published Friday, July 19th, 2013

Vanderbilt looks ahead

Vanderbilt coach James Franklin talks with reporters during the Southeastern Conference football Media Days in Hoover, Ala., in this July 18, 2013.
Vanderbilt coach James Franklin talks with reporters during the Southeastern Conference football Media Days in Hoover, Ala., in this July 18, 2013.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

HOOVER, Ala. — James Franklin deflected questions Thursday regarding the recent dismissal of four players from his Vanderbilt football program.

In the first off-field bump in the road for the third-year Commodores coach, receivers Cory Batey and Tip McKenzie, tight end Brandon Vandenburg and defensive back Brandon Banks were identified earlier this week as the players booted late last month in relation to a sex crimes investigation by Nashville police.

“I can’t get into any discussion about this. It’s an ongoing legal investigation,” said Franklin, the final coach to take the podium at SEC media days.

“What we’ve been doing is we’ve been focusing on our team and our players and making sure we’re doing what we’re supposed to do academically this summer [and] then get ready for the season to get started. That’s what really our focus is right now as a team.”

Vanderbilt won nine games, posted a 5-3 SEC record and reached the program’s second consecutive bowl game in Franklin’s second season, which included a 41-18 thrashing of Tennessee and wins at Ole Miss and Missouri.

Franklin said the incident had “not whatsoever” negatively affected Vanderbilt’s recruiting. Five 2014 prospects, including Ensworth defensive lineman Michael Sawyers and East Hamilton cornerback Tre Herndon, have verbally committed to the Commodores, who have the nation’s 24th-ranked class according to Rivals.com and 247sports.com, since the dismissals.

“I think what you can do,” Franklin said, “is what I know we do on a daily basis, which is make sure that we’re talking to our players constantly about making great choices and educating them and giving them the tools to be successful and make great choices both on and off the field over and over and over again. That’s really what you can do, on a daily basis, weekly basis, yearly basis, is equipping your guys to make great choices.”

Schedule snippiness

LSU faces Florida and Georgia, losers of one SEC game apiece in 2012, this season, while Alabama plays Kentucky and Tennessee, which were a combined 1-15 in the league.

When a reporter brought that statistic to Les Miles’ attention, the LSU coach restated his desire for the league to do away with permanent cross-divisional opponents, a system in which the Tigers face Florida and the Crimson Tide play Tennessee every year.

“There’s a repeated scheduling advantage and disadvantage for certain teams in this conference based on tradition and traditional matchups,” he said.

Tide coach Nick Saban later offered his rebuttal.

“There can never be an equal path to the championship, unless everybody plays everybody,” he said. “I have a tremendous amount of respect for the traditions that our fans enjoy. Our Tennessee game is a big game for our fans.

“I understand where Les Miles is coming from. I coached at LSU. We played Florida every year, too, so if anybody understands it, I understand it. Understand?”

Hill to climb

LSU tailback Jeremy Hill remains indefinitely suspended as Miles defended his disciplinary record amid recent media criticism for his handling of Hill’s off-field problems.

The sophomore, who ran for 755 yards and 12 touchdowns last season, pleaded guilty last week to misdemeanor simple battery from punching a man outside a Baton Rouge bar in April. He was already on probation for a charge of carnal knowledge with a juvenile girl from January 2012, a month before he signed with LSU. Hill, who has an Aug. 16 court date regarding his first offense, could face a six-month jail sentence for violating his probation.

“I have a track record with really disciplining my team,” the ninth-year coach said. “We go through the same process that all of my guys will go through. We’re gathering information as we go.”

Though he’s visited with his troubled star “on a routine basis,” Miles said Hill has not been a part of any team meetings or workouts and is barred from the Tigers’ facility during his suspension.

“It’s been very hard on him, I know,” he said. “We recognize there’s an ongoing process that’s going to be fulfilled. We’re going to sit on the perimeter and watch. We’ll let you know when we know.”

Commodore competition

A former starter at Wyoming, Austyn Carta-Samuels heads into training camp as the leader in Vanderbilt’s competition to replace Jordan Rodgers at quarterback, but Franklin said the race won’t end until “at least a couple of weeks into camp.

“You can get on YouTube right now and watch him play against Texas, Boise [State],” he continued. “I think that gives him a distinct advantage. He’s been in our program now for three years.”

Contact Patrick Brown at pbrown@timesfreepress.com or 901-581-7288. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/patrickbrowntfp.

about Patrick Brown...

Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...

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