When Warren Norman bounded into the end zone last weekend for a three-yard score, it seemed like an eternity since the Vanderbilt running back had last touched pay dirt.
“It felt great. It’s been like five years,” Norman said after practice Wednesday.
Actually, it’s been less than two years. But that didn’t make the moment any less sweet for the fourth-year junior.
Overcoming a lingering knee injury that kept him off the field in 2011, Norman carried the ball for the first time since Oct. 30, 2010.
“It has been pretty tough just not being able to be out here and participate with team,” Norman said. “It’s tough watching from the sidelines but I thought I handled it pretty well. But it’s all behind me now. I’m out here playing and feeling good.”
The former SEC Freshman of the Year returns to his home state this weekend when the Commodores (1-2, 0-1) play No. 5 Georgia (3-0, 1-0).
Though coach James Franklin lauded Norman’s work ethic, good attitude and persistence, the future for the 5-foot-10, 205-pounder looks murky. After getting eight carries for 26 yards in a 58-0 rout of Presbyterian, he remains on the second-team depth chart as Vanderbilt’s fourth option.
“Just whatever [role] Coach plugs me in,” Norman said. “We have different game plans each and every week and things change every week so it is hard to say going forward. But wherever Coach decides to play me or put me in I’m just going to contribute and do my best.”
• QB update: Franklin said he has not settled on a starting quarterback for Saturday’s game.
Austyn Carta-Samuels, who made his first career start last weekend against Presbyterian, appears to be the frontrunner. But he has been splitting first-team repetitions with Jordan Rodgers, who made nine consecutive starts before last weekend.
“I think we’ll have some serious discussions [Wednesday night] as a staff,” Franklin said. “We have pretty high expectations for that position. I think both of them are practicing well and doing some good things. I’ve noticed a difference in Austyn and I’ve noticed a difference in [freshman] Patton Robinette the last two weeks.”
• Punt returns: Expect to see new faces returning punts if that is what it takes for the Commodores to get better results.
Franklin didn’t name who would be the first one back to field punts against Georgia but it appears starter Jonathan Krause will have company. Receiver Jordan Matthews returned three for 36 yards against Presbyterian while Krause gained only five yards off three returns. Zac Stacy also returned a punt for 15 yards in the season opener against South Carolina. Franklin added that fifth-year senior John Cole might also get his first action of the year.
The Commodores rank 10th in the SEC with just 7.4 return yards a punt. They’ve returned only nine out of 22 punts.
“In the 25 years that we’ll be here, we should never fair catch a punt,” Franklin said. “We need somebody that can get us 12 to 15 yards. If we can get somebody that everybody in this conference is scared of back there, that can go 80 at any time then we are really excited. But right now we just need somebody that can get us a first down on every return. We’re still looking for that right now.”
• Injuries: Franklin said both free safety Kenny Ladler and center Spencer Pulley should be available after missing last week due to undisclosed injuries.
For the third straight week, sophomore running back Jerron Seymour was not listed on the depth chart.
He battled a knee injury last year and became limited once again halfway through preseason camp. If the Commodores stay healthy at running back — they are four-deep at that position — Franklin said he hopes to redshirt Seymour, who was third on the team last year in rushing yards.