Important Summer for Commodores

Bradley Vierling (Stephen Atkinson)

BIRMINGHAM-- The Vanderbilt Commodores are faced with several challenges they've never faced before as they prepare for preseason practice, which starts on Aug. 7. More wins and higher expectations for Vanderbilt means that more opponents will give the Commodores their best shot. Also, the schedule features 12 games without an off week and ...

... the offense must be better conditioned with the installation of the no huddle during the spring.

With a 16-14 victory over Boston College in the Music City Bowl on New Years' Eve, the Commodores broke their 26-year streak without a bowl and 53-year run without a bowl victory.

"Teams should take us more seriously," says senior cornerback Myron Lewis, one of Vanderbilt's representatives at SEC Media Days in Birmingham. "Game in and game out we play hard and 110 percent to our abilities. We come together as one and as a family. There are still going to be some teams out there that see us as the underdog and circle our name as a win."

The other Vanderbilt player at the Wynfrey Hotel on Wednesday was senior center Bradley Vierling, who says the confidence level is higher than ever after a 7-6 season in 2008.

"There is definitely more confidence," Vierling states. "The guys are competing even harder than we ever have before. We're in the best shape, we're the strongest we've ever been and we've got more guys at Vanderbilt this summer than any other offseason I've been here. Guys want another bowl game. Guys want more of a taste of it. They want to show everybody that it wasn't a fluke."

Vanderbilt is the only team in the conference not playing a regular season game after Thanksgiving, so the schedule is squeezed into 12 weeks starting with Western Carolina on Sept. 5. Starting with LSU on Sept. 12, the Commodores play eight bowl teams from the year before in a span of 64 days.

That makes the offseason conditioning even more important so the players can get rest during the course of the season.

"It's a challenge to play 12 straight games," head coach Bobby Johnson says. "You have to plan for it and you have to be smart in the preseason not to work them to death. The great thing nowadays with everybody being able to go to summer school, especially your freshmen, they get in shape during the summer. Then we teach them the playbook and the game plan in preseason practice so it's not an emphasis of getting them in shape in the preseason practices.

"Hopefully we don't have to hit them a bunch in preseason practice," Johnson adds. "We don't have to run them and do conditioning. Then during the season, you've got to be smart about any kind of contact that you have during the week."

The Commodores have just over two weeks to get in shape for preseason practices to hit the ground running. The no-huddle offense was installed during the spring and Vierling says he and his teammates have been up for the challenge of conditioning this summer.

"We had to get in a lot better shape a lot faster," he explains. "Getting to the ball after every single play, whether it was 15 yards, 20 yards, five yards down the field, getting on the ball and getting set and listening to the play call because everything is verbal, just having that was a bit of a change for the offense. We conditioned a lot harder in the offseason than we ever have before."

The season opener against Western Carolina has been scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Central with television coverage on CSS. Vanderbilt's SEC opener at LSU on Sept. 12 is scheduled for a 6 p.m. kickoff on ESPNU. On Sept. 19, Mississippi State travels to Nashville for a 6 p.m. start time on Fox Sports Net.

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