Chris Boyd made the catches during spring workouts and fall preseason camps. He just had a hard time popping up off the grass.
Through two games, the Vanderbilt wide receiver has stayed on his feet and found his way into the end zone. Heading into Saturday’s matchup against Ole Miss (11:21 a.m., Vanderbilt Stadium), Boyd leads the team with four receptions, 87 yards and three touchdowns.
“He has probably played better in the games than his camp,” coach James Franklin said. “He had some issues during camp. He is a big strong guy — I want him to play like that. I think sometimes these kids don’t realize how big they are and how strong they are.”
In August, Boyd wore a red injury jersey on a couple occasions while he battled minor ailments. When the 6-foot-3, 208-pounder went tumbling down after hauling in a pass, more often that not he stayed on the ground for more than just a few seconds.
Once that became a reoccurring theme, Franklin was in his ear.
“They really were always on me about that — telling me I got to get physically stronger, mentally stronger and just stay tough,” Boyd said. “That is something I’ve really been trying to work on. I think it has paid off the last couple games.”
Beginning with the season-opener against Elon, the redshirt-freshman from Roswell, Ga., has used his size to his advantage, as his first three career catches were touchdowns. He caught two in the fourth quarter against Elon — a 11-yarder from Larry Smith and a 30-yarder from Jordan Rodgers. His first catch against Connecticut last weekend also ended with him in the end zone as Smith connected with him on a play-action pass over two defenders for a 42-yard touchdown in the first quarter.
Boyd was more involved in the offense against UConn, with six passes headed his way. After Wednesday’s practice, Franklin said Boyd would make his first career start on Saturday opposite Jordan Matthews.
The two are similar in size as Matthews is listed at 6-foot-3 and 202 pounds. Smith threw to him nine times against Elon, resulting in three catches and 58 yards. But the ball went Matthews’ way just once last weekend — for an incompletion on a trick play that Matthews had to bat away to ward off an interception.
The tight coverage could be a sign of things to come as Southeastern Conference opponents lock in on shutting down Matthews, who had the best spring and fall of any Vanderbilt receiver. Boyd’s recent emergence, however, could give the Commodores more options.
“That has allowed us to have a little bit more depth,” Franklin said of Boyd’s play. “That it is also going to give us some flexibility to move some guys around. With him and Jordan both playing the same position, we have to find ways to get them all on the field. I’ve been pleased with him.”
• True freshman quarterback Josh Grady also lined up as wide receiver on Wednesday. He played in the slot position, a move Franklin said wasn’t permanent.
The 6-foot, 185-pounder from Tampa totaled more than 3,000 yards and 38 touchdowns of offense as a senior at Armwood High School. Franklin says he will remain the team’s third-string quarterback.
“We are just trying to get as many guys we possibly can in positions to help the team,” Franklin said. “The more flexibility that we can create on our team to create depth however we have to, we are going to do it.”
Franklin added that 6-foot, 160-pound freshman Jacquese Kirk has moved to wide receiver from defensive back.
• On the injury front, tight end Brandon Barden (ankle) is “hopeful” to play on Saturday, Franklin said. He wasn’t on the field for the last 30 minutes of practice on Wednesday because of a study group session, Franklin said.
“He didn’t take every single rep [Wednesday] but he did take some reps,” Franklin said. “We’ll see. We’ll make that decision hopefully after Thursday’s practice.”
Fifth-year junior Austin Monahan is listed as Barden’s backup. Barden injured his left ankle while throwing a block during a running play last weekend.
Running back Warren Norman (knee) went through agility drills with strength coach Dwight Galt as he tries to work his way back into the lineup. The junior — the team’s leading rusher the last two years — has yet to play a snap this season.
“What we try to do with him, instead of going every single day, we go every other day with him,” Franklin said. “Some days we are doing some strengthening and some conditioning, things like that. Then other days he is taking all the reps in practice. I feel actually pretty good about his chances. So we’ll see.”
• A familiar face will return to Vanderbilt on Saturday.
Ole Miss offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach David Lee was a three-year letterwinner for the Commodores. The former quarterback guided Vanderbilt to a 7-3-2 season and a Peach Bowl appearance in 1974. He spent the last three years as the Miami Dolphins’ quarterbacks coach.
Lee is in his first year of his second term at Ole Miss. He also was quarterbacks coach for the Rebels from 1978-82, following a one-year stint at the same post at Vanderbilt.
“I’ve been impressed with him,” Franklin said. “I have looked at his resume. I know his background. We are looking forward to welcoming him back home to Vanderbilt.”
• Vanderbilt and Massachusetts have agreed on a four-game series in football, which will begin next year.
The series will run through 2015, with games at Vanderbilt Stadium in 2012 and 2014.
The teams will play two games each in Nashville and two in Foxborough, Mass., at Gillette Stadium — the home of the New England Patriots. UMass will play all of its home games during the 2012 and 2013 season at Gillette Stadium. The Minutemen plan to play at least four games a year at the NFL venue through the 2016 season.
UMass will join the Football Bowl Subdivision and the Mid-American Conference in 2012. The Minutemen previously played in the Football Championship Subdivision and in the Colonial Athletic Association. They reached the national championship game three times, capturing the crown in 1998.
Vanderbilt and Massachusetts have never met in football.