] Rahne [the quarterbacks coach] requires that we spend an hour each day, come up there watch film, talk to him, get up on the board and start drawing plays and stuff like that,” quarterback Larry Smith said. “So far it seems like another class. Pretty much like learning a whole other scheme.
“I’m really excited and really ready to go and get things going.”
Make no mistake, this year’s spring practices might be an introduction to Franklin’s version of football, but that does not mean it is a rudimentary pursuit. It is an advanced education approach, one that asks players to think beyond just the basics of their own positions.
“Coach [John] Donovan [the running backs coach] is teaching us how to be students of the game, which is coming to the line of scrimmage and learning what front the defensive line is in, learning what coverage the secondary is in,” Stacy said. “That’s definitely going to help us out a lot, especially pass protection-wise and also running the ball.”
Consequently, in addition to all they have on their minds these days, there’s also some added weight in their backpacks.
“It’s a real big playbook — let’s just say it’s bigger [than last year’s],” Stacy said. “It’s bigger than most of the playbooks I’ve seen since I’ve been here.
“It’s just a lot of basic things — fronts and coverages for me to learn, basic formations, alignments and all that other stuff.”
Much like any other class they attend throughout the year.