Five burning questions for Clark Lea, Vanderbilt football at SEC Media Days 2023

SEC Media Days are no longer a new rodeo for Vanderbilt football coach Clark Lea. Entering his third season in 2023, Lea will see the event held in his native Nashville for his first time at the helm as his Commodores look to push toward a bowl game.
Vanderbilt finished 5-7 last season and returns a lot of production, particularly at receiver, offensive line and safety. But the Commodores are looking to take a step forward in 2023, a goal that likely will be reflected in Lea's statements at SEC Media Days.
Alongside safety Jaylen Mahoney, linebacker Ethan Barr and wide receiver Will Sheppard, Lea will take the podium at 9 a.m. CT on Tuesday at the Grant Hyatt Hotel in Nashville.
The event takes place July 17-20 and will be televised on SEC Network.
Here are five questions we hope to hear Lea answer at SEC Media Days 2023:
What steps has AJ Swann taken since 2022? And can anyone push him for the job?
AJ Swann stepped into the starting role in the fourth game of 2022 and looked primed to be Vanderbilt's quarterback of the future, but a concussion kept him out of most of the second half of the season. Mike Wright, who has since transferred to Mississippi State, was at the helm for four of the Commodores' five wins in 2022.
Still, it's reasonable to expect Swann to take steps forward in his sophomore season, especially now that he's healthy. Vanderbilt has three quality backup options in Ken Seals, Drew Dickey and Walter Taylor, but it remains to be seen how much time any of them will see. Taylor might be the most intriguing of the group. A strong-armed 6-foot-7 signal-caller, Taylor largely struggled in the spring but his raw arm talent turned heads in the spring game.
How is the pass rush shaping up?
Vanderbilt will be overhauling its pass rush somewhat from a year ago with the losses of Elijah McAllister and Michael Owusu. That might not be a bad thing, though, as it was one of the Commodores' worst units in 2022.
The "star" position − a hybrid of defensive end and outside linebacker − will be one of the more intriguing battles to watch. Miles Capers was likely to be the starter last year before suffering a torn ACL in preseason practice. He should be healthy for the 2023 season, but he'll be pushed by sophomores Darren Agua and BJ Diakite, as well as Stanford transfer Aeneas DiCosmo.
Who replaces Anfernee Orji's production?
It's nearly impossible to replace the SEC's fourth-leading tackler one-for-one. Anfernee Orji, who made 106 tackles in 2022, is now with the New Orleans Saints, and the Commodores will have to hope someone else steps in.
The good news is that Vanderbilt returns most of its other contributors there. Kane Patterson and Ethan Barr, the latter of whom was chosen as one of the Commodores' player representatives at the event, should be steady contributors. Vanderbilt also added another high-upside option in Notre Dame transfer Prince Kollie, and sophomore Langston Patterson had a strong spring.
What happens at running back?
Running back is one of Vanderbilt's biggest positional questions after workhorse Ray Davis transferred to Kentucky. The most experienced returner is junior Patrick Smith, but he didn't have a good sophomore season. He's joined by sophomore Chase Gillespie and a trio of freshmen: AJ Newberry, Sedrick Alexander and Deago Benson.
Alexander is the most intriguing of the group. An early enrollee, he was Vanderbilt's most impressive running back in the spring game and could have a shot to start as a true freshman.
Can Vanderbilt still be the best program in the country?
Lea made headlines in 2022 by proclaiming that he felt the Commodores could be "the best football program in the country" in time. While the statement was ridiculed, it did show a confidence in his program that proved to be somewhat justified, as Vanderbilt improved from 2-10 to 5-7.
This year, a bowl game is firmly in Lea's mind as the primary goal, but at SEC Media Days he tends to go even loftier with his statements. On Tuesday, will Lea again proclaim that the Commodores could be the best program in the country? Or will he come up with an even bolder statement?

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