Injuries test Commodores' improved depth

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

One of the keys to the improvement in Vanderbilt’s program under Bobby Johnson has been the added depth.

The Commodores have better players and more of them.

As a result, when they’ve lost starters in recent years, it hasn’t been as catastrophic.

That theory is really being tested this season.

Two more starters had surgery earlier this week -- receiver John Cole and strong safety Sean Richardson. Cole broke his hand and will miss the Ole Miss game Saturday. Richardson tore a tendon in his thumb and may possibly be able to play this weekend with a cast, but Johnson knows there are no guarantees.

Vanderbilt was already without senior free safety Ryan Hamilton, who suffered a season-ending injury against LSU. Hamilton was a captain and huge component in the Commodores’ defense. Also, senior defensive end Steven Stone remains out after breaking his foot in the preseason.

The Commodores aren’t sure about the status of freshman running back Zac Stacy (ankle) and defensive tackle T.J. Greenstone (knee) for the Ole Miss game.

Counting academic suspensions and injuries, Johnson said the Commodores are without nine or 10 players they were counting on back in the spring.

They’ve been decimated at receiver. Losing Connecticut transfer Terence Jeffers-Harris to academics was a crippling blow, as was losing senior receiver Justin Wheeler to a knee injury in the spring.

“Like just about every football team at this time of the year, our depth is going to be challenged,” Johnson said. “There’s not much you can do about it. You try to mix and match at places the best you can. I think our coaches have done a good job of that already.”

If Richardson can’t go this weekend or is limited, the Commodores plan to slide Brent Trice from linebacker back to safety.

They’re also hopeful that nickelback Jamie Graham will be able to play this week. Graham missed the Rice game with a concussion.

Despite the injuries on defense, Vanderbilt has held together well. The Commodores are fourth in the SEC in scoring defense (13.8 points per game) and fifth in total defense (266 yards per game).