The time for separation has come.
While the position battles at Tulane’s football practices have been intriguing to coaches and ramped up the competitiveness at a handful of positions, coach Curtis Johnson is ready to see some front-runners.
Saturday morning’s scrimmage, expected to feature between 35 to 50 plays, is the kind of opportunity Green Wave players pushing toward the top of the depth chart are looking for.
“The scrimmage is a huge day,” reserve defensive end Luke Jackson said. “That’s not just for me, but for everyone. It’s a big moment in not exactly setting things in stone for the lineup, but it does a lot in contributing to who is going to make the plays and who is on the field. It’s a pretty big day.
“At the end of practice, it’s just a few reps, so everyone gets a chance. A scrimmage is a lot longer and bigger and everyone is really watching. It’s way bigger.”
Johnson echoed Jackson’s sentiments and pointed to a handful of positions, beyond the defensive line, where he’d like to see a leader emerge at the conversation points of the depth chart.
In particular, Johnson highlighted the four-way race for strong safety and muddled depth at middle linebacker, right tackle and wide receiver.
Johnson will allow both starting units to match up against each other for at least part of the scrimmage, before turning to second and third teams later in the morning.
“I just want to see some of those guys who are in jobs that are up for grabs,” Johnson said. “I want to see who comes to play.”
Similarly, Johnson said there are players he doesn’t even need to see participate, choosing to sit starters like linebacker Nico Marley, running back Lazedrick Thompson, safety Darion Monroe and receiver Terren Encalade for the most of the scrimmage, allowing some under-the-radar options an opportunity to play with the first team.
It’s also a chance for Tulane to flex the versatility of its running back corps, which contains at least five different participants capable of starting. However, Johnson said he expects to use them in distinct packages rather than picking a single back for the entirety of a drive.
One way to utilize the full stable of ball carriers is to line some up out wide, helping not only maximize the amount of impact the position can make, but also mask a razor-thin receiving corps which contains only six scholarship players (two of whom are true freshmen).
Offensive coordinator Eric Price singled out sophomore Dontrell Hilliard as a back who has excelled in running receiver routes over the past two weeks and hopes to see others follow suit Saturday.
“We want to see how some of the backs react to being lined up not in the backfield, because it’s one thing to do it in seven-on-seven drills, but live scrimmage is a little bit more like a game,” Price said. “I want to see if they can handle these situations and handle a little bit of pressure and still make some plays.”
The position not faring well under pressure thus far has been at kicker. Despite having four kickers vying for the starting job — Zachary Block, Andrew DiRocco, Trevor Simms and Steven Logan — Johnson said no one has emerged thus far.
Expect all four to get a look in the scrimmage at Yulman Stadium, but Johnson said if things don’t turn around soon, he may search the uptown campus for a leg capable of consistently converting field goals and extra points.
“Our kicker may not even be on campus yet,” Johnson said. “We may have to wait until school starts before we find someone who can make these kicks. The thing that gets me is just the lack of consistency because one day it looks good, and the next day it’s all over the place.
“I thought I had one and then he just kicked it everywhere. So, we are still working it.”