Energy dominates first spring practice

Vanderbilt opened its spring practice on Friday afternoon at the John Rich Practice Complex with a session Head Coach James Franklin utilized to focus on teaching the players how to "practice the right way" – namely, with a heightened tempo and concentration.

"It's the first day, they're starting to figure out how we're going to do things around here," said Franklin. "Ask me tomorrow, I'll have a much better idea: Did we take the next step? As long as we improve every single day, we'll be where we need to be."

The players went through various position-specific drills and received instruction from the assistant coaches before moving on to passing and formation drills and 1-on-1 and 7-on-7 sessions. Franklin moved about the field quickly, demanding that players play through each repetition until the whistle was blown and establishing early on that he would not hesitate to chew out players who made mistakes.

"They actually gave us the practice walk-through yesterday," said wide receiver Jordan Matthews, who broke into the lineup late last season and caught four touchdown passes. "They wanted to make sure we were able to come on the field and know everything that way we didn't have mental errors. We still had some, but for the most part we erased a lot that we would've had without it."

His assistant coaches matched his energy level, both negative and positive. Defensive backs coach Wesley McGriff was particularly animated with the cornerbacks and safeties during 1-on-1 coverage drills, walking players who made mistakes through the holes in their technique and sprinting excitedly down the field in pursuit of those who made big plays in search of high-fives.

Quarterbacks Larry Smith, Charlie Goro and Jordan Rodgers took turns taking the main snaps during drills, and while there were the dropped passes, overthrows and fumbled snaps that are expected out of the first day of spring ball, all three had bright moments.

During passing drills, redshirt freshman receiver Chris Boyd broke free down the sidelines and made a nice play in the air for a long gain, prompting an enthusiastic response from Matthews, who ran almost 80 yards to the other end of the field to meet his buddy for a celebratory mid-air side-bump.

"That's my boy," said Matthews of Boyd. "In pads you can barely tell us apart. We like to joke around sometimes and tell people we're cousins and stuff, and people always believe us. That's my boy – whenever he does well, you know I'm always going to dap him up. I want to see him do well. He got redshirted last year, and this'll be a real breakout season for him. He's a great receiver and he could be one of the best in the SEC."

As loose as Matthews and Boyd were, tensions mounted as the mistakes piled up under the pressure the coaching staff applied all practice long. A brief scuffle after a play between linemen Jabo Burrow and Jared Morse was quickly broken up, and Franklin stopped a drill at another point and gathered the team at midfield to demand a change in its mentality during practice.

Three players recovering from injuries wore red jerseys and did not participate in practice: running back Warren Norman, tight end Mason Johnston and defensive end Thad McHaney.

The practice was used as the first of three sessions this spring during which the team must practice without pads on. Saturday's practice will also be helmets-only, with the pads coming on for the first time on Tuesday. Saturday's practice gets underway at 11:15 p.m. CT.