Jordan Rodgers knows nothing will be handed to him.
Heck, ever since he arrived on Vanderbilt’s campus it has been a battle — a battle to stay healthy. But after undergoing surgery for a torn labrum last winter, the redshirt junior quarterback says his right shoulder “feels as good as it has in a long, long time.”
On the opening day of Vanderbilt’s preseason training camp Friday, Rodgers took live snaps for the first time since last August — when he first tweaked his shoulder.
With the injury hurdle hopefully behind him, now he’ll try to leapfrog another obstacle — two-year starter Larry Smith.
“As far as I’ve been told, it is open competition but it is his job to lose,” Rodgers said. “I feel like I have game experience coming from junior college. It is not that I haven’t had any experience on the field. But I definitely need to come in and show something different, something a hand up on what the other competition is doing.”
Day One did not come without some rust, though.
“I thought Jordan made some mistakes that I didn’t think he’d make. But it’s the first day,” Vanderbilt coach James Franklin said. “Just what I would consider some simple reads that he missed. But he won’t make them [Saturday]. Again, these are the first live reps he has had in this system. That is a big part of it.”
Rodgers said his arm felt fine but agreed that he committed “mental mistakes.”
“I should have gone to one side of the field and I didn’t see the rotation,” he said. “It is something I should have picked up that I missed a couple times there at the end. I feel like I knew the play. It was just a matter of [adjusting] live when I see that rotation I just need to be a little quicker with my decision.”
Rodgers, the younger brother of Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, is most likely Smith’s most formidable challenger. But even Rodgers hasn’t competed in a Division I game — something only Smith can brag about.
The Commodores have five other quarterbacks on the roster — walk-on redshirt sophomore John Townsley and freshmen Josh Grady, Kris Kentera, Lafonte Thourogood and Taylor Hudson, who also punts.
Rodgers, listed at 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds, does have collegiate experience. He threw for 2,219 yards and 19 touchdowns at Butte (Calif.) College in 2009 and made five starts in 2008, helping the Roadrunners win a national championship.
After transferring to Vanderbilt, he expected to compete for a starting role last year. But early into training camp he started to feel pain in his shoulder. After a month of rehab, he realized he would need surgery so he redshirted.
The surgery kept him from impressing then-new head coach James Franklin in the spring. His absence is possibly one reason Franklin decided not to name Smith his starter after the spring.
“I’m excited to have a competition,” Franklin said. “I thought Larry had a great spring. I thought he had a great summer. But he didn’t really compete against anybody. I want to see him have an opportunity to compete against somebody, how he reacts to that.
“… I can guarantee you this: There is not going to be any politics; there is not going to be any favoritism. We are going to put the guy on the field that we think gives us the best chance to win.”
Rodgers hopes he is that guy. But he knows it won’t come without a battle — one he believes he is ready, and healthy enough, for.
“I feel like I have put myself in a position through workouts in the offseason and the leadership role, to be ready to step into that spot,” he said. “Obviously, if I don’t perform, it is my own fault. It is on me. It is not on the coaches. If I’m ready to play, I’ll show that this camp and I’ll be ready. If not, it is on me and I’ll need to look for an opportunity sometime throughout the season.”
• Vanderbilt’s first fall practice under Franklin lasted more than two hours and was low on contact as the Commodores were limited to just shoulder pads. Even so, Franklin expected more from his squad as he wanted to see a “cleaner” workout and players “flying around.”
“We have a lot of new guys out here so I think part of it is they are a little hesitant, they’re thinking and they’re trying to feel things out,” Franklin said. “Even the vets, they have only had one spring with how we do things. So it’s not truly ingrained in how we do things around here. ... I think they are still going through a learning process.
“I talked to the team about it afterwards. We've just got to get better every single practice and we are going to discuss some things as coaches as well. We have to continue to practice the way I want to practice.”
• Grady, a 6-foot, 185-pounder from Tampa, threw his name into the hat early for the quarterback competition. Franklin considered him the “third quarterback of the day” behind Smith and Rodgers.
“He just doesn’t seem like a freshman,” Franklin said. “I’m not saying he is ready and I’m not saying you watch him and he blows you away. That is not what I mean. But he doesn’t get rattled. It seems like he has been here for at least a year already.”
• Another freshman who impressed Franklin was running back Jerron Seymour.
The native of Hialeh, Fla., is listed at just 5-foot-7 and 190 pounds but he showed off his speed, bursting through the offensive line for big gains on several occasions.
“I saw him do some really good things,” Franklin said. “He is an impressive young man.”
• Four players wore redshirt injury jerseys and did not practice. Defensive back Steven Clarke and quarterback/punter Taylor Hudson stretched on the sidelines, as did freshman offensive lineman James Lewis despite wearing a huge orthopedic boot on his left foot.
Redshirt sophomore Walker May, however, did not. The defensive end, who played in eight games last year, seemed to favor his back as he walked laps around the practice field.
• Vanderbilt football will host its annual Dore Jam Fan Day from 4-6 p.m. Sunday at the John Rich Practice Facility, which is located behind the McGugin Center. The festivities are free to the public and include autographs from the players and coaches, food, poster giveways and kids attractions.