Tolk’s Breakdown: Offensive Line

It remains to be seen if Vanderbilt’s offensive line can improve significantly to remain relevant in a conference known for strength in the trenches, especially after news of Cole Clemens, Jonathan Stewart, Bryce Bailey, and Michigan grad-transfer Stephen Spanellis deciding to opt out. We wish these players the best and hope to see them in the black and gold next year.

Vandy hired new Offensive Line coach Pete Rossomando from Rutgers, but also lost their best returning lineman, Devin Cochran, to Georgia Tech via the transfer portal. They also lost depth when Carlton Lorenz left for Portland State via the transfer portal.

It will be another uphill battle as the Dores desperately need to find consistency on the offensive line. During the 2019 season, the offense only averaged 298.8 ypg and a meager 16.5 ppg (125th of 130 FBS teams in ppg). Coach Mason’s unit had trouble finding consistent play at various positions on the line, including center.

Starting Candidates:

Cole Clemens: *Opting out of 2020 season* The 6’6” senior linemen out of Bingham, UT has been consistent during his Commodore career. He looks to regain form from his sophomore (2018) season, where he started 12 of 13 games and was part of the OL that helped Ke’Shawn Vaughn rush for more than 1,000 yards and protected QB Kyle Shurmur from pressure (OL only gave up 1.7 sacks per game, 6th in SEC). He was even featured on a Pro Football Focus team of the week in 2018, with a grade of 85.2. That offense also averaged over 411.2 yds/game. In 2019, Clemens only played in 9 games with reps at guard and tackle, and will look to stay healthy for his final season on West End.

Stephen Spanellis: *Opting out of 2020 season* Vanderbilt received a much needed addition with grad-transfer Stephen Spanellis from Michigan. College football fans might know him best from this incredible block that made him famous vs Notre Dame. With significant size and experience, Spanellis will be an instant starter and difference maker on an offensive line searching for answers. A natural guard, Spanellis may be forced to play out of position if answers can’t be found to surround him.

Tyler Steen: Steen switched from DL to OL after his true freshman season. The move was smart, as Steen started all 12 games at right tackle in his redshirt freshman 2019 season. With a full year of snaps on the OL under his belt, Coaches Rossomando, Fitch and Mason are hoping Steen’s upside continues as his development could lead to big things in 2020 and onward.

Jonathan Stewart: *Opting out of 2020 season* Stewart brings physicality to the line at 6’7” and 326 lbs. He’s got legitimate SEC OL measurements. His skillset, however, is still developing. The Lawrenceville, GA. native played in 10 games on the OL last year, earning 3 starts which were all against SEC opponents. Hopefully coach Rossomando can unlock his potential as Stewart will be a redshirt junior in 2020.

Dan Dawkins: The former Peddie School attendee looks to have a breakout year in 2020. During his redshirt freshman season in 2019, Dawkins played at right guard and on the special teams conversion unit in all 12 games. He started 2 games (UGA, @Purdue). Coming out of high school, Dawkins was the country’s 8th best center prospect in the country, and Commodore fans and coaches hope he’ll develop into a reliable stud on the line. He will be a redshirt sophomore. 

Bryce Bailey: *Opting out of 2020 season* Bailey played in all 12 games for the Commodores in 2019, even seeing some time as a blocking tight end. He started at OG twice (Georgia and LSU) and as a blocking TE once (Missouri). He saw time as a redshirt freshman on the successful 2018 squad, playing in 10 games in the same roles. He’ll look to take more steps to become a starter in the SEC.

Grant Miller: Commodore nation hopes Grant Miller can take big steps to become a reliable presence on the OL in 2020. The St. Thomas Aquinas product played in 10 games in 2019, with 7 starts (5 of which at center). The rising redshirt junior also played in 12 games as a redshirt freshman (2018) which makes him one of the more experienced offensive linemen on West End. If the light can switch on for Miller, he could be a very important factor as Todd Fitch implements a new offensive scheme in Nashville.

Connor Mignone: The fifth-year senior flew under the radar with regards to his arrival at Vanderbilt, but he’ll look to make an immediate impact. Mignone comes from Central Connecticut, where he played for four seasons, In 2019, he was All-Northeast Conference First Team. His experience on successful Central Connecticut offenses will provide invaluable as he steps into SEC football.

Development and True Freshman:

Julian Hernandez: The redshirt freshman saw action in one game last year, seeing reps in the team’s win over ETSU in 2019. He’ll look to be a consistent part of the rotation and add depth to this year’s team.

Jonah Buchanan: The two-time SEC Academic role lineman hasn’t seen action during his 3 years on campus. Suffered an injury during the preseason in 2019. He will be a redshirt junior and Coach Rossomondo will look to bring out the best in from Buchanan in 2020.

Donald Fitzgerald: As an OL prospect, it’s hard not to love Fitzgerald’s measurements. The 6’8” 300 lb. lineman only played one season of high school football and Vanderbilt hopes he can develop into an SEC caliber lineman like former stud Bruno Reagan. The redshirt freshman didn’t see the field during his true freshman season (2019).

Brayden Bapst: Bapst prepped for a successful St. John’s College squad (Washington D.C.) but hasn’t seen action in the black and gold. The rising redshirt freshman didn’t see the field in 2019 and will hopefully continue to add bulk to his 270 lb. frame.

Michael Warden: The rising junior has yet to see any snaps for the black and gold. He provides depth.

Bradley Ashmore: The true freshman was an early enrollee and took part in the few spring practices that occurred before COVID-19 canceled the rest of spring. Many hope Ashmore will be ready to contribute to the Commodore offensive front this season as his early experience and impressive high school stats (over 125 career pancake blocks) hopefully indicate an SEC ready contributor.

Kevo Wesley: Wesley has been vocal on Twitter about his excitement to play for the black and gold. The true freshman will look to add depth, join the rotation, and bulk up (only 285 lbs.) during his first year in Nashville. He was the seventh-best prospect out of Illinois according to 247 and has lots of upside. Commodore fans and coaches hope he’s ready to contribute this year.

Ben Cox: Luckily, Derek Mason and company signed plenty of OL in the past recruiting class. Cox joins those previously mentioned and looks to add bulk to his 6’5” frame (280 lbs). He was a top 40 prospect in Virginia and will look to earn snaps this season.

Jason Brooks: Brooks was a top 60 guard prospect nationally by 247sports and like the rest of the true freshman signees, will enter Nashville with the opportunity for early playing time. He’ll look to learn the Commodore offense and add weight to his 6’4” 280 lb frame.

The offensive front will look to fight through learning a new offense and replacing their best player in Devin Cochran. The Commodores will hope to get the ball out in space under Todd Fitch’s spread offense, meaning the offensive line will strive to provide the QB with enough time to get the ball to speedy playmakers and let the plays develop.

Meanwhile, Pete Rossomando seems to be a fresh addition to the staff this offseason, already providing a vocal and active presence on the recruiting trail. We’ll hope his development skills are positive and follow suit of his recruiting tenacity.

Look for Connor Mignone, Grant Miller, Julian Hernandez, Tyler Steen, and Dan Dawkins to have improved seasons and provide anchors on the line. I expect we’ll see contributions from most of the true freshman lineman as well. It will be a season of baptism by fire for the Commodore offensive line in 2020.


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