There weren’t many bright spots for the Vanderbilt in 2015. The Commodores went 3-9 and finished winless in SEC games.
Vanderbilt ranked last among SEC teams in total offense with 288.3 yards per game, while no other team averaged below 300 yards. The Commodores also ranking last in scoring offense with an average of 17.2 points per game and was the only team to average less than 27.6.
Vanderbilt’s defense also had its struggles, ranking last among SEC teams in scoring defense with an average of 33.3. But the defensive lapses were based on the offense’s inability to stay on the field and force tough field position for opposing teams.
In 2015, head coach Derek Mason’s mission is to field a competitive team. The Commodores lacked consistency but saw its strongest performances from several young players.
Here’s a look at five players to watch for Vanderbilt in 2015.
QB Johnny McCrary
The Commodores suffered through a roulette of starting quarterbacks in 2015. The team made more than 10 switches by midseason and saw each of its four QBs make starts.
Patton Robinette and Johnny McCrary were the only two to win games. Robinette spent most of his season recovering from a concussion which ultimately forced his retirement this offseason.
McCrary tied Jay Cutler and Bill Wade’s school passing touchdown record (5) during Vanderbilt’s 42-28 victory against Old Dominion. The redshirt freshman threw for 281 yards on 20-of-29 passing.
McCrary should have more experience after appearing in seven appearances in 2015. But he must first beat out Wade Freebeck to reclaim the starting job in fall camp.
RB Ralph Webb
Ralph Webb was the one consistent positive factor of the SEC’s worst offense. He rushed for 907 yards, which set a new freshman school record and ranked ninth in the SEC.
He also averaged 4.28 yards per attempt, despite carrying the load of the SEC’s worst offensive unit. Mason vowed to give Webb more carries late in games, but the Commodores always found themselves playing from behind and opting to pass.
Vanderbilt should see improvement in its passing game with a a more experienced McCrary at quarterback. Webb would benefit from a less obvious offensive scheme and continue to provide a solid option at tailback.
TE Steven Scheu
While Vanderbilt failed to find a consistent No. 1 option at wide receiver, its tight end group was solid in 2015. Scheu led the Commodores with 525 receiving yards and tied for a team-best four touchdowns.
He also led Vanderbilt with 39 catches. The 6-foot-5, 250-pound tight end excels as both a receiving option and blocker and should remain a key factor in the team’s offense.
LB Nigel Bowden
Bowden led all SEC freshmen with 78 tackles and was the first freshman to lead the Commodores since All-American Jamie Winborn in 1998. He also became the first Vanderbilt linebacker voted to the freshman All-SEC team since Chris Marve in 2008.
With Mason also taking over as defensive coordinator, Bowden should continue his development in 2015. While at Stanford, the coach helped develop several standout players, including NFL All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman, All-American defensive end Trent Murphy, linebacker Shayne Skov and All-Pac-12 safety Ed Reynolds.
Bowden has the potential to be a star player on a defensive unit that should see improvement in Mason’s second year. The rising sophomore has also shown the toughness to play through injuries and could take on a leadership role for the young Vanderbilt defense.
The sophomore confirmed that he has healed and took on several new remedies during his rehabilitation.
“I’m feeling great,” Bowden said during SEC Media Days. “I’ve just been getting with some of the other players and stretching more, doing some yoga — hot yoga — and getting ice baths. I never thought I’d be able to stand on my head but I can right now. It’s flexibility mostly.”
LB Stephen Weatherly
Weatherly made the transition from defensive end to outside linebacker in Derek Mason’s 3-4 scheme last season. He led Vanderbilt in both sacks (4.5) and tackles for loss (12.5) and had 55 total tackles in nine starts.
He provides the perfect compliment to Bowden and senior defensive end Caleb Azubike in what should be an improved front seven. He has improved his tackling, his ability to work off blocks and use his hands to his advantage this offseason, according to 247Sports.com.