NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Vanderbilt offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig has been very busy this offseason trying to take full advantage of having the Commodores' all-time leading rusher back for a senior season.
Ralph Webb ranks 20th all-time in Southeastern Conference history with 3,342 yards rushing and could climb past some very big names with a strong season. Ludwig has added some plays use both Webb and a talented group of running backs.
Webb is looking forward to every opportunity he gets.
"I'm a versatile running back," Webb said. "I can do whatever the coaches need me to do and whatever helps this team win more ballgames, being that guy where I can adjust and play whatever position they want me to play throughout the offense."
Ludwig isn't spilling any secrets.
"You're going to see him in the I-formation or behind the quarterback more than you will flexed out as a receiver," Ludwig said. "But we are going to move him around, use him as a receiver."
How well the Commodores utilize Webb and 17 other returning starters will determine if Vanderbilt improves on last season's 6-7 record, which featured a 4-2 finish with wins over beating Georgia , Mississippi and in-state rival Tennessee before losing to North Carolina State in the Independence Bowl. Coach Derek Mason is going into his fourth season with his most experienced roster yet.
Here are some things to know about the Commodores:
SHURMUR'S SUMMER: Offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig and Shurmur's parents, including father Pat who's offensive coordinator for the NFL's Minnesota Vikings, encouraged the junior quarterback to go to California for some work with a private trainer. Shurmur also worked the Manning passing camp as well this summer. He threw for 2,409 yards as a sophomore but took a big jump late in the season as he averaged 290.5 yards passing over his final four SEC games. That included a career-high 416 yards against Tennessee.
Now Shurmur also has his top eight receivers back. "If we can hit the ground running Week One, not only myself but this offense as a whole, I think we'll be pretty good."
OFFENSIVE LINE: Finding the five starters is key this month for a unit that has three starters back with center Barrett Gouger now with the Chargers and tackle Will Holden with the Arizona Cardinals in the NFL. Bailey Granier got the first chance at right tackle with Devin Cochran possible at left tackle. Vanderbilt is hoping Sean Auwae-McMoore can earn the job at center, allowing Bruno Reagan to work at right guard.
SACK MORE QUARTERBACKS: Mason isn't happy at all about Vanderbilt managing all of 15 sacks last season, 122nd out of 128 teams nationally. The former defensive coordinator who oversees the Vanderbilt defense is used to averaging 38-40 sacks per season.
REPLACING CUNNINGHAM: Linebacker Zach Cunningham now is in the NFL with the Houston Texans , and senior Oren Burks will get the chance to replace both his leadership and big plays on the defense. Burks had 3 ½ sacks last season for a unit that was the nation's best in the red zone. Three starters are back on the line with Burks among two starters returning in the linebacking corps. Tre Herndon leads a secondary where five starters are back.
ROUGH START: Vanderbilt can't afford another slow start. The Commodores open Sept. 2 at Middle Tennessee. Kansas State and Alabama visit before September ends with a trip to Florida. October isn't any easier with games against Georgia and trips to Ole Miss and South Carolina.
PREDICTION: Vanderbilt finishes the regular season 6-6 to become bowl eligible for a second straight year.