Not much went right for Vanderbilt's football program last season, as the Commodores plummeted from nine wins in 2013 to nine losses in Derek Mason's debut as head coach.
Ralph Webb wasn't to blame.
The 5-foot-10, 200-pounder from Gainesville, Fla., rushed for 907 yards as a redshirt freshman, setting a Vanderbilt freshman record. His 75.6 rushing yards per game were more than every other Southeastern Conference freshman except Georgia's Nick Chubb, and Mason is expecting bigger and better things in the months ahead.
"Ralph Webb is a hungry young man," Mason said. "He's working toward making himself a better player, and as soon as last season finished, he was the first one back in the weight room and the first one back on the field. He didn't rest on any of the accolades or anything he had done."
Resting does not seem to be part of Webb's vernacular.
After finishing his second academic year in Nashville, Webb spent this summer studying abroad in Australia. He is expected to be among Vanderbilt's three student-athlete representatives at SEC Media Days next week in the Birmingham suburb of Hoover, where he is sure to get asked about rain forests and snorkeling at the Great Barrier Reef.
"I feel like I'm really progressing in everything," Webb told The Tennessean upon his return to campus. "Things have really changed for me since high school, on the field and off the field. I am more focused and more mature.
"There has just been a big difference for me in everything in college, and a lot of it was this year."
Webb adjusted this past spring to new offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig and likely will be the primary focus of opposing defenses this season. He rushed for 166 yards last year against Old Dominion, another Vanderbilt freshman record, and for 116 against UMass.
His numbers were not as stout against SEC opposition, a reflection of the Commodores going 0-8 in league play. Vanderbilt lost seven league games by double figures until the 24-17 finale against Tennessee.
Vanderbilt was the first SEC team to start and wrap up spring practice, and that was not by accident.
"We wanted to put the 2014 season behind us and get that in the rear-view mirror, and I thought we did a tremendous job of improving in the spring," Mason said. "Competition was at a fever pitch, and we put our team through as much situational football as possible. We put it on tape and archived it, and our guys have been watching it since.
"I thought we developed more depth, and I think we saw some leaders emerge. This team is in a much different place than it was a year ago."
And there is little doubt who is leading the way.
"I'm proud of Ralph," Mason said. "He is one of the strongest players per pound on this football team. He's become a vocal guy and has matured into a vocal leader, but he's still about the work."
Georgia's Eason retiring
Georgia director of player development John Eason announced his retirement Tuesday, effective at the end of the season.
Eason was receivers coach of the Bulldogs from 2001 to 2008, arriving from Florida State along with head coach Mark Richt. He became director of football operations in 2009 and director of player development a year later.
"I've had the pleasure of working with John for over 20 years," Richt said in a release. "We shared a lot of championship seasons together. I remember being named head coach at Georgia and talking to many of John's former players that wanted the job of coaching receivers at UGA. They all said they would do it like Coach Eason did it, so I decided, 'Why not get the teacher?'
"It turned out to be a great hire. I know he will finish strong this season, capping a great career in college athletics."
Contact David Paschall at email@example.com or 423-757-6524.