March 9, 2016
Vanderbilt got solid production from the offensive line in 2016. The line wasn’t spectacular, but they opened enough holes for Ralph Webb and kept Kyle Shurmur mostly upright, and that played a big role in a late-season offensive surge.
While the Commodores return basically all of their skill position players from 2016, the offensive line has a 6’7″, 312-pound hole to fill with Will Holden now playing for the Arizona Cardinals. Who will play at the tackle spot in 2017?
(Note: before you ask, I’m dividing the OL into tackles and interior linemen mostly for organizational purposes, but some of the players listed here could play at guard.)
Justin Skule, junior: Skule saw playing time as a true freshman in 2015, then became Vanderbilt’s starting right tackle as a sophomore. Skule started all 13 games at right tackle.
However, it’s unlikely that he will make a start at right tackle in 2017 — because he’s moving to the other side of the line to replace Holden. At 6’6″ and 315 pounds, Skule has SEC-level size and is also one of the most experienced linemen on Vanderbilt’s roster with 15 career starts. Now he’ll have the job of protecting Kyle Shurmur’s blind side.
Devin Cochran, redshirt freshman: There was some talk that Cochran might play as a true freshman after Andrew Jelks got hurt, but with Skule and Holden staying healthy and effective, Cochran took a redshirt year.
Cochran is a physical specimen at 6’7″ and 305 pounds, and after a redshirt year he’s in the competition to start at right tackle — though no one has claimed the job just yet. Either way, odds are good that Cochran will be a starter at tackle at some point in his career.
Bailey Granier, redshirt junior: Granier contributed mostly at guard in 2016, but he has the size to play tackle at 6’6″ and 316 pounds and is in the mix to start at right tackle — though of course, he could also be a starter at guard. That decision seems to be mostly on whether Cochran is ready to start. Granier’s size says tackle but his agility suggests that he could have more of an impact at guard.
Jared Southers, redshirt sophomore: Southers was Vanderbilt’s primary reserve tackle in 2016, appearing in ten games. Now he’s another candidate to start at right tackle or at guard.
At 6’5″ and 310 pounds, Southers has good size and should get some playing time on the line even if he’s not starting. At the very least, he’s solid injury depth.
Johnathan Stewart, freshman: At 6’8″ and 305 pounds, Stewart has obvious potential. He’s also fairly raw and will probably need a year or more before he’s ready to contribute. Don’t expect to see him play this year, but he’s a good prospect down the road.
Cole Clemens, freshman: Want to know the difference between now and 2014/2015? In the first couple of years under Derek Mason, somebody like Clemens — a strong offensive line prospect at 6’6″ and 305 pounds who’s also fairly advanced for a true freshman — would have been pushed into action early as Vanderbilt just didn’t have much in front of him. In fact, such a player DID play as a true freshman (Justin Skule.)
But in 2017, Clemens is a likely redshirt — and that says a lot more about Vanderbilt’s offensive line depth than it does about Clemens.
Bryce Bailey, freshman: Most of what I wrote about Clemens also applies to Bryce Bailey. One or both could ultimately end up at guard, but for now, they’re prospects at tackle. Bailey was a first-team All-State OL in Indiana and a two-time state finalist in the shot put; like Clemens and Stewart, he’s probably redshirting this year.