July 17, 2017
July 17, 2017
Paced by a record-breaking running back, quality depth and a quarterback who appears to improve with each start, the assembly of talent in the Commodore offensive backfield matches any in recent team history.
The backfield, directed by third-year coordinator Andy Ludwig, quarterbacks coach Gerry Gdowski and running backs coach Jeff Genyk, looks to build on its successes from a year ago, create more explosive plays, and keep turnovers to a minimum.
Gdowski expects more progress from junior Kyle Shurmur, who enters his second year as a full-time starter. In 2016, Shurmur threw for 2,409 yards, the most ever by a Vanderbilt sophomore. He also capped the regular season in outstanding fashion, averaging 290.5 passing yards during the team’s last four conference games. The late-season stretch was highlighted by a 416-yard passing effort in the Commodores’ win over Tennessee.
Vanderbilt’s running back corps, arguably the team’s deepest unit, is led by senior Ralph Webb, who has become the team’s career rushing leader in three years and is well on his way to becoming one of the leading rushers in SEC history.
An All-SEC recipient and preseason Maxwell Award candidate, Webb has been a durable, record-smashing force since the 2014 season. In 37 starts, Webb has amassed 3,342 rushing yards and 22 rushing touchdowns. His rushing total ranks No. 20 on the SEC career charts. Webb has been remarkably consistent, rewriting the team’s freshman, sophomore and junior rushing records.
The Commodores are solid behind Webb. Redshirt junior Khari Blasingame, a punishing inside-the-tackles presence, was a huge factor in Vanderbilt’s improved red-zone success, rushing for 10 touchdowns and 449 yards.
Senior Dallas Rivers enters his final season with nearly 500 career rushing yards, and impressed well late in the 2016 regular season. Junior Josh Crawford brings two years of experience to the position. The future is also bright for redshirt freshman Jamauri Wakefield, who ranked among team’s most outstanding players this spring.
Sophomore Bailey McElwain returns at fullback after significantly contributing as a true freshman. McElwain’s punishing blocks helped open holes for Webb’s record-breaking campaign and helped the offense become one of the nation’s most efficient units inside the 20-yard line. McElwain is backed by the versatile Rivers and redshirt freshman Jaire George, who switched to fullback during spring drills.
The Commodores also have added junior Ke’Shawn Vaughn, who transferred to Vanderbilt from the University of Illinois where he was the team’s Offensive Newcomer of the Year in 2015. Vaughn hails from Nashville where he produced a sensational prep career at Pearl-Cohn High School. He will sit out this season due to NCAA transfer rules.