VandyMania Interview: Bobby Johnson (Part 2)

Bobby Johnson (AP)

In Part Two of an exclusive two-part interview, Vanderbilt head coach Bobby Johnson goes one-on-one with VandyMania's Brent Wiseman to answer questions regarding the team's progress in spring practices. This segment focuses on defense and the kicking game.

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Click here to read part one of this two-part interview with Vanderbilt head football coach Bobby Johnson. Note: This interview was conducted before last Saturday's Black & Gold scimmage.)

VM: Coach, let's talk about defense just a bit. On the spring depth chart it really looks as though you've moved some players around, maybe to help get them in the best position. In particular, Andrew Pace going to cornerback kind of surprised me.

Johnson: Well, we moved Andrew from safety to corner, and we're using him in the "boundary" corner. He's not going to be out in space so much. Sometimes we can put a safety over there behind him on the short side. But Andrew's got excellent speed. He's big, and he's 6-foot and about 205 pounds, so he can be physical over there. I think it's a good move. We also moved Herdley Harrison from linebacker to defensive end, and he is having an outstanding spring. He's really conscientious, works hard, and hustles every play. Chris Booker is back. He's having an excellent spring too. It's amazing what experience does. He just sees things a little bit better than all the other ends do right now, because he's a little more experienced. Right now he's making a lot of plays for us. David Carter is going to be a good player for us at end. He was a high school quarterback. He's a good athlete who can move, and he's working out very well there. So I would say the [defensive] line has been a very pleasant surprise for us. Lamar Divens is playing well at tackle, and so are Ray Brown and Ralph McKenzie. Those guys have been playing a little better than we thought we'd get right now.

Richard Freeman is not going to be able to play any more. We're going to have to get a medical hardship for him. He's got a bad back, and that's going to be a situation where maybe a freshman comes in there and gives us a little depth. Theo Horrocks is suspended right now, but he may move inside if our defensive ends continue to play like they're playing. Inside he would be a big help with Lamar, Ray, Ralph and Gabe Hall. So we've got pretty good depth there.

VM: That's something I haven't heard Vandy coaches say very often over the years... "We've got good depth on our defensive line."

Johnson: Well, of course that's if everything works out the way we planned.

VM: Right! I know, everything could change. I keep hearing a lot of good things about Reshard Langford, that he was an outstanding player on scout team last year, and that he's just about ready to battle for some playing time. True?

Reshard Langford
Johnson: That is true! Right now we have him as a starting strong safety. He's just got to learn all the little nuances of playing that. He's certainly a player who's aggressive and goes to the ball, and can hit and tackle, but he's got to learn to play it all, so that it's not just a bunch of running around. And that's what happens sometimes on those scout teams. Those guys play hard and go flying around the ball, but they don't really have any consequences for messing up. They don't have to worry about it. So yeah, sometimes he looks great on the scout team, because he wasn't covering the deep pass. He's running up there tackling somebody short, but you've got to cover all those things and be in the right spot. But he's certainly got a chance to be an outstanding player. He's tall, he's got some good weight, and he can run.

I failed to mention one other change... Marcus Buggs has moved from safety to linebacker, and is doing a fine job there. That's a big transition to make, but Marcus has the body. He's about 225 pounds now. I think this position fits him just perfectly.

VM: It looks like you're pretty well set with your depth at linebacker. That looks like one position where you won't be worried too much.

Johnson: We do have some players who have some experience. Jonathan Goff is looking really good at middle linebacker. Of course Moses Osemwegie is at outside linebacker, being backed up by Curtis Gatewood. Curtis is another guy who needs to learn all the nuances of playing the game, instead of just running around and doing things off the cuff. Kevin Joyce has moved to SAM linebacker, and Kevin is probably one of our most active players. He makes a whole bunch of plays for us, and has been doing it this spring too.

VM: As you cover a team, it's kind of natural that you develop favorite players, guys that you admire for one reason or another. One of my favorites you mentioned earlier is Chris Booker. Here's a guy that by all rights probably should have quit two years ago, but has fought through all those injuries. It seems as though he really exemplifies that never-quit spirit you try to instill. Am I on target with that?

Chris Booker
Johnson: You sure are. We're very proud of Chris for coming back. He was trying to get back for last year, and it just wouldn't have been very smart for us to play him, so we didn't. It's a situation where, like I said, experience helps a lot. Chris has seen a lot in the time he's been playing for us. He was always a little undersized, but still kept fighting. He's up to 252 pounds now. We'd like to maybe get him at 260, and probably by the end of the season he'd be down to 250. Chris has a motor on him that coaches really like. He always goes hard, always wants to do well. He's like that all the time. He's majoring in engineering, so it's a pretty tough life that Chris has.

VM: How you feeling about the kicking game at this point?

Johnson: Well, sometimes the kicking game will just about drive you crazy. Right now our field goal kickers are kicking very well. Patrick Johnson and Daniel Lee this week both had excellent days. We kicked fairly well in the scrimmage the first Saturday. We're just going to keep our fingers crossed there. We also have Bryant Hahnfeldt coming in from MBA. We feel like we're going to be able to be a whole lot more consistent. You look at Patrick last year, and he started out excellently. He hit 6 of his first 9 field goals, and made some great kicks. Then, confidence-wise, he just sort of went into left field there for a while. But he's kicking well now, so we'll just keep working at it. We think Kyle Keown is going to be a fine punter for us. We've changed up a little bit on our punt protection. We've been working more on our protection than we have been on kicking and covering. Our emphasis has been on protecting our punters a little better and giving them a chance to get the ball downfield.

Chris Nickson
VM: My last question is about Chris Nickson. I'm sure you probably don't see him challenging Jay Cutler for time this coming season, but has he shown you some things in practice.... does he bring anything to the table that you might, say, try to use him situationally?

Johnson: That's a possibility, but it's a situation where we feel like Chris has still got a lot to learn. In this league you're just not able to run around back there and outrun people. They're going to have good athletes on their team too. Chris has to learn exactly what to do at quarterback, and in those situations he'll still have a chance to use his talents. But unless he continues to learn and get better and better, it's going to be hard for him to bust through-- and the same thing with Steven Bright-- to get to Jay.

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Top photo courtesy of Associated Press. All other photos by Brent Wiseman, copyright 2005 for VandyMania.com.

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