Camp start: Friday
Opener: Sept. 3 against Elon at Vanderbilt Stadium (7:30 p.m. EDt on CSS).
Fun fact: The only members of James Franklin's staff with previous SEC experience are offensive line coach Herb Hand, the lone holdover from last season, and defensive backs coach Wesley McGriff, who worked under Guy Morriss at Kentucky in 2001-02.
Vanderbilt senior cornerback Casey Hayward deflected 17 passes last season, which led the Southeastern Conference and ranked third in the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision.
So what does a deflection feel like in comparison to an interception?
"It doesn't compare," Hayward said, smiling. "I want an interception every time, but a deflection is not bad either. A deflection means that you were there but just a step too slow to get the interception, or else you dropped it."
Not that the 5-foot-11, 188-pounder from Perry, Ga., fared poorly a year ago in the interception department. Hayward ranked second in the league with six interceptions and made pickoffs in consecutive games against LSU, Ole Miss, Connecticut and Eastern Michigan.
That production occurred in the one-season head-coaching stint of Robbie Caldwell, who was the humorous star of SEC media days last year but wasn't discussed much last month. In fact, Vanderbilt players mostly have avoided discussion about last year's 2-10 record and the preceding 2-10 mark during Bobby Johnson's last season in 2009.
"We don't even talk about the past two seasons," Hayward said. "It's a new season. Everybody is 0-0, and we're all putting our pads on the same way."
New Commodores coach James Franklin has been brimming with optimism all year, channeling energy that hasn't been produced in Nashville by a first-year coach since Gerry DiNardo in 1991. Johnson was more subtle upon his arrival in 2002 but wound up leading Vanderbilt to the Music City Bowl in 2008, the program's first postseason appearance since 1982.
Franklin had a successful run as Maryland's offensive coordinator before taking his first head role, and veteran Vandy defenders are just as thrilled about the hire as their offensive counterparts.
"He's got a lot of energy and is so involved with everything," senior linebacker Chris Marve said. "He has changed the culture at Vanderbilt. There is so much more commitment and so much more talk about our program than at any point in the five years I've been here."
Senior strong safety Sean Richardson (98) and Marve (80) return after ranking 1-2 on the team in tackles last season. Senior defensive tackle T. J. Greenstone tallied 28 tackles and 4.5 tackles for loss despite missing three games due to injury, and senior defensive end Tim Fugger ranked second in the SEC with 0.33 forced fumbles per game.
Vanderbilt returns eight starters defensively and has all 11 back on offense, so Franklin's excitement is warranted.
"These kids are very, very hungry, as you can imagine," Franklin said. "You're talking about kids who have been highly successful in everything they've done their entire lives, and they want to get back to that. This is a great opportunity for us as a staff, and it's a great opportunity for them as well, and that's really our focus.
"The things in the past, I can't control, and I've just been blown away by the commitment that our players have made."
Hayward, one of 19 Georgians on the Vanderbilt roster, is sure to be a focus of opposing quarterbacks and receivers this season. He has gone up against some of college football's finest receivers during his time in Nashville, winning some and losing some, and should do so again this year.
"It's a great challenge to get to match up against some of the best receivers in the nation," Hayward said. "To show well against guys like [South Carolina's] Alshon Jeffery, who they say is going to be a top-10 [NFL] pick next year, and shut down him, your stock will go up as well."
Contact David Paschall at email@example.com or 423-757-6524.