Vanderbilt's Clark Lea sends message to Commodores in first preseason practice

Aria Gerson
Nashville Tennessean

After his first preseason practice as the football coach of his alma mater, under the lights at Vanderbilt's practice field, Clark Lea gathered his team and raised his voice into a post-practice speech.

He usually speaks at a normal volume, he said. But "there are times when they're gonna need to feel it a little more."

"As the year goes on we just have to grow and mature and develop in terms of our competitive spirit," Lea said. "Winning's an attitude, winning's a skill that you practice and my responsibility is to be intense when I need to be intense and make sure we're pulling that forward, so it's practice one, day one, listen the rhythm, timing, execution, that'll clean up. The attitude, the effort, the intentionality on the field, that's what I wanna see take a jump in a day."

When Lea was hired to replace Derek Mason in December, he made it a point to rebuild the program's culture. At SEC Media Days, he said he wanted the team to be competitive against SEC opponents, to wear them down and remain in a position to win, regardless of the actual outcome.

After the program suffered through an 0-9 season last season, Lea knows it will be integral to teach his team to win.

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Quarterbacks compete

Quarterbacks Ken Seals, Mike Wright and Jeremy Moussa rotated among different groups of linemen and receivers. That arrangement was to get each QB used to working with different players on the team and give them equal chance to compete for the starting job.

"It's about establishing some chemistry and not only just with the one group of quarterbacks but also the receivers too," Lea said. "So they're gonna split time just so each person gets the chance to compete but as soon as it starts to separate that'll show up on the field too."

Lea complimented Seals and Wright on their maturity and the improvements they'd made in that area since spring. Both players were among the first group to earn their jersey numbers in July.

New defense progressing

Defensive lineman Daevion Davis was vocal in his leadership at practice. Lea noted Davis was one of the standouts, along with linebackers Elijah McAllister and Anfernee Orji and safeties Dashaun Jerkins and Max Worship.

During the spring, the defense seemed behind the offense due to a switch from a 3-4 alignment under Mason to a 4-2-5 under Lea.

The unit struggled last year after opt-outs and injuries. But coming from a defensive background as the defensive coordinator at Notre Dame, Lea still has time to install his scheme and figure out which players fit it best.

"We're further along than we were in the springtime," Lea said. "But when you talk about defense you're gonna talk about shifting gears when it comes to third-down installation, shifting gears when it comes to tight red zone, red zone, goal line, so the volume's gonna shift pretty dramatically. But we have a few guys that since the spring I think have been pretty steady. We have injured guys that are returning so it'll be fun to see those guys compete."

Aria Gerson covers Vanderbilt athletics for The Tennessean. Contact her at agerson@gannett.com or on Twitter @aria_gerson.