Better work ethic, attitude key to Vandy’s turnaround

This is the fourth in a 12-part series that breaks down the Ole Miss Rebels’ football opponents in 2015.

By John Davis, Oxford Citizen

A better attitude that revolved around focus and hard work were the things Spencer Pulley felt like would make the difference for the Vanderbilt Commodores in 2015. After not winning an SEC game last season, there is nowhere to go but up for a program that had gotten used to playing in bowl games.

Pulley, who has made 29 starts in his career, said there was a better mentality on the team, and that summer workouts had been more crisp.

“I’ve been on a lot of different teams. This will be my fifth season and the way I see it, I’ve been on five different teams and the work ethic that I see, it resembles that of when we went 9-4,” Pulley said. “It’s some of the best talent and some of the best work ethic that I’ve seen from a team here.”

The thing that was lacking in the Commodores under Derek Mason in his first season and the final season under James Franklin in 2013 was work ethic, Pulley said.

“There were still some guys that still had that old work ethic, that old attitude, but as a whole, the team wasn’t ready to go last year,” he said. “The team just didn’t have that relentlessness of wanting to play with everything they had as a whole.”

That sentiment is something Pulley had to gather as he looked back on 2014 rather than something he picked up on during the season.

“It was something I did think about during the year, but when you’re in the middle of a season, you try to take it one game at a time,” Pulley said. “You’re completely focused on that week. Sometimes it’s hard to see the big picture about something we may have failed at last year until it’s all over.”

More intense work put in the weight room should help in games this season, but in the eyes of the media, it made no difference as the Commodores were picked to finish last in the SEC East. The Commodores return a number of players on both sides of the ball.

Outside of Pulley, there are two starters back on the offensive line. Tight end Steven Scheu is back, as are two wide receivers that combined to catch 64 passes. Ralph Webb is also back at running back after he rushed for 912 yards and four touchdowns in 2014.

“It’s great to have a running back like Ralph Webb,” Pulley said. “I’ve blocked for some great running backs over the years, some of them that have played in the NFL, and Ralph Webb is the kind of guy you want on your team. He is the kind of guy that comes to work everyday. He does the right things. He keeps his head down and he’s got the talent to be a great running back.”

Vanderbilt returns everyone in the back seven, and two defensive linemen. Linebacker Nigel Bowden is the top returning tackler with 78 stops, while fellow backer Zach Cunningham returns a season after he made 67 stops.

“I feel like having that competition among each other, I feel like we all have the instincts to where we all want the ball this next play,” Bowden said of the experienced group next to him. “Zach Cunningham, Stephen Weatherly, they all have it. We also got some guys that didn’t even get to play last year that I’m starting to see good things from. It’s amazing to see that.”

The Commodores open the season Sept. 3 against Western Kentucky before hosting Georgia and Austin Peay. Their first road contest of the 2015 slate comes Sept. 26 at Ole Miss.

“I’m very excited about the schedule as a whole. You’re playing the best teams in the country like I said and I’m always excited to play Ole Miss or any other team in the SEC,” Pulley said. “Being able to play some of these teams that have gotten better over the years is going to be very exciting. You wouldn’t want to have it any other way than to play the best teams in the country. Looking back at Ole Miss last year, that was a frustrating game. You can’t be proud of it. I don’t know what Ole Miss is doing this offseason, I just know what we are. We’re getting ready for this next season and everyone we have to face.”

john.davis@journalinc.com

Twitter: @oxfordcitizenjd

Denham Springs, La., native, Mississippian since 1989 with a stop in Meridian before arriving in Tupelo. Daily Journal beat writer since 1996, covering Ole Miss since 2002. Proud Northeast Louisiana alum. Follow me on Twitter @parrishalford and listen to John Davis and myself daily with The Ole Miss Beat on Rebel Sports Radio.

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