Spring superlatives: Vanderbilt

We wrap up today our post-spring look at each team’s strengths and weaknesses by turning our attention to the Commodores.

Strongest position: Secondary

Key returnees: Junior strong safety Sean Richardson (84 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, two pass breakups), junior cornerback Casey Hayward (58 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, two interceptions), junior cornerback Jamie Graham (27 tackles, two interceptions), sophomore cornerback Eddie Foster (17 tackles, one interception)

Key departures: Cornerback Myron Lewis (41 tackles, four interceptions), safety Ryan Hamilton (seven tackles)

The skinny: It’s hard to argue the Commodores’ strength at running back with SEC Freshman of the Year Warren Norman returning along with a healthy Zac Stacy. But they should be even stronger in the secondary, where Richardson and Hayward will be among the best players at their respective positions in the conference next season. Richardson has All-SEC potential after a terrific sophomore season. He’s a sure tackler who’s always around the ball and making plays. He also showed his toughness a year ago by playing through a hand injury. Hayward’s running mate at cornerback will be the versatile Graham, who spent some time on offense earlier in his career, but seems settled in now in the defensive backfield. Foster returns as the nickel back and added some size and muscle during the offseason. Jamie Bryant’s secondary has finished in the top-20 nationally against the pass each of the past three seasons and will incorporate some promising young players into the mix this fall, including redshirt freshman safety Jay Fullam.

Weakest position: Wide receivers

Key returnees: Sophomore John Cole (36 catches, 382 yards, one touchdown), junior Udom Umoh (20 catches, 267 yards, one touchdown)

Key departures: Alex Washington (11 catches, 125 yards)

The skinny: The Commodores have had some bad luck at the receiver position the last couple of years with Terence Jeffers not making it academically and Justin Wheeler suffering a serious knee injury. And even though Cole battled and scrapped his way to an SEC All-Freshman season a year ago, the Commodores simply didn’t have a lot of options in the passing game, at least the kind that are going to keep SEC defenses honest. One of the most encouraging developments of the spring was the way sophomore Brady Brown came on after playing early last season as a true freshman and then injuring his leg. He could be a nice complement to Cole, who was pretty much a one-man show a year ago. Umoh still needs to be more consistent catching the ball, and perhaps junior Tray Herndon will find his niche in this offense after doing very little last season following his transfer from Minnesota. The same goes for sophomore Akeem Dunham. Nobody on the team caught more than one touchdown pass a year ago, which isn’t all the receivers’ fault. But they do need to make more plays down the field to open up things for the offense in 2010. A pair of 6-4 incoming freshmen, Chris Boyd and Jordan Matthews, won’t have to wait long to show what they can do once they get on the practice field in August.