The Vanderbilt defense is not at its healthiest right now. Luckily, they are still more than equipped to handle their first two opponents of the season with the weapons they have on defense as of now. For this Vanderbilt defense, there are holes on the defensive line, maybe the strongest linebacking core we have seen at Vanderbilt in some time, and some interesting pieces in the secondary.
Star: Michael Owusu (R-Sr)
During fall camp, this position was all but officially locked up by freshman Miles Capers until Capers, unfortunately, suffered a season-ending injury. Now, it looks as though this will position will be the job of Michael Owusu and freshman, Darren Agu.
Owusu is a long edge rusher with impressive lateral speed. Owusu played in all twelve games during the 2021 season and recorded 43 tackles. Owusu has enough athleticism to drop back in coverage and run stride for stride with tight ends (ran an official 4.6 forty in high school but he was also thirty pounds lighter) but where this defense will need him is in the pass-rushing aspect.
Backup Star: Darren Agu (Fr)
Agu, a former four-star prospect was a big get for Lea and this staff. Originally committed to Notre Dame, Vanderbilt was able to land Agu and keep him after a hellish push from Tennessee to get him towards the end of the recruiting period.
Expect to see a lot of Agu this season for the ‘Dores this season. Agu is the sort of athlete that this Vanderbilt defense needs desperately, especially after only recording nine sacks during the 2021 season.
Tackle: Malik Langham (R-Sr)
Is this the year that Florida transfer Malik Langham shows he can be a menace in the trenches? We will see as he will be getting most of the action in the interior of this defensive line. Langham transferred to Vanderbilt in 2019 and saw action in the 2020 and 2021 seasons. Langham is a big, physical presence in the middle of the line and Vanderbilt needs him to assert his dominance this year and prevent this defense from being susceptible to the run game like last year.
Backup Tackle: Yilanan Ouattara (Fr)/Kevo Wesley (R-So)
Despite the lack of depth across the defensive line, it is hard not to get excited about certain players, and Kevo Wesley and Yilana Ouattara are two of those players.
Wesley, originally an offensive lineman, has a stocky build and good power in his hands. His experience on the offensive line has given him a good understanding of the importance of footwork and he has solid mobility for someone of his build.
Hailing from Germany, Yilanan Ouattara has opened some eyes during camp. He has shown serious power and a high motor. Ouattara has been nothing short of a dominant on the defensive line and he will only get better as he sees more and more live action.
Tackle: Christian James (R-Jr)/Myles Cecil (R-Sr)
It is too close to tell who will be the starter before game time against Hawaii but both James and Cecil will see the majority of snaps.
James was out with an injury most of fall camp but just recently returned and will be a big addition to the defensive line. James ended the 2021 season on a hot streak as he recorded at least four tackles in the final three games of the season. Vanderbilt will need James to keep the streak alive come Week Zero.
Myles Cecil, a transfer from Cal Poly will be a valuable asset to this defensive line that is thin to start the season. Cecil proved himself to be a serious run stopper and good pass rusher coming inside. Cecil made 6.5 TFL in 2021 and was on the All-Big Sky third time.
*Captain Daevion Davis is still healing from an ACL injury from the 2021 season.
Defensive End: Elijah McAllister
Elijah McAllister’s position is still something of a mystery with Hawaii looming. McAllister is something of a Swiss army knife and can play end or transfer back to the Star position and play a more hybrid role if injuries pile up. McAllister has good pass-rushing ability and impressive speed off the line. Letting McAllister loose and allowing him to simply focus on rushing the passer as opposed to having him drop back in coverage will be vital for this defense.
Backup Defensive End: Brayden Bapst
Head coach Clark Lea said that he is hopeful that Brayden Bapst will be ready for the start of the season. Getting Bapst will be a nice boost to the edge position as he brings good power and length to the end of the line.
Be on the lookout for freshmen Bradley Mann and Linus Zunk to get lots of playing time at the end position for the ‘Dores this year.
Middle Linebacker: Ethan Barr (Jr)/Kane Patterson (Sr)
I do not think there will be a true starter for the inside linebacker position. It is very likely that depending on the game and the opponent, one might start over the other. It seems reasonable to for both linebackers to get 50/50 playing time.
Vanderbilt fans are well aquatinted with Ethan Barr. During the 2021 season, Barr recorded three interceptions and 85 total tackles. Where Barr shines is in the run game. Barr is very much a true run stopper and expect him to play close to the line early and often until the defensive line can get healthy.
Kane Patterson, a transfer from Clemson and Christ Presbyterian Academy alumni brings big-time football experience to this defense. Patterson recorded 32 tackles as a Clemson Tiger and had his best game against the Ohio State Buckeyes in the Sugar Bowl. Patterson is the faster of the two linebackers and has had a very solid fall camp. Patterson will most certainly be important in the run game but his speed will be very handy in pass coverage and quarterback containment.
Weakside Linebacker: Anfernee Orji (Sr)
Vanderbilt’s leading tackler in Anfernee Orji will anchor the weak side linebacker position. Orji was included on Phil Steele’s Preseason All-SEC list, the Bednarik Award Watch List, and the Butkus Award Watch List.
Orji led the Vandy defense with 93 tackles and 13 TFL in the 2021 season. Orji has great sideline-to-sideline speed and is an impressive pass rusher. If there is a ball carrier near him, the Orji will bring him down. Expect Orji to have a big year in this defense.
Backup Weakside Linebacker: Errington Truesdell (So)
Truesdell played all twelve games during the 2021 season and brings the necessary experience to the linebacking core. Truesdell has had a very good fall camp and is a great backup option to Orji. Truesdell will see a lot of action this season and expect him to have a sneaky good season for the Commodores.
Outside Linebacker: De’Rickey Wright (R-So)
Who was Clark Lea’s biggest recruit this past offseason? It was most certainly De’Rickey Wright as he entered the transfer portal before ultimately joining Vanderbilt again.
De’Rickey is the sort of athlete that does not come through Vanderbilt very often. De’Rickey will see loads of action at the outside linebacker position and might even see some action at safety. This is a classic example of getting your best players on the field by any means necessary. Wright has sensational speed and is a high-quality tackler. Expect Wright to have a sensational season this year as he will see consistent playing time.
Backup Outside Linebacker: CJ Taylor (So)/Daniel Martin (Fr)
CJ Taylor saw the field in only six games last year and recorded 3 tackles. Taylor has had a good fall and has had quality reps, gaining a good amount of experience. Look for him and freshman Daniel Martin to see action in this position.
Outside Cornerback: BJ Anderson (R-Sr)/Jeremy Lucien (R-Sr)
BJ Anderson and UConn transfer, Jeremy Lucien will rotate in and out as the outside corners for Vanderbilt this fall. Anderson will look to put his 2021 season behind him and show that he can be a lockdown corner in 2022. Look for Anderson to have a much improved season after being in this defense for two years.
Lucien was a much-needed get for the Commodores this year. You can never have too much depth and talent at the outside corner position where speed often kills. Lucien and Anderson will compliment each other well and there does not appear to be a massive talent drop gap between the two.
Slot Cornerback: Tyson Russell (So)
Russell will more than likely get the nod at the slot cornerback position. Russell made fifteen tackles during the 2021 season and had two pass breakups. Russell shows good coverage skills and can stack up well against speedy slot receivers.
Backup Slot Cornerback: Trudell Berry (Fr)
Berry is exactly what you would like at the slot cornerback position. He is tall, physical, and most importantly, fast. Berry ran track in high school in Texas and recorded a 10.93 100 and a 22.10 200.
Free Safety: Maxwell Worship (Sr)
Max Worship brings leadership and experience to this group. Worship started in all twelve games as safety for Vanderbilt in 2021 and recorded 52 total tackles. Worship is solid in coverage and has shown an ability to read the opposing quarterback well.
Backup Free Safety: Steven Sannieniola (Fr)
Coming in at 6’2”, Sannieniola has the traditional build of a ball-hawking free safety. Sannieniola received offers from Purdue, West Virginia, Boston College, and Buffalo.
Strong Safety: Jaylen Mahoney
Mahoney is what you would like to see out of a strong safety. He plays with intensity, welcomes contact, and shows great athleticism and playmaking ability.
Mahoney started all twelve games last season and recorded 53 tackles and 2 interceptions. He showed an impressive ability to rush the passer and racked up four sacks.
A duo of Jaylen Mahoney and De’Rickey Wright playing close to the line of scrimmage is something that should excite Vandy fans and will be very fun to watch.
Backup Strong Safety: Marlen Sewell (So)/Chase Lloyd (R-So)
Sewell and Lloyd will backup Mahoney this year at strong safety. Sewell and Lloyd are both safeties that enjoy contact and show very good fundamentals when wrapping up at the point attack.