NEW ORLEANS — Tulane quarterback Nick Montana moved to New Orleans hardly more than a month ago, but even in that short time frame, he’s picked up on the difference between workout speed and practice speed under Green Wave coach Curtis Johnson.
Just three practices into his Tulane career, the redshirt junior commented on the difficulty in picking up the pace with a set of mostly unfamiliar teammates surrounding him.
“It’s a bit tough,” Montana said Saturday. “I had about four weeks of working with the guys, and that definitely helped, but I can feel some of the timing things are off and it will all come together eventually but it would help to be with them more.
“I’m not going to make any excuses, but practice is at a different level, and it would be nice to be more familiar with everyone, but that timing is going to come. Just being around the offense will make it easier, but I need to be better than I was today.”
Although Johnson still complimented Montana’s efforts and noted he isn’t intending to make any decision regarding starting quarterback until fall camp, keeping the competition between Montana and redshirt freshman Devin Powell of O. Perry Walker wide open.
Still, Johnson admitted to being impressed by Montana’s quick pick-up of the offensive system in such a short amount of time — despite the occasional glitch in the timing.
“He really does understand the kind of offense that we are putting in,” Johnson said. “I just hope he doesn’t put too much pressure on himself. He knows the plays, and I think he’s running it really well, and he’s getting the ball out. There are always a couple of miscues, but it’s the same as any other quarterback. I’d say he’s actually a little bit ahead of the curve.”
But the curve is a long one, since either Powell or Montana will be replacing four-year starter Ryan Griffin, who was widely praised by teammates for his fluency in the playbook and ability to read defenses at the line of scrimmage.
Sophomore defensive back Darion Monroe said it’s been an adjustment since suddenly the secondary is more experienced than the quarterback, unlike last season’s practices, which featured Griffin throwing against three true freshmen in the secondary.
“It’s just different, and these guys we have now are smart, but Griff just had so much experience,” Monroe said. “He broke records and knew everything his receivers were going to do before they did it. So, the way I would say it is Griff knew the offense like Drew Brees. These guys are good, but they’re pretty new to it. So I would say they know it like (Saints backup quarterback) Chase Daniel.
“So it’s easy to disguise coverages and confuse them for now, since there’s a little bit of a hitch, but you can already see them catching on, so it’ll be a battle all the way through.”
Monroe is currently a man without a position. Or a man with two positions, depending on whom you ask.
The sophomore came to Tulane last fall and earned his place among the Green Wave’s top cornerbacks coming out of preseason camp. Then, injuries, a suspension and a lack of production forced his move to safety, where he played the remainder of the season and earned himself a spot on Conference USA’s all-freshman team.
Through fall camp, Tulane’s coaches are trying to decipher where he fits in best without the urgency of a game or personnel matchups to worry about.
“I’m just playing all around. It kind of depends on the play,” Monroe said. “We’re just thin back there without the freshmen here. When the fall gets here, I’ll probably find a base position and stick to it, but right now, I’m everywhere. I just love playing and being on the field.”
Monroe said he doesn’t have a preference on which position he plays, and Johnson labeled him a “safety with a lot of options,” comparing him to the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Troy Polamalu for his ability to cover receivers in man coverage and roam the back end of the secondary when necessary.
Tulane is missing at least five players for the entirety of spring practice. Aaron Bryant, Zach Davis, Cameron DeJean and Logan Hamilton are out with injuries.
Meanwhile, junior running back Robert Kelley will miss the spring with academic issues, and it’s unknown if he will return for the fall.
Johnson said tight end Matt Marfisi and running back Dante Butler missed Saturday’s practice with insignificant injuries which shouldn’t keep either out of next week’s workouts.