Vanderbilt Position Preview: RUNNING BACKS

Warren Norman (VM/Stan Jones)

VandyMania.com continues its analysis of the 2011 Vanderbilt football team position-by-position. Today we look at the Commodore running backs. Expected to be a strength for the team in 2010, nagging injuries set back this unit. No depth chart was released by VU after spring drills but here's a rundown on how things could possibly end up.

RUNNING BACKS

Starter(s):

TB #5 Warren Norman (5-10, 195 Jr.) 
FB #35 * Blake Southerland (6-2, 230 RS-So.)

Backups:

TB #2 Zac Stacy (5-9, 210 So.)  
TB #24 Wesley Tate (6-2, 220 RS-So.) 
FB #45 Marc Panu (6-2, 250 RS-Jr.)
FB #38 Fitz Lassing (6-3, 230 So.)

Players to watch:

TB #20 Micah Powell (6-0, 215 RS-Jr.)
TB Mitchell Hester (5-9, 180 Fr.)
TB Jerron Seymour (5-7, 188 Fr.)

Last season the Vanderbilt running back position was similar to a combat MASH unit. Every week it was a question of who would be able to play and who wouldn't.  Vandy's top three running backs- Warren Norman, Zac Stacy and Wesley Tate- were all battling injuries from game one.  The walking wounded running backs along with a young offensive line led to a disastrous results and a new coaching staff.   New offensive coordinator John Donovan will coach a talented group of returning Commodore running backs in 2011. Donovan also coached runners at Maryland and helped two of them each finish with over 700 yards rushing in 2010. 

When Warren Norman committed to Vanderbilt in July of 2008 many Commodore followers knew Vanderbilt had picked up a special player.  It wasn't because Norman had run for over 2,500 yards and 39 touchdowns during his high school career, all one needed to do was watch his highlight video to see he was a gifted player.  Norman had breakaway speed and shifty moves that allowed him to leave defenders in his dust. Norman didn't disappoint as a freshman, breaking the great Herschel Walker's record for all-purpose yards by a freshman (1,941).  Norman finished with 783 yards rushing, 108 yards receiving and had 1,050 yards in kickoff returns. 

At first glance, during his sophomore year in 2010 it appears that Norman regressed but nothing could be further from the truth.  While Norman's season rushing yardage dropped to under 500, keep in mind that he increased his yards per carry from 5.4 to 6.0. Norman played injured most of the season and finally at Arkansas he was finished for the season and missed the final three games.  Because of injuries he had only about half the carries he had in 2009. Vandy fans are anxious to see what Norman can do as a junior while fully healthy and with a couple years of experience under his belt.  

Zac Stacy was just as highly celebrated of a recruit as Warren Norman, in fact, Stacy was listed ahead of Norman in the 2009 depth chart but Norman took over after an injury slowed Stacy.  During his career at Bibb County high school in Alabama, Stacy rushed for over 5,800 yards and 76 touchdowns.  Stacy, like Norman, hasn't disappointed Commodore fans. He's had over 800 combined rushing yards in his two seasons at Vandy. In the 28-14 win at Ole Miss last season, Stacy had a 67-yard run and another 35-yard touchdown jaunt. Look for a bigger and stronger Zac in 2011. If Stacy and Norman can both stay healthy Commodore opponents had better look out. These two fine runners combined with the expected improvement on the offensive line will spell trouble for Vandy opponents.

Wesley Tate, brother of Seattle Seahawks receiver Golden Tate, is a big running back with power and speed. After being redshirted in 2009 as a freshman while Norman and Stacy both excelled he was slowed with an injury much of the 2010 season and had just one carry in the opener against Northwestern. His best games came in the big win at Ole Miss (30 yards) and against Florida (7 carries, 41 yards).  He finished the season with 40 carries for 140 yards. Tate was one of the bright spots on the offense during the spring game as he rushed for 40 yards in nine carries. Don't be surprised to see him moved to fullback in an effort to get him on the field more while utilizing his size and power.

Micah Powell rushed for over 700 yards as a senior at East Lake High School in Florida.  Powell played in the Commodore defensive secondary during the 2008 and 2009 seasons. He moved to running back during the preseason of 2010. Look for Powell to provide solid depth at Vandy's running back position while continuing to give the Commodore great play on special teams units. 

An all-state linebacker in high school at Greater Atlanta Christian School, Blake Southerland was moved to the position in the spring from linebacker.  Southerland has been hampered by injuries throughout his young career at Vandy and didn't play in the Black & Gold game. If he can overcome his physical ailments he has the size, strength and tenacity to play fullback for the Commodores.

Fitz Lassing was listed as a fullback in Vanderbilt's pre-spring release but later played tight end in the Black & Gold game.   Lassing ran for over 1,400 yards as a senior at Nashville's Montgomery Bell Academy, earning all-state honors.  During the spring scrimmage he had one catch for 14 yards.  With Brandon Barden coming back at tight end, it makes sense to use Lassing as a fullback. He's a big, strong, tough runner who is very coachable. He also has the ability to make catches which gives opponents something extra to worry about.

Marc Panu is not your run of the mill walk on.  As a senior defensive lineman at Whitefield Academy in Georgia he recorded 19 sacks and earned all-state honors. Panu has the size and athleticism to play fullback and could see action in 2011.  He had three carries for minus 5 yards in the spring game.

Florida natives Mitchell Hester and Jerron Seymour each ran for over 4,000 yards during their prep careers.  Both have the speed and moves to make it at the college level, however, they'll likely see limited playing time while Norman, Stacy and Tate are still in Nashville.

* VandyMania is working to verify Southerland's status as a player for 2011.

Other Vanderbilt Position Previews

Defensive Ends
Defensive Tackles
Tight Ends
Quarterbacks
Wide Receivers
Running Back
Offensive Line
Linebackers (coming soon)
Defensive Backs (coming soon).

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