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August 5, 2014

Mental reps prep Nelson for new role

When redshirt freshman offensive tackle Andrew Nelson learned that he was unable to participate in spring practice, initially, it seemed like a major setback.

On an offensive line depleted by graduation, among other things, Nelson was penciled in to become the starting right tackle in 2014. Off-season reps were crucial toward his development, but with the cartilage in his left knee still healing - "My knee was just a little tweaked," he said - he was held off the field.

Determined not to allow the injury create lost time, instead, in between rehab, weight lifting sessions and school, Nelson spent hours studying film while specifically paying attention to the linemen's audibles or calls, hand signals, footwork and technique.

"Because I wasn't getting those reps on the field, I needed to spend more time in the film room, studying my plays," Nelson said. "I definitely spent a lot of time watching film, going over Vanderbilt's film, just going over the offense because I couldn't get those reps."

Actually, most of the film that Nelson watched came from Vanderbilt's recent seasons, and Nelson's attention was fixated on one offensive lineman in particular - Wes Johnson.

Johnson was an All-SEC offensive lineman for Herb Hand and made 51 career starts, the most in Vanderbilt's history. As Johnson now battles for a roster spot in Pittsburgh as a Steelers fifth round draft selection, the model can't hurt.

"He was one of Coach Hand's favorite players and I really took a liking to him and try to watch him because it's the same offense that we're going to be running now," Nelson explained. "So I wanted to see how a player could excel in this offense. Watching Wes really helped that."

With preseason practice now underway, the time has come to see how the film study pays off. Still, though, Nelson is limited on the practice field. He reports that his knee feels "fine," but the coaching staff is cautiously easing Nelson back into action. At practice Monday afternoon, the Hershey native wore a light blue jersey designated for players who see a limited practice load. And, it wasn't too long ago - just this summer, actually - when Nelson was still experiencing discomfort in that knee.

"I think for a while I was kinda feeling a little upset [because] I felt my knee wasn't 100 percent," Nelson said. "But lately I've just been trusting God that this was a part of his plan for my life. There wasn't a point when I felt like I was 100 percent, but I'm pushing through and feeling better."

Nelson, his teammates and coaches are anticipating that he'll be ready go by week one, and they're planning to that accordingly.

Even if he's limited in practice, Nelson is confident that he'll be able to handle the starting job due to the mental reps that he took this off-season in the film room. One of the things that Nelson learned from studying Vanderbilt's previous offensive lines is this: They're expected handle a lot, mentally.

They change protections before the snap; they change their call according to certain packages, if a blitz appears to be coming, everyone better know. It's all about communication and understanding the schemes and concepts. Said Nelson, "There's more responsibility on the offensive line than there ever has been as far making different calls to blitzes and alignments."

Due to Hand's emphasis on film study - not just for Nelson, but the entire team - Nelson believes they'll be equipped to handle it. Although they might be limited on offensive line depth, they hope being well-prepared can help counteract some of the issues.

"When we see different looks from the defense," said Nelson, "Coach Hand has prepared us with the tools to play against certain fronts and different blitzes and that helps us adjust."



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