The search to replace Vanderbilt’s all-time leading rusher is underway.
But coach James Franklin isn’t looking for one guy to take Zac Stacy's workload. Less than a week into spring practice, he is taking a three-pronged approach.
“I don’t think literally and realistically you can have [one] running back in the SEC of 'this is your workhorse,'” Franklin said. “You’re going to have to have three guys you feel good about to keep them fresh for injury prevention and in case somebody does go down. You’re going to have at least three backs.”
Franklin and the Commodores believe they have the required number with Wesley Tate, Brian Kimbrow and Jerron Seymour. All three have experience.
Tate and Kimbrow split carries last year behind Stacy. Seymour played as a true freshman in 2011 but missed all of last season with a knee injury. Former Brentwood Academy product Derek King, who has switched from cornerback, also impressed in full pads on Tuesday.
“We got special talents in different varieties,” Seymour said. “We got the speed. We got the shiftiness and we got the big, powerful back too. We’ve got all type of ways we can make an impact on offense. I definitely feel like that is strength on offense.”
Tate, a rising senior, is the most seasoned of the bunch.
The Pope John Paul II product served as a backup to Stacy and Warren Norman in 2010. He then moved to slot receiver in 2011. Last year, he was the third-leading rusher behind Stacy and Kimbrow with 376 yards and eight touchdowns. Franklin said Tate might be one of the strongest players pound-for-pound.
With a 6-foot-1, 224-pound frame, Tate has the body type of a starting running back.
“I’m not the No. 1 yet. I’ve got to work for it,” Tate said. “I’ve always considered myself an every-down back. I’ve worked hard this offseason. I’ve always worked hard to be that guy, the every down back that can block and run the ball — 3rd and one, 1st and 10 — whatever they might need to be. I’m looking forward to being an every down back.”
Kimbrow has been limited in practice with an undisclosed injury. As a freshman last season, he was the team’s second-leading rusher with 413 yards. A highly touted recruit from Memphis, Kimbrow has the speed to rip off long touchdowns. But Franklin wants him to add more weight — he is listed at 5-8 and 185 pounds — in order to become an every down back.
Seymour, listed at 5-foot-7 and 192 pounds, also presents another speedy option. On Tuesday, he put together several runs reminiscent of the 2011 season. As a true freshman, he rushed 83 times for 268 yards and scored five touchdowns.
“He is probably the one guy we have on our team that when he touches the ball, everybody on our field watches and is excited because he has unbelievable change of direction,” Franklin said. “Hopefully he is going to be able to stay healthy and be durable. I know he is undersized in terms of height but when you talk about a guy who is just under 200 pounds at 5-foot-5, 5-foot-6 he is put together. So I’m excited about him coming back.”
So is Seymour. He said he felt healthy enough to play last season.
“I got back to 100 percent during the season last year,” he said. “I came off the surgery last year but then got back. I was healthy. I was ready to go. But I just used last year to just learn from Zac.”
Stacy was the school’s first multiple 1,000-yard rusher and is trying to become the first Vanderbilt running back drafted since Frank Mordica in 1980. He was on campus Tuesday preparing for Friday’s pro day.
Now, the trio — and possibly quartet — will do its best to replicate Stacy's numbers through a collective effort.
“If one of them is obviously clearly the guy and we’re having success when that guy is on the field then, yeah, we’ll have a situation where we did last year,” Franklin said. “Where Stacy played the bulk and a nice compliment of Tate and Kimbrow, which is basically what we did last year. This year I think you can have something similar to that depending on who steps up or it can be by committee. But it is too early for me to say that because nobody has been put in that position before.”
• Scrimmage on Saturday: Vanderbilt will conduct its first scrimmage on Saturday at Vanderbilt Stadium.
The scrimmage will be open to the public and begins at 9:30 a.m. It will be the first of two practices open to the public before the Black & Gold Spring Game on April 13.