Got some comments from VU football offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig off the SEC Network and from a quote he sent football SID Larry Leathers. Also, spoke with Commodores Senior defensive consultant, Osai Lewis. Have a Q&A with Osai.
And I got some quotes from ESPN draft experts Todd McShay and Mel Kiper on Zach Cunningham's draft status for tonight in the NFL Draft. The draft starts at 7 CT/8 ET and will be broadcast by ESPN. The first round is tonight, with the other rounds coming tomorrow and Saturday. The second round starts tomorrow night at 6 PM CT/ 7 PM ET on ESPN. CBS sports.com has Zach going in the first round at No.27 to Kansas City. McShay and Kiper have Zach in the second round, but I don't know if I agree with them. I'm very hopeful Zach will get picked in round 1. If he goes in round 2 he can still get on a good team and have a super chance at being a top linebacker in the National Football League. Here are comments from Andy, Osai, McShay and Kiper along with basketball news and baseball happenings.
Andy Ludwig on rising junior quarterback Kyle Shurmur:
"I'm excited about the development Kyle showed late last year. We pulled Kyle's redshirt off 6 games into his freshman season and threw him into the heat of the battle, and he responded well, but played like a freshman. He had some growing pains as he started his sophomore year, but really about halfway through the season, and you can really pinpoint the bye week of last season (in mid October), something registered and a new confidence developed within him and that allowed us to open up the playbook. When we opened up the playbook, his confidence continued to grow."
Kyle, 6'4", 224, was 210-for-375, 54%, with 9 TDs and 10 ints, but he really came on late in the season with exceptional games against Auburn, Ole Miss and Tennessee. Kyle will be superb this season. Feel really good about him. We've got good depth with 6'2", 205 redshirt freshman Deuce Wallace, and 6'2", 205 pound redshirt junior Shawn Stankavage (6'2", 202) behind him. We also have an excellent incoming freshman in high 3 star Jacob Free from Brantley, Alabama. Jacob could compete for a spot on the depth chart, though Coach Mason and Coach Ludwig may choose to redshirt him. Jacob is 6'5", 200 pounds. We've also got a 2018 commitment from 4 star Allan Walters, 6'1", 200. Watched Jacob and Allan's film and really like'em both.
On the running backs:
"Our depth at running back is extremely good. I think it's the deepest, most talented position on the offense. You talk about Ralph Webb, and Khari Blasingame, who last year moved from linebacker to running back. And last year he was just a little bit more of a ball carrier, just taking the ball and running very hard. But I look for Khari to pickup some of the nuances of the position, not to be just a runner, but to be more of a running back. It's a good 1-2 punch, but it doesn't stop there because you've got Dallas Rivers, you've got Josh Crawford, we've got a good stable of fullbacks we feel confident in. Young Jamari Wakefield coming up as a redshirt freshman. We feel real good about the depth we've got at the running back spot."
Ralph has been a mainstay of this football team for the past four years. Ralph is 5' 10", 202 pounds, but plays like a 215 pounder with his reckless abandon to go along with his explosive speed. Ralph rushed for 1,323 yards on 250 carries last season, 5.1 yards per carry with 13 TDs. He became the all time leading rusher at Vanderbilt last season. Khari ran for 453 yards and 10 TDs last year. He was more of a battering ram, hard-nosed running back for us last year, but Coach Ludwig wants and believes Khari can be more electric in the running game with longer runs, blocking in pass protection and catching passes out of the backfield and taking them distance. Khari can be a superb player for us this season. Khari is a redshirt junior and Ralph is a senior. I really likes senior Dallas Rivers (6'1", 225), who can play fullback or tailback for us. Can't remember watching Dallas block a lot, but he's a tough player, and I've seen him run it well. And I've always liked Josh. He's got a chance to be really good as well. Josh, a junior, is 5'10", 202, with good speed and good cutting/finding the hole ability. The coaches are really high on redshirt freshman Jamauri Wakefield. Jamauri is a well built at 6'1", 218 with outstanding speed and strength. He can be an electric running back for us. And sophomore Bailey McElwain is an excellent fullback at 6'1", 238. Bailey is a superior blocker and pass catcher out of the backfield and can give us tough yards when we need them like Dallas and Khari can. Really like Bailey as our starting fullback. This group gives Coach Mason and Coach Ludwig so many options with our offense. Really excited about this group as Coach Ludwig is.
On the wide receivers and tight ends:
"Four senior wideouts in the program (3 wide receivers and a tight end) and we feel really good about that. They've all got experience, they've all played a lot and caught a lot of passes in competitive situations, so we feel good about that too. (Senior) Trent Sherfield, (SR.) Caleb Scott, (Soph) Kaliji Lipscomb and (SR) C.J, Duncan are very solid, solid players. The tight end position is led by Nathan Marcus, a senior, who has played for us all 3 years in the program, and has a lot of reps under his belt. Then Jared Pinkney is a very dynamic, explosive player as a redshirt sophomore coming up. He's a reliable threat in all elements. I feel good about where we are in terms of having experienced players in the program. The first couple of years we played a lot of young guys and when you play that many young guys, exciting things happen and exciting is not all that good. This group has had a chance to grow and evolve with the existing coaches. They're not having to learn new terminology, so with the returning starters who have a lot of starts under their belts, we look for that to pay big dividends this upcoming season."
Trent caught 34 passes for 472 yards last year and a 7, and I expect his TD output to really increase. Trent, an incredibly hard worker, has made himself a high quality wide out in the SEC. Excited about what the 6'1", 200 pounder can do. C.J. Duncan is a dynamic player, who catches possession balls, but can also make the explosive plays. C.J., 5'11", 203, caught 44 passes for 494 yards last season after coming back from a really serious knee injury the year before. C.J. will be a big part of our offense. Caleb Scott is a dynamic player. I saw Caleb make spectacular catches last season, diving catches, he's fearless and has superb hands. He can make explosive plays or plays when you need a first down on 3rd and 8 or 3rd and 10. Really like Caleb and what he can do for us this season. Kalija Lipscomb, 6'1", 192, had a really fine true freshman season for us last year. He caught 27 passes for 319 yards and a pair of TDs. He's going to be a super player for us. He is already showing signs of that. I'm pretty high on upcoming sophomore Donaven Tennyson and redshirt freshman Jackson Winrow. Donaven, 5'10", 175, can be really explosive in the passing game, running reverses out of the slot, and making explosive plays, and in the punt return game. He's super fast. Jackson was not as ready to play last season as Kalija was, but I watched his film in high school and he was phenomenal. Jackson is 6'1", 185, and if he can keep developing in the weight room with Coach James Dobson, and with his pass catching skills, he can be an outstanding player for us. Nathan and Jared are excellent at tight end. Nathan, 6'5", 245, can really block and make key catches, and Jared, 6'4", 250, caught 22 passes for 274 yards and 2 TDs last season, and could be a even more of a breakout, explosive player in the passing game this season. Jared is physical and can block as well. Sam Dobbs is another one to look out for. Sam is 6'4", 225 and made a huge TD grab against Tennessee last year in which he just snatched the ball away from a UT dback and took it to the house. Coach Ludwig is really excited about this group as he is about the entire offense and I'm in total agreement with him.
On the offensive line:
"I feel very good about what the offensive line accomplished last year under Coach (Cameron) Norcross and I've seen more of the same this spring. He's doing a great job of mixing and matching the personnel to give us our top 5 and develop the depth we need."
We return 3 starters in junior right tackle Justin Skule (6'6", 310), redshirt junior right guard Bruno Reagan (6'3", 315), and redshirt sophomore left guard Ean Pfeifer (6'4", 305). Those three guys ended up having outstanding seasons for us on a line, coached by then first year coach Cameron Norcross, that became spectacular by the end of the season. We didn't play our best at the bowl game, but the way we played against Auburn, Ole Miss and Tennessee was highly impressive. I can't say enough about how impressed I am with Coach Norcross. Cameron also heavily recruited the 4 stud o linemen we got in this 2017 class of incoming freshmen. Redshirt freshman left tackle Devin Cochran, 6'7", 305, has all the tools to be a superb player for us. He is listed as the starter at that spot right now. And Cole Hardin, a 6'4", 305 redshirt junior, is the starter at center out of spring. All 5 of these guys are really solid and there is good depth behind them. I'm excited to see redshirt freshman Sean Auwae-McMoore, a 6'4", 305 lineman, get a look. He can be a really outstanding player for us. We have excellent depth with some of the freshmen having a chance to get in the 2 deep rotation. And the returning guys we have are good players as well for depth purposes. The o line is in really good shape. This offense should be terrific in my opinion. Need to give Kyle time and keep him upright, and be physical in the running game, but I have full confidence in this group and our o line coach.
I also interviewed senior defensive consultant to Coach Mason, Osai Lewis. Osai is battling liver cancer, but is fighting it tooth and nail, and talked about it a little bit with me, but wanted to talk more about his team's defense. He's a humble, sensational man and an excellent football mind. He's been a defensive coordinator in college, and he was San Diego State's defensive line coach before Coach Mason hired him in the spring of 2016 to coach the outside linebackers. He had very good defenses at San Diego State. The Aztecs had top scoring and total defenses nationally all the time. He's outstanding and Coach Mason trusts him completely.
Coach Warren Belin, a longtime assistant under Bobby Johnson, is back as our outside backers coach. Really like Coach Belin. We're in good hands there, too. He's terrific. Combining Coach Belin with inside linebackers coach Chris Marve gives us a superb duo coaching our linebacking corps.
Here's my Q&A with Coach Lewis.
DW: Coach, how are you feeling right now, you feeling OK?
Osai: "I'm feeling great. I've been through 4 cycles of chemotherapy, the tumor is shrinking and I'm going through the second half of it right now. Hopefully by mid May they'll take another picture of it, and if it's continuing to shrink, we'll go from there. Other than that, I feel great."
DW: What are you and Coach Mason doing with the defense? What is your role right now?
Osai: "I'm consulting Coach. I'm giving him some input on how we can improve as a defense. Obviously in the position I'm at I'm not on the field coaching, but I am watching. Derek Mason is one of the best defensive coordinators in the country and he doesn't need a lot from me, but if I see something, I'll let him know."
DW: How do you see this defense right now?
Osai: "You see us compared to last year we're much improved especially up front where some of our bigger guys are returning, Dare Odeyingbo (JR. defensive end, 6'2", 262), Jonathan Wynn (Sr. D end, 6'4", 265) Nifae Lealao (Sr. D tackle, 6'5", 312) , Jay Woods (SR. DT, 6'3", 292), those guys return and they had a really good spring, they improved. They're juniors and seniors and that's what we need to do to stop people up front. Any time you can get older up front it's a good thing. With the veterans there, we have some good youth there who are promising and they've improved. We've gotten better."
DW: Do you like the depth coming along behind the veterans like Cameron Tidd (Redshirt freshman Defensive lineman, 6'3", 290) and some others?
Osai: They've gotten better. They took to the coaching. The things we're asking them to do plays to their strengths, and as we move along we're going to enjoy the progress they've made."
We also have some pretty stud-like freshmen coming in, Michael Owusu (6'6', 210 d end-OLB), Dayo Odeyingbo (6'4", 252, Dare's little brother). Stone Edwards, a 6'4", 240 d end, is someone Coach Mason was raving about in our signee discussion in February after signing day.
DW: What do you like about the linebackers?
Osai: "Talking about the inside guys we've got great length in there, great athletic ability. Moving Oren Burks in there (6'3", 226 redshirt senior, could be a captain, heckuva leader and player), Emmanuel Smith (6'2", 225) along with Jordan Griffin (junior 6'0", 225) they all returna and we like the ability there. They've been on the field, played high level SEC football, and some of them are playing new positions, but we saw them improve throughout the spring. Having Jay Hockaday (6'3", 228 sophomore) return from a knee is going to really help. And having Dimitri Moore (6'3", 208 early enrollee freshman) in here this semester, has helped us a lot. Outside, we thought Charles Wright (6'3", 242) had a really good spring. We saw a lot of good stuff from him. Josh Smith (JR. 6'4", 236 high 4 star in 2015 class) on the other side, feel good about him. He's improved every day. Caleb Peart( 6'1", 234) had a good spring, too. He's improved and he'll be in the rotation as well. Our 2 freshmen went through their first spring and we saw a lot of improvement out of them."
Tae Dailey, a high 3 star safety out of Georgia, was our other freshman early enrollee.
DW: Coach, finally, how do you like corner and safety?
Osai: "Corner, we have Joejuan Williams (Soph. 6'3", 205 high 4 star in 2016 class). Joejuan came in and played a lot as a freshman. He's no longer a freshman. He's a big, tall corner at 6'3". He's the type of corner you like in this league. He did nothing but improve this spring. Taurean Ferguson ( SR. 5'9", 190 played a lot of nickel last year) is a senior with experience and showed a lot of improvement this spring. Elijah Hamilton (Redshirt freshman 6'2", 195) had a good spring. The most steady guy who's been out on the field for us isTrey Herndon (SR. 6'1", 188). He's really reliable."
At safety, we've got potential All-SEC performer Ryan White at strong safety. Ryan is a spectacular hitter and a playmaker. Ryan is a 5'10", 192 senior. Tre Tarpley is our starting free safety. Tre's solid at 6'1", 204. He's also a senior. Hard hitting LaDarius Wiley, a 6'1" 205 senior, will play a big role on the back end, as will junior Andrew Rector (6'0", 198). Tae Dailey, our early enrollee, will add depth.
One player I really like that Coach Lewis and I didn't talk about, but who I know he and Coach Mason really like is high 4 star 2015 cornerback signee Donovan Sheffield. Excited to see what our 5'1", 195 pound junior can do. Donovan made a huge strip of a Tennessee running back that Zach C. recovered and took back. I remember it being a big play in the game. I like what Donovan can do for us. He's pretty special actually.
DW: Coach, do you think this is a defense that can help us win a lot of games?
Osai: "Oh yeah. I feel like defensively, if you look at the front to backend, we've got senior leadership. We've got juniors who've played a lot of football for us. They had to play a lot when they were young. Having had that happen gives us an edge. We have guys who are ready to go and help us win games."
DW: What do you think about the schedule we've got this year?
Osai: I like it because any time you get 12 football games, you get a chance to play a lot and I like playing. When you look at a schedule, you look at where are the challenges and there's enough challenge in it. We've got Alabama here, we've got Georgia here, and that's why as a football player you want to play in the SEC. And if you're a coach, you want to coach in the SEC because you want to play against the best. It's a huge challenge."
DW: Coach, how do you like this team overall, do you think they can be a highly successful group?
Osai: "I think so. You look at where we're at, our quarterback's been in our system. Coach Ludwig and I were together at San Diego State and he's one of the best offensive coordinators in the country calling plays and preparing people. You look at our running back situation, we've got good running backs and receivers, and you look at our offensive line, and they're huge like they all are in the SEC. When you look at us as a team, we're working really hard, we're improving as a team and our best football is in front of us."
Todd McShay on Zach:
"Cunningham, I really like him. I see him worth a late second, early third. It's a really deep draft. He's long, I think he's good in coverage. He's a really good sideline to sideline. The tackling's got to improve. He made 228 tackles 16 tackles for loss, and 6 forced fumbles. So there is production there, speed, length, coverage ability, I just think that the ball skills and tackling need to improve for him to be an elite player."
I see what McShay is talking about, but knowing Zach, he will work relentlessly to improve all of his skills. He's a superb player.
Here's Mel Kiper on Zach:
"In terms of Cunningham, you love the length, Jon Gruden made that point. He's rangy, 6'3", 1/2. These inside linebackers with long arms are tough for quarterbacks to deal with. His production was outstanding, he gets to the football in a fast fashion. He's decent in coverage in the short, intermediate area. Where he needs to work on is becoming a more sure tackler. The games I saw, him against Tennessee, I watched him against Georgia and others, there were too many missed tackles. That's the thing. He doesn't always drive through the tackle, he doesn't always wrap up. That's something he needs to improve on. But he gets it. He's rangy, he's aggressive, I think he gets into the second round then he's going to come off the board."
Like what Mel says about him, but Zach did make some really good tackles against many teams. The Georgia hit to win the game for us in Athens on 4th and 1 was a pretty sure tackle. Zach will work hard to improve on everything. That's who he is. If an NFL team doesn't draft him in the first round, they will get a steal in the second because you're getting a super football player who, as importantly, is a high character, solid young man who will do the right things and work his tail off to be the best teammate and best player he can be and help his team win a lot of games Can't wait to see Zach play in the National Football League.
We've also got some other guys like left tackle Will Holden and defensive tackle Adam Butler, both outstanding players, who have a shot to be drafted.
Basketball Transfer Commit
Matt Ryan, a 6'8", 228 power forward, is coming to VU and will be on the bench this season, but a key part of the 2018 and 2019 teams. Matt was a 94, 4 star in 2015, and is transferring to us after his sophomore year at Notre Dame. He'll bring a lot of outside shooting and some toughness inside. He's from New York state and they make their basketball players tough up there. He played 72 games for the Fighting Irish the last two years, and was known as a superb shooter. He was 82 of 206 from trifecta in his two years at South Bend, good for 40%. Like what Bryce has added here, and Bryce is not done. Evan Cole, a 6'9", 215 pound center-power forward from Georgia, was on campus yesterday or today and is very interested. Georgia Tech and some others are after the outstanding 3 star. Evan is a high school senior. Going to start doing some film watching and give you a better picture of Matt in the upcoming days. And if Evan commits, him too. There are some other guys we're still looking at as transfers, so there's some interesting stuff Bryce has going on.
Baseball hosts UT this weekend
Never want to de-value our baseball team putting them last on this list because I really believe in them. Corbs told me recently it's a group that is still "growing, but they're not near where they need to be to be elite." We are presently 25-16 overall and 9-9 in the SEC. We're in decent shape to make the SEC tournament, as it only takes 12 teams, and hopefully make the NCAA tournament. We've certainly got the talent to do well the rest of the year. Starting pitching has gotten better, defense still needs to keep getting better, and the bullpen needs to be more consistent. Our bats have been really good at times, and not so good at other times. But I say all of this because, like Coach Corbin, I know these guys can be really good, but they've got to get started right now if they want to be a typical Tim Corbin team. There was no mid-week game this week. Tennessee comes to Nashville tomorrow through Sunday. Friday's game is at 6:30 PM CT on SEC Network+, and Saturday and Sundays games are on the SEC Network. Saturday's game is at 4 PM CT and Sunday's game is at 3 PM CT. We need to do well here. I know Corbs likes to talk about getting better day to day, and I agree with that, but we need a sweep to get a major confidence boost and to start moving forward with this team and becoming the stellar group they're capable of.
One on one with SEC Championship Golf Coach Scott Limbaugh. You'll like it.