The Tulane football team’s crowded backfield is about to become even deeper.
The NCAA Clearinghouse ruled freshman running back Nigel Anderson eligible to play this week after resolving an undisclosed issue with his academic record, freeing him to join the team after he missed the first week of preseason drills.
Anderson, a former East St. John standout, was one of a trio of three-star prospects in Tulane’s 2015 signing class, according to Rivals.com. He watched Thursday morning’s workout from the sideline in shorts and a helmet without a jersey as part of the NCAA-mandated three-practice acclimation process before he gets cleared for contact.
Anderson (5-foot-10, 187 pounds) rushed for 1,513 yards and 14 touchdowns as a senior at East St. John, but he may have a hard time rising up the depth chart this year.
Tulane returns its three-headed backfield of Sherman Badie, Lazedrick Thompson and Dontrell Hilliard, who combined for 1,673 yards last season.
The Wave also welcomed back senior Rob Kelley, who has not played since 2013 but has 1,038 career rushing yards, and junior Josh Rounds, a third-down specialist who was redshirted last season.
Additionally, coach Curtis Johnson has said he would create a specific package for pint-sized freshman Devin Glenn (5-8, 164), whom he compared to former Saints player Darren Sproles.
Still, there is plenty of room for Anderson.
“Yes, I can see him (playing this year),” Johnson said. “The thing I’m always worried about, last year we were playing a game and I looked up and had no backs (due to multiple injuries). Bill Parcells always told Sean (Payton) just keep signing backs because you never have enough.”
Anderson said it felt good to be out on the field after his week in limbo.
“I’m finally here, so I can’t do anything but smile,” he said. “I wasn’t really tripping. I wasn’t really worried. I was here (on campus) watching film over and over. If I’m not out here, I’m watching film or lifting weights. I’m really excited because now I can show them what to do.”
Anderson described his running style as combining power and quickness. He also could enter the picture as a kickoff returner after Tulane finished second-to-last nationally in that department last season.
Anderson will be eligible to play in Tulane’s first scrimmage this Saturday morning at Yulman Stadium. Johnson said he likely would hold him out but then amended his statement, saying he might play a couple of downs so he could absorb his first hit.
Either way, Anderson is ready to join the competition. Both he and Johnson appeared impatient with him observing instead of participating in Thursday morning’s full-contact practice, with Johnson yelling for a trainer to keep him moving at one point instead of letting him stand still.
Anderson watched Kelley and Rounds — likely fourth and fifth on the depth chart — score touchdowns in a goal-line drill.
“We can move all kinds of running backs out and in,” Anderson said. “Our depth is amazing, so I don’t know where I am on the depth chart, but I will do my best. Every day I bust my tail just to get out here.”
Kelley’s last play came in the 2013 New Orleans Bowl, but he has impressed the coaches in preseason practice despite missing the next two spring drills and all of the fall last year due to academic issues.
He scored back-to-back touchdowns on a power run and a reception in Thursday’s goal-line drill, which had the offense trying to score from the 1.
“He looks real good,” Johnson said. “He’s big, he’s solid, he has great vision, and he knows the offense. I like what he’s doing.”
Kelley (6-0, 220) could play a role as a short-yardage runner and as a receiver. He caught 80 passes for 694 yards and five touchdowns from 2011 to 2013.
Kicking candidates Andrew DiRocco, Trevor Simms, Zach Block and Steven Logan combined to make fewer than half of their field goal attempts in a practice drill. Simms struggled with accuracy. DiRocco was short from 46 and 48 yards. … Two other members of Tulane’s signing class are waiting to be cleared academically by the NCAA. Johnson said he expected safety Darius Black of Belle Chasse to be declared eligible soon. Sources have indicated three-star wide receiver Darius Williams of McDonogh 35 likely will miss the season but could become eligible next year.