Where Vanderbilt football believes it has improved in preseason starting with Mike Wright
In Clark Lea's second season at the helm, Vanderbilt football is unlikely to make a bowl game or contend in the SEC. Instead, the name of the game is progress.
After a 2-10 season and a second straight year without winning an SEC game, Lea needs to show the program is heading in the right direction to keep up with improved recruiting.
The Commodores concluded preseason practice Friday before heading to Hawaii to open their season Aug. 27. Here's where Vanderbilt believes it has improved the most from last year after the end of camp:
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Lea noted a primary area of growth for Mike Wright has been emotionally. Wright is known as a leader with a galvanizing presence — a reason he was named not only the starting quarterback but a captain for 2022.
"Playing that position is maintaining that voice when you're dealing with your own disappointment, your own frustration, and that's where I want to continue to see growth and maturity," Lea said. "Again, he's not all the way there yet, but I don't judge him for that. I think that's part of growth. ... I think he desires to be great in that role."
Wright said he felt like his biggest improvement during the past year was in his accuracy on all levels of throws as well as in building chemistry with his receivers.
Tight end Gavin Schoenwald, named a captain along with fellow tight end Ben Bresnahan, said he felt that continuity of scheme was a big help to the offense. Schoenwald is in his fifth year in the program but is only now experiencing a year with the same offensive coordinator two years in a row. Without having to learn a new scheme, the offense can work more on small details, and Schoenwald said that having a clear starter at quarterback was also helpful rather than the rotation that happened in 2021.
"The difference between this year and last year is, I think we're planning to our personnel this year," Schoenwald said. "Mike brings a unique skill set. ... And then just to our personnel, I think our tight ends are very versatile. And I think our running backs all are good and can protect really well. So I think really just the difference of not just running plays around PowerPoint slides, but running stuff that's to our talents."
Linebacker Ethan Barr said the leadership has improved on the defense. Five defensive players were named captains Friday, including Barr, linebacker Anfernee Orji, defensive tackle Daevion Davis, safety Jaylen Mahoney and defensive end Elijah McAllister. Compared to Hawaii, Barr said Vanderbilt's experience gives it an advantage against a team that hasn't played together much yet.
"Leadership, I would say has greatly improved and experience," Barr said. " ... And then also I think we have a lot of speed. The back end is pretty fast. Mahoney, De'Rickey Wright, Max (Worship), CJ Taylor, and then our corners with BJ (Anderson) and a lot of speed back there. They communicate well, and they're really good players. So I think we're strong."
Aria Gerson covers Vanderbilt athletics for The Tennessean. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @aria_gerson.