A fired up, confident Derek Mason took the podium on Thursday, the final day of SEC Media Days, and you would have thought he was trying to recruit the entire room.
The Vanderbilt head coach entering his fifth year made it clear that he believes this is his most complete, mature, and deepest team since taking over in Nashville.
“Now I look at our depth and say it’s as good as it’s ever been” said Mason, “everybody has been watching what’s on the surface of our program, I believe what’s come behind these seniors and what happened to our recruiting classes really propelled this group”.
Mason immediately addressed the position groups in which Vanderbilt lost a lot of production, particularly at running back, where outgoing senior Ralph Webb leaves an inexperienced position group. However, Mason is confident former linebacker Khari Blasingame will be able to pick up where Webb left off, but he will need some help from the rest of the offense.
“I think we have more depth at the tailback position than we’ve ever had. It’s not just about Khari. It’s about all of these guys having to play well. But with the offensive line being better, our run game is going to get off to a fast start. And I believe it’s going to help the pass game. We are going to be the type of offensive football team that is going to be exciting to watch, especially with the running backs and tight ends. With Khari leading that group, we truly believe we’ll have success”.
Another common theme during Mason’s press conference was most of his players flying under the radar in the eyes of national media, but the Commodores’ head man seemed pretty content with that.
“Nobody’s talking about Joejuan Williams, and that’s okay. Nobody is talking about LaDarius Wiley, that’s okay. Joejuan Williams, when you look at the second of half of the season, he shut down some big-time receivers and played well”.
“I truly believe Kyle Shurmur is one of the most improved quarterbacks and one of the most dynamic passers in this conference that people are not talking about. That’s okay. I don’t need people to talk about Kyle Shurmur. I know and I understand his pedigree, and I have seen his development of when he was a freshman and where he is now”.
Mason continued to rave about Shurmur, as well as the rest of his team, sending a strong message to those doubting Vanderbilt’s ability to compete in the SEC after a disappointing 5-7 season in 2017.
Another strong theme of Mason’s monologue was his relinquishing of the defensive coordinator role to Jason Tarver, who Mason worked with in his time at Stanford.
“For me, it was never meant to be long term. That process was about me going through the idea of looking at coaches, figuring out exactly who I can bring in” said Mason, “I really identified the target three years ago, but he was under contract. And that was Jason Tarver. There were only two guys in the country that I would have relinquished this defense to, one is at Stanford University, Lance Anderson, and the other is Jason Tarver”.
After a 3-0 start to 2017, Vandy lost seven of the remaining nine games on the schedule, starting with a 59-0 drubbing at the hands of Alabama. Mason reflected on not letting a loss like that affect other games.
“A loss is a loss. You can’t let one become two become three become four in this conference. And that’s what I did. That is me being too much of a boots on the ground guy and not seeing it from a bird’s eye view”.
Vanderbilt quarterback Kyle Shurmur also talked about the disappointment of last season, and how that affects Vanderbilt’s goals going into 2018.
“First and foremost we’ve got to get back to bowl eligibility” said Shurmur, “that is one clear cut goal. But we always talk about taking things one step at a time, as I’ve said. Our full focus right now is finishing the summer program and having a great fall camp so that we can put ourselves in a position to have a great game week one”.
“Because if we don’t do that, then we’re not going to have success the rest of the year”.
To cap off Derek Mason’s monologue, the head coach gave one last message of confidence.
“We’re going to play well. We are going come out the blocks and play the way we need to, and we’re going to finish this the way we should, the Vanderbilt way, Vanderbilt men salute”.
Vanderbilt opens up the 2018 season with a week one matchup at home against MTSU on September 1.