Projecting Vanderbilt Football 2020: Defense

Greg Arias

The old football adage that defense wins championships might be the mantra for Vanderbilt football in 2020. At least it is where head coach Derek Mason will begin to build for this season. 

The Commodores have a new defensive coordinator in Ted Roof, who won a national championship in the same capacity with Auburn in 2010. He will be tasked with improving a defense that ranked near the bottom of the conference in most statistical categories in 2019. 

However, what Roof and Mason will have is a unit that returns 11 players who have been starters at some point in their Commodore careers. That's not a bad place to start "rebuilding" a team that struggled to a 3-8 record last season. 

What will the defense look like in 2020? 

That's an interesting question and one we might not indeed be able to answer until we see them on the field in a real game. 

However, we will attempt to give you our best estimate of how they will line up this season as we preview the defense. 

DEFENSIVE LINE   

Upfront, the d-line might be the Commodore's most influential position group this season as they will return all three starters from a season ago, along with some new and talented reinforcements that will push for starting roles. 

Dayo Odeyingbo, Drew Birchmeier, and Camron Tidd will handle defensive end and tackle responsibilities as the projected starters. However, Malik Langham, who was a prized, four-star recruit who chose Florida out of high school, will join the rotation along with Derek Green and Rutger Reitmaier, who saw extensive action a season ago. 

 There are others behind that group, but those players should see the majority of the work this season. 

How this group, especially Langham's progress, will be a determining factor in the fortunes of Vanderbilt in 2020. 

LINEBACKER

Another area where the COmmodores return a wealth of experience is linebacker, with three of four starters returning from last season. 

Andre Mintze and Elijah McAllister seem set on the outside, with McAllister, who saw plenty of action a season ago assuming the starters role, replacing Caleb Peart, who graduated. Both are active defenders who can play in space and have speed. Still, there is room for improvement here, but there is no better teacher than experience, which both possess. 

Michael Owusu and Brayden Devault-Smith are the leaders to fill the backup roles on the outside, at least for not, but there are players behind them looking to push for playing time.   

Kenny Hebert returns in the middle, where he excelled last season as a tone-setter for this unit. Former starter Feleit Afemui also returns for his junior season, and along with Hebert should give Roof a solid one-two combination in the middle. 

SECONDARY

 The Commodores return all four starters on the back end from a season ago, and have some talent pushing for their time as well. 

BJ Anderson and Alan George are penciled in as starters at corner with Randall Haynie and Elijah Hamilton working behind them at this point. 

Dashaun Jerkins and Tae Dailey look like probable starters at safety, but Frank Coppet appears to be in a position to push for a place here. 

True freshman Donovan Kaufman is also a name to watch at safety. He is an ultra-talented player and athlete and could push for time right away, which should not be a surprise to anyone who has watched the film of this young man play the game. 

While the projections for the Commodores overall remain low, this unit will be counted on, especially early on to hold serve as the offense breaks in a first-time starter at quarterback and several other key positions. 

Having an outstanding defense and suspect offense is also nothing new for the Commodores, as in years past, Vanderbilt has fielded excellent defensive squads that placed among the best in the league, only to be upended by offenses that struggle. 

A similar scenario could play out this season on West End. 

 Follow Greg on Twitter @GregAriasSports and @SIVanderbilt or Facebook at Vanderbilt Commodores-Maven.

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