Vanderbilt now looks the part

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Vanderbilt opens spring practice on Friday with the kind of momentum this program has rarely enjoyed.

The Commodores own the SEC’s longest active winning streak at seven straight games. They won nine games a year ago for the first time in nearly 100 years.

But one of the surest signs the Commodores are on the right track as they enter Year No. 3 under James Franklin is the depth they’ve built and the size and strength of the players on the roster now.

“The biggest difference is the defensive line, and hopefully, the offensive line,” Franklin said. “We have a chance to be close to 300 pounds across the offensive line and four deep at defensive tackle. We haven’t had that before.”

The Commodores redshirted all of their true freshmen offensive linemen last season, and Franklin said it’s just a better looking group all the way around.

“Two years ago at offensive tackle, we were about 260 or 257 and got up around 285,” Franklin said. “By the end of last year, Wesley Johnson was back down to 265. Think about playing in the SEC at offensive tackle at 265. That’s high school.

“We have a chance to be 300 pounds or close to it along the offensive line, 300 at defensive tackle, 250 at defensive end, and the other area is tight end. Kris Kentera was 217 last year and 235 now.”

On defense, senior end Walker May is up to 250 pounds. He came to Vanderbilt as a freshman at 208 pounds and played at 235 last season. Junior end Kyle Woestmann is up to 255, and sophomore end Caleb Azubike is now 269. Azubike played at 247 last season.

Franklin said the Commodores still have to do their share of projecting during the recruiting process in terms of which players can put on weight and transition to a different position. But they’re also bringing in more guys, similar to highly rated defensive tackle signee Jay Woods, who are closer to being SEC-ready when they arrive.

“We’re doing a little bit of both instead of all projections now,” Franklin said. “For us to think we can go out and sign 25 players who are all going to walk in here looking like SEC players, that’s not going to happen. We’ll have more misses and more mistakes that way. Everybody wants those guys.

“We’ll take half of those guys and others who may take a year and a half to get there. Where we’ve really improved is our training table, our supplements and our strength coach.”