Vanderbilt safety Donovan Kaufman out for year as roster thins for Mississippi State game

Adam Sparks
Nashville Tennessean

Vanderbilt starting safety/kick returner Donovan Kaufman will miss the remainder of the season for a medical-related issue, coach Derek Mason said Tuesday.

Kaufman, a freshman, was not only one of the team's most dynamic defenders. He also led the SEC in kick return average (27.4 yards). He started the first two games of the season against Texas A&M and LSU but missed the South Carolina and Ole Miss games.

Mason said he expects Kaufman to return to the lineup next season.

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It's another tough blow to a Vanderbilt roster, and particularly the defensive secondary, that has been depleted during a season of injuries, transfers and a COVID-19 outbreak.

Vanderbilt defensive back Donovan Kaufman (1) races up the field with a 58-yard kick return during the second quarter against LSU at Vanderbilt Stadium Saturday, Oct. 3, 2020 in Nashville, Tenn.

Vanderbilt has around 10 players that opted out of the season, according to Mason, which leads the SEC. Last week, quarterback Danny Clark, a junior-college transfer, was added to that list after being in uniform for the first three games.

"Our roster is challenged more than any roster in the SEC with the loss of good players," Mason said.

Secondary delivered another blow

At least 10 defensive backs have missed a combined 17 games this season, and none have started all four games.

Safety Frank Coppet, who was returning from a 2019 season-ending injury, has only played in one game. Cornerback B.J. Anderson missed the first three games of the season due to injury, and cornerback Randall Haynie missed the South Carolina game.

Safety Dashaun Jerkins missed the South Carolina game because of a COVID-19 quarantine. Safety Chase Lloyd made his first career start against South Carolina and then missed the Ole Miss game.

Safety Brendon Harris missed the first two games of the season due to injury, but Mason said he must step into Kaufman's role against Mississippi State (1-4) on Saturday (2:30 p.m., SEC Network).

"It's always got to be about the next man up. The next man up right now is Brendon Harris," Mason said. "Donovan is a different type of player, as most of you got to see in a small game sample. He's different in what he brings to the table. He's an impact player."

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Other reserve defensive backs have missed time in a secondary that's lacked depth since the season opener. Safeties Tae Daley and Tre Douglas could’ve provided help, but both entered the transfer portal during preseason practice.

Ja'Veon Marlow still suspended for Mississippi State game

Mason also said running back Ja'Veon Marlow will not play against Mississippi State, continuing a suspension for violation of team rules.

"(Marlow) will be back, but he's not available this week," Mason said.

Three other starters did not appear on the depth chart released Tuesday — offensive guard Drew Birchmeier, defensive tackle Cameron Tidd and inside linebacker Anfernee Orji.

Mason said he will have an update on their status later in the week, but he did not specify if their absence was related to injuries or COVID-19. Vanderbilt players take COVID-19 tests on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday each week.

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