As Week Zero approaches, the Grease Gang, as offensive line coach AJ Blazek calls the group, has started to take shape. It is a cliché to say that the offensive success will be predicated on quarterback play (it is a cliché because it is true) but if Vanderbilt wants to find consistent success on the offensive front, then the men in the trenches are going to have to perform and most importantly, stay healthy.
The offensive line rotation is still not set in stone. Vanderbilt will more than likely experiment with linemen at different positions and different rotations through the first two games of the season before cementing a true starting five. As it stands now, this is what we can expect the offensive line to look like come time for Vanderbilt to take on Hawaii.
Right Tackle: Jacob Brammer (R-Sr)/Bradley Ashmore (Jr)
It is simply too close to tell who is going to be the starter at the right tackle position for the Commodores. More than likely we will see both Brammer and Ashmore a lot this season.
Bradley Ashmore brings valuable experience to the Vanderbilt offensive line. Ashmore played all twelve games at right tackle during the 2021 season. Ashmore is impressive when it comes to pass protection. During the 2021 season, Ashmore only allowed four sacks while playing over 700 snaps (vucommodores.com).
Jacob Brammer, like Ashmore, brings experience to the right side of the offensive line. Brammer comes to Nashville by way of North Texas. During his time playing for the Mean Green, Brammer showed to be a dominating presence in the trenches, particularly when it came to the run game. Brammer and his run blocking will be very important for a run-first Commodores offense this season.
It should be noted that both tackles were healthy during the entire 2021 season.
Right Guard: Delfin Xavier Castillo
Castillo started to come into his own towards the end of the 2021 season. Castillo started the last five games at right guard but was also rotated in as a left guard throughout the season. Castillo is a physical presence on the inside of the line. Standing at 6’5” and weighing in at 340lbs, Castillo showed his worth in the run game for the Commodores. Castillo looks to be a valuable asset for the line as he can play anywhere at the three inside positions.
Backup: Gage Pitchford (So)/Trent Weaver (Jr)
This is where it could get messy for Vanderbilt if injuries begin to pile up on the line. Gage Pitchford only saw action in the Tennessee game during the 2021 season and Trent Weaver has not seen any action during his time as a Commodore.
I believe Castillo is the sure-fire starter at the right guard position but Pitchford and Weaver will most certainly see their fair share of action. It should be noted that Ashmore has experience playing inside. If injuries occur then do not be surprised to see Brammer take over at right tackle and see Ashmore slide inside to play guard.
Center: Julian Hernandez (Sr)
It is often and rightly noted that the left tackle is the most important position on the offensive line as they are charged with the task of protecting the quarterback’s blind side. I would argue that the most important player on this Vanderbilt offensive line is redshirt junior Julian Hernandez.
During the first half of the 2021 season, Vanderbilt was plagued with exchange issues until Hernandez took over the position. Hernandez played all twelve games during the 2021 season at center and even left guard. Hernandez can bring consistency and security to the Vanderbilt quarterbacks with his impressive pass protection. A healthy Julian Hernandez will go a long way for the offense this season.
Backup Center : Jake Ketschek (R-Fr)
Jake Ketschek has not seen action as a ‘Dore but looks for the freshman out of New Jersey to see quite a bit of playing early in the season.
Left Guard: Ben Cox (Jr)
Junior Ben Cox is no stranger to Vanderbilt fans as he has seen a lot of action, starting seven games during the 2021 season and playing eight games during the COVID season of 2020. Cox looks to be a bully on the inside of the line, as he is a good run blocker and very underrated at standing his ground in pass protection. In 2021, Cox only allowed two sacks from coming from the inside and often created gaps for Vanderbilt’s backs when being on the attack in run schemes.
Backup Left Guard: Gage Pitchford (R-Fr)
As previously stated, Pitchford saw limited action during the 2021 season. Be prepared to see him on the field a lot this season as he will be a part of the offensive line rotation and playing both guard positions.
Left Tackle: Gunnar Hansen (R-Fr)
One of the more fascinating storylines coming out of fall camp is Gunnar Hansen locking down the left tackle position. Hansen has turned heads as he has been one of the best, if not the best, linemen during fall camp. Hansen has solidified himself as the starter at the left tackle position and will be tasked with the heavy load of protecting Mike Wright’s blindside. If Hansen can stay healthy and can continue to impress into the season then look to see him be the anchor of the offensive line for years to come.
Backup Left Tackle: Junior Uzebu (Sr)
Uzebu, a transfer from West Virginia, saw limited action during the 2021 campaign. Uzebu will see a considerable amount of action at the left tackle position as he rotates in and out with Gunnar Hansen. Look for Uzebu to possibly get action at the right tackle as well this season.