Listed as co-No. 1 with sophomore Devin Powell at the end of spring drills, redshirt freshman quarterback Tanner Lee entered Tulane’s preseason practice with plenty of confidence. Nothing changed after the Green Wave’s initial workout Monday evening at the Saints’ indoor facility.
“When I walk into the building, I want to be the starting quarterback, so I’m going to act like it,” Lee said. “I came to show everybody that I can be a leader and get respect from my teammates. Hopefully I’ll earn the job.”
Tulane finished 101st out of 123 FBS teams in passing yards last season, throwing almost as many interceptions (16) as touchdowns (19). Nick Montana, who started 11 games, and Powell, who started twice and played in eight games, endured some rough moments, including four consecutive possessions that ended in interceptions against Florida Atlantic.
Their performance opened the door for Lee, who had a huge year as a senior at Jesuit High in 2012.
Tulane coach Curtis Johnson praised him repeatedly in the spring, and he tried to pick up where he left off in Monday’s practice, which was closed to reporters.
“It went well,” Lee said. “Usually on the opening day, there are some busts and other assignment problems. We had a little bit of that, but for the most part, everybody was pretty crisp.”
Montana, third on the depth chart at the end of spring practice, believes nothing has been decided.
“It’s wide open,” he said. “We’re just competing with each other to make each other better.”
Senior running back Rob Kelley, Tulane’s leading rusher as a sophomore, and junior defensive end Royce LaFrance, who was second on the team with 6½ sacks last year, missed Monday’s practice.
Kelley was suspended for spring drills because of academic issues for the second consecutive year and still has some hurdles to clear. His absence would leave the Wave without a running back who has scored a touchdown in his career.
“He has a couple things going,” Johnson said. “Hopefully we’ll get him back some time in the future.”
The news was more encouraging for LaFrance, a preseason first-team All-American Athletic Conference selection according to Phil Steele.
“Royce wasn’t here today, but he’ll be back here (Tuesday) getting ready to go,” Johnson said. “He’s fine.”
While Kelley is out, another running back who missed spring drills because of academic issues was cleared to practice: senior Dante’ Butler, a Brother Martin graduate who has 371 career rushing yards.
“He’s lost some weight,” Johnson said. “He played well today. Maybe he needs more time off. He shut his mouth today and he’s playing good.”
Butler said he shed about 15 pounds from last year, when he played fullback.
“Last year I gained weight pretty much because I had to based off the position I played,” he said. “This year, coming off the suspension, I made an oath to myself I would lose weight because that’s the only way I can get on the field.”
Three players missed the opening practice with knee issues: reserve cornerback Parry Nickerson, nickelback Jarod Franklin, who had knee surgery in the spring, and guard Alex Paul. … Freshman Leondre James, recruited as an athlete, is playing wide receiver. … Redshirt freshman Luke Jackson, who had surgery and underwent chemotherapy after being diagnosed with testicular cancer last fall, practiced for the first time since then. He has moved to outside linebacker from defensive end.