NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Derek Mason and the Vanderbilt Commodores have an actual quarterback battle on their hands as they report for fall practice.
And Mason couldn't be happier.
"It just raises everybody's level of awareness as to details and what they need to do because they know that there's a battle," Mason said Thursday. "And hopefully they are trying to ride the coattails of one of these two guys at some point in time ... It just brings a different type of mood and element to practice."
Vanderbilt is trying to replace Kyle Shurmur, who finally left after setting most of the Commodores' passing records. Riley Neal, who transferred from Ball State after graduating, took part in spring practice and is competing with Deuce Wallace for the starting gig. Wallace missed last season due to a suspension but is a redshirt junior.
To help choose the new starter, Mason said the plan is to divide the work between Neal and Wallace to make sure each has adequate snaps to help make a decision. Leadership and production also will count with everything watched closely as Vanderbilt tries to build on a 6-7 season that ended with a 45-38 loss to Baylor in the Texas Bowl.
"That's part of playing quarterback in this conference knowing at the end of the day everything you do is going to be watched, scrutinized, picked apart," Mason said. "And that's a good thing to have that type of battle going on now because it' sonly going to get bigger once we get into the season."
Vanderbilt has a new offensive coordinator this season in Gerry Gdowski.
Mason knows exactly who his starter is at running back, wide receiver and tight end with Ke'Shawn Vaughn the top returning running back in the Southeastern Conference after running for 1,244 yards and 12 touchdowns averaging 7.9 yards per carry and 103.7 yards per game and Kalija Lipscomb is the league's top returning receiver with 87 catches for 916 yards and nine TDs.
Tight end Jared Pinkney also decided to return for his final season knowing Vanderbilt would have to replace Shurmur.
The 6-foot-2 Wallace threw for 94 yards as a redshirt freshman in 2017 before Mason suspended him for the 2018 season for violating school policy. Neal is bigger at 6-6, and he has much more experience having completed 60 percent of his passes at Ball State for 7,393 yards and 46 TDs. As a senior, Ball also ran for 357 yards and five TDs.
Mason said quarterbacks will not be allowed to talk, giving them time to focus on practice.
Vanderbilt started with meetings Thursday and will hit the field Saturday for the first practice splitting between young and old players to maximize work on the field. The first couple practices will be closed to media until the Commodores get into partial pads Monday.
Mason would like to pick his starting quarterback by the middle of August or not long after. The Commodores open the season Aug. 31 hosting Georgia.
"There's got to be enough time for the chemistry and cohesion to take place with our offensive guys and just being able to know who's one and who's two," Mason said. "If I got to draw it out a little longer, I will. I'm not going to stick to a timeline. I'm going to let the player or players tell me exactly where we need to go."
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