Exactly two weeks from the season opener against Duke, Tulane still has no place-kicker who inspires any confidence.
The front-runners fared poorly in a kicking drill during Thursday morning’s practice, bringing back memories of 2014 when no one had an idea whether the Green Wave could make a field goal from anywhere on the field.
Despite facing zero defensive presence — it was just a snap, a hold and a kick — walk-on freshman Steven Logan and sophomore Andrew DiRocco went 2 for 5. Both of them made their opening kick from 34 yards before struggling, with Logan misfiring on a 49-yard attempt before coming up short and wide on tries from 52 and 46 yards. DiRocco barely had the distance on a 46-yarder, missed wide on a 40-yarder and came up short from 52 and 49 yards.
“They are feeling the pressure and the heat a little bit,” coach Curtis Johnson said. “It’s good to know exactly what we have right now. I just want to feel confident enough about one of them.”
Strong-legged senior Trevor Simms performed the best out of four candidates Thursday, but he had struggled mightily from every distance the previous several days. This time, he hit a 34-yarder, a 46-yarder and a 52-yarder that would have been good from 60, missing wide on 40- and 49-yard attempts.
Freshman Zach Block went 2 for 5, too, including a duck hook from 43 yards.
Earlier in the preseason, Johnson declared Simms the front-runner, and he regressed immediately.
Earlier this week, he said he liked Logan the best. DiRocco, who hit only 8 of 15 field goals as a freshman last season, then outkicked Logan in a two-man competition Wednesday.
“I’m going to throw a rabbit into the hat and hope one of them comes out,” Johnson said. “I’ll take any suggestions.”
Nickerson nicked up
Johnson expressed no concern Thursday about sophomore cornerback Parry Nickerson missing the past three days of practice.
Nickerson, a USA Today first-team Freshman All-America last year after leading the Green Wave with six interceptions, watched the workouts from the sideline without a helmet. Johnson would not specify an injury.
“We are just holding him a little bit,” he said. “He’s a little guy, and he doesn’t need this right now. He’ll be ready to go in a couple of days.”
Nickerson (6-foot, 182 pounds) played in the season opener as a true freshman in 2013 but was redshirted with a lingering knee problem that had coaches worrying he might have to give up football. He returned with a vengeance last year, doubling the interception total of heralded teammate Lorenzo Doss.
In Nickerson’s absence, true freshman Taris Shenall of John Ehret has worked with the first unit.
“I’m just asking questions and getting ideas from the older guys and trying to stay focused,” Shenall said. “Everything is faster, so you just have to pay attention. I knew I could come in and play early, but I honestly didn’t think this early.”
Tulane’s freshman class of five scholarship defensive backs has drawn plenty of praise from Johnson, but another newcomer has been an even bigger surprise.
Sam Davis, a 6-0, 177-pound walk-on from Overland Park, Kansas, practiced with the second-team defense at nickelback on Wednesday and Thursday and is on pace to play in the season opener.
Davis arrived on campus in the summer as a total unknown and began practicing with teammates in 7-on-7 drills. Word got back quickly to the coaches, but they did not get to see him until the first day of preseason camp.
“We were like, ‘Wow’,” co-defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach Jason Rollins said. “He has a great opportunity to play. He has great instincts and a great feel for the game. He’s a great player all around.”
After ripping his players for a sloppy practice and what he said was an even sloppier locker room Tuesday, Johnson laid into them again midway through Thursday’s workout.
He liked the results.
“We finished the practice outstanding,” he said. “I really enjoyed it.”
The entire team had to stay after Tuesday’s three-hour practice to do punishment exercises.
Rollins said the battle between sophomore Tristan Cooper and redshirt freshman Donnie Lewis Jr. for the starting strong safety spot is a dead heat. … Ade Aruna has moved in front of Daren Williams for a starting spot at right defensive end. …Johnson said sophomore Terren Encalade, who caught 20 passes as a freshman, might be the best wideout on the roster, comparing him to former University of Miami receiver Reggie Wayne.