The Vanderbilt defensive line is much deeper than last year and the Commodores don't mind using as many as eight in a game. The best of the bunch is clearly defensive tackle Rob Lohr. Lohr draws almost all of the double-teams up front for Vandy, and still finds a way to make plays in the run game. Behind Lohr, but not by far, is defensive end Walker May. May has a knack for making plays in the opposing team's backfield, and appears to be the teams best pass rusher. The Commodores other defensive tackle, Colt Nichter, had a solid game against South Carolina, has taken advantage of some of the attention Lohr has drawn this season. One player to keep an eye on is senior Johnell Thomas. Thomas plays with a great motor and pursues well from his defensive end position. He is the type of guy that never quits on a play, and those types of players can often create turnovers in pursuit. The top reserve would have to be freshman defensive end Caleb Azublke. Azublke has played in all three games thus far and leads the team in sacks with two. The group, as a whole, is extremely tough to wear down because of depth and conditioning, but they can be pushed around at times. The are undersized and will sometimes stunt themselves out of plays, but they can also penetrate quickly and cause problems for opposing offenses.
As usual, Vanderbilt has a group of instinctive and disciplined linebackers. The problem with this group is that they aren't as fast and athletic as they have been in the past. Junior Chase Garham has looked the best on film because he is always round the football. The 6-foot-3, 237-pound defender has a nose for the football and takes excellent angles to the football. He isn't strictly a down-hill player, and has enough athleticism to play sideline to sideline. Despite having the ability to play all over the field, he is best when he is fitting against the run between the tackles or dropping straight back into coverage. Vandy's most athletic linebacker is Karl Butler. The Commodores move Butler around quite a bit and he is one of the quickest linebackers in the SEC. He is at his best when coming off the edge or splitting gaps on the inside, and leads the team with 4.5 tackles for a loss. The Commodores third starter at linebacker, Archibald Barnes, also has a knack for being around the football, but is best in coverage. Barnes has excellent hips and moves well in space. The Vandy defensive staff has used him off the edge in a few situations, and he has looked solid there as well. Keep an eye on freshman Darreon Herring as well. Through three games Herring has seen limited snaps, but stands out on film as the type of player that has a magnet in his forehead for the football. He plays well down hill and fits well against the run.
The best of this bunch is Georgia native Kenny Ladler. Ladler plays safety in the Commodores' defense, and has done a little bit of it all in 2012. Ladler has a sack, a tackle for a loss, and an interception from his safety position this season, and plays with a great deal of energy. He is probably the best defensive back in the SEC that few people know about, but many will be the end of the season. Other than Ladler, none of the Vandy defensive backs stand out on film, but the group, as a whole, is very fast and consistent. Safety Javon Marshall is an instinctive player that is a strong tackler in space, and cornerback Andre Hal is probably the Commodores most physical cover guy. Whether they are coming up to make plays against the run or are in coverage, nothing comes easy with this secondary. They are will coached and they appear to be 100 percent confident in what they do. This allows them to play fast and the one thing that really jumps out on film is that they take excellent angles to the football.
• First down - No matter the down and distance, the Vanderbilt defense likes to slant and stunt. Through three games, the Commodores have run some sort of stunt 71% on first down. They have blitzed on 56% of first downs.
• Second down and long (7 or more yards) - This is a clear blitz down for the Commodores as they bring a fifth rusher 63% of the time.
• Second down and medium (4-6 yards) - Vandy has gone with a base defense and some sort of stunt or slant on this down and distance 66% of the time.
• Second down and short (fewer than 4 yards) - This is a slant down for the Commodores and they also like to bring a linebacker or defensive back, depending on personnel, off the edge.
• Third down and long - This, like second and long, is a blitz down for the Commodores (65%).
• Third down and medium - On this down and distance, Vanderbilt still tends to bring at least one extra defender (58%) but not as much as on third and long.
• Third down and short - There is no tendency on this down and distance as the Vanderbilt defense mixes it up well.
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