Vanderbilt head football coach Bobby Johnson is hoping for a large turnout of Commodore fans Saturday for the annual Black and Gold Scrimmage (10 a.m., Vanderbilt Stadium). But those hoping to catch senior quarterback Jay Cutler in action, Johnson warns, had better make plans to arrive on time.
Johnson plans to start Cutler, Vandy's biggest offensive star, at quarterback along with the first-team offense. But Johnson said Wednesday the coaches plan to pull Cutler early in the intra-squad scrimmage, in order both to avoid injury and to give the backups valuable, live game-type experience.
"We're going to obviously play Jay some, but we're going to get Steven Bright and Chris Nickson in the game and see what those guys can do," said Johnson. "We'll be running the ball a lot, but we're going to be throwing a lot of shorter type passes, getting the ball into the hands of our wide receivers and trying to get them to make some yardage, along with our tight end."
Cutler, who projects as an All-SEC and perhaps All-America candidate this fall, has held a stranglehold on the starting job for the past three seasons. He delighted Commodore fans-- not to mention Johnson and his staff-- in January, when he announced his intent to return for his senior season rather than enter the NFL draft. By staying for a fourth year of eligibility, Cutler has a chance to graduate as the school's all-time leader in a number of passing and total offense categories.
But Cutler, who has 34 career starts to his credit, is very much a proven commodity. Instead, the spotlight Saturday will be on Vandy's quarterbacks of the future, Bright (6-3, 235) and Nickson (6-1, 210).
Bright, a fourth-year junior from Greer, S.C., has seen limited playing time the last two seasons as Cutler's backup. Nickson, a redshirt freshman from Brundidge, Ala. and a former Mr. Football from that state, sat out last year and will be eligible to see his first college action this fall.
Saturday's Black and Gold scrimmage is being promoted as part of "'Dore Days", which includes a number of on-campus sporting events spread over an eight-day period. Typically the Black and Gold Scrimmage marks the end of spring practice, but this year it serves as only the eighth of 15 allotted practice sessions allowed in the spring.
"Hopefully you're going to see some guys playing with some confidence, because we've been doing the same things over and over so far," Johnson said.
"We're not very deep into practice. This is only our second week of practice. We're having the game this week so we can be in here with the baseball team and their games against Alabama this weekend, and have a family outing for our players, their families, and our recruits coming in."
Admission to the Black and Gold Scrimmage is free.
Coming Friday: In a lengthy one-on-one interview, Coach Johnson updates VandyMania readers on the team's progress thus far this spring.