Tulane football coach Curtis Johnson couldn’t have asked for better conditions Thursday to simulate the conditions for his team’s season opener in Tulsa, Okla., a week later.
That doesn’t mean it was fun, though.
“Due to the fact that we’re going to Tulsa, it’s been around 100 degrees out there, so we wanted to get them a couple days of this great weather in New Orleans,” Johnson said with a smirk, sweat beads covering his face.
There was an uptick in the number of hands resting on knees during Thursday’s scorching morning session at Tad Gormley Stadium. The AccuWeather.com app displayed 86 degrees but also said the temperature felt closer to 107.
As linemen huffed and puffed on the sideline after a drill, an assistant coach walked by yelling, “Fight what you’re feeling! Be mentally tough!”
“If you can keep your assignment on a day like this, continue on and press through without getting in a fight or doing something silly, you’ve survived,” Johnson said. “This was one of those survival of the fittest days.”
Johnson said he didn’t see many blown assignments, but he acknowledged it got “a little testy,” likely referring to when defensive tackle Tanzel Smart got into a shoving match with a scout team offensive lineman during the final periods of practice.
The fatigue seemed to hit no one harder than senior defensive end Tyler Gilbert, who spent much of the practice on the sideline with his pads off while trainers squeezed ice water-soaked towels on his head and neck. Freshman defensive end Daren Williams also apparently had problems, with Johnson, speaking on the importance of hydration, mentioning him.
While their coach disagreed —“We got a little bit of a breeze today. Monday … I almost went down.” — both cornerback Taurean Nixon and quarterback Tanner Lee ranked Thursday’s practice as the hottest of camp so far, by far.
“I’ve just got to think back to my high school days (at Jesuit)when we practiced here every day in this heat,” Lee said. “Just keeping the guys up and going was different today, but this is the kind of practice that makes you tough.”
Practicing in such fatiguing conditions will prepare a team that has played half its games in a dome in past years for the new open-air Yulman Stadium on campus, as it will for next Thursday’s opener. With that said, the Green Wave may get a reprieve from Tulsa’s current week long flirtation with 100 degrees; the high is set to take a dip to 88 degrees, according to AccuWeather.com, on top of a late kickoff.
Nixon hopes so, at least.
“If it’s this hot at night, I mean… God,” Nixon said, laughing. “I don’t know what we’re going to do.”
The starters began practicing against the scout team this week, getting a jump on the game planning for Tulsa.
Nixon said Wednesday and Thursday’s practice, for the defense, were run-heavy days.
“We’ve been getting into the run reads, learning to fit into the right gaps and doing a lot of screen and draw periods,” Nixon said.
Lee said the offense has been repping plays the players already know they’re going to run, with special deference for safeties Michael Mudoh, a C-USA All-Conference second-teamer last year who led the league in tackles, and Demarco Nelson, who made the All-Conference second team in 2012 before sitting out last season for academic reasons.
“Those are the two guys we’ve been keying, learning their tendencies,” Lee said.
Redshirt sophomore offensive tackle Calvin Thomas did not practice Thursday with what Johnson called a foot injury. Johnson did not disclose whether it was the same foot that kept Thomas off the field last season.
“I don’t know if he’ll be available this week,” Johnson said.
Also, Johnson said, “we’ll see in October,” about linebacker sophomore Jarrod Franklin, who has not practiced since sustaining a knee injury in the spring.
Three observations of note from Thursday’s practice:
1 Tulane’s defense nabbed a pair of interceptions off of the scout team offense during the late stages of practice Thursday. Glenn Cuiellette’s pass ricocheted off of Larry Dace’s hands, then off of cornerback Parry Nickerson before being nabbed by safety Leonard Davis. Three plays later, safety Brandon LeBeau grabbed an errant pass of his own.
2 Coach Curtis Johnson wasn’t pleased with starting quarterback Tanner Lee at times on Thursday. He urged the redshirt sophomore to throw the ball away more often rather than taking sacks or throwing into tight coverage. Johnson said he promised Lee he will call a better play if they can get another snap in the drive.
3 Nickel linebacker Jarrod Franklin, who tore his MCL, PCL and meniscus in his knee during spring practice, will be reevaluated in October to see if he can contribute this season. Despite the devastating injury, Tulane listed him atop the depth chart after spring practice, however, he has been unable to participate in practice to this point.