Practicing indoors was a luxury Tulane could afford last season because all but two of its games before November were played in domes. With the debut of outdoor Yulman Stadium set for 3 p.m. Sept. 6 against Georgia Tech, the Green Wave practiced on the campus of Newman High School on Wednesday morning even though the Saints indoor facility was available.
“It’s a must,” coach Curtis Johnson said. “We have to practice outdoors. We have to get accustomed to it. It’s not just the heat, it’s the humidity. Every once in a while we’ll get a breeze, but this was perfect today.”
The two-hour-plus workout went off without a hitch. The Wave will head back indoors Thursday and Friday before having a full-pads practice at Tad-Gormley Stadium on Saturday.
“It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be,” Johnson said. “We got tired at the end, and a couple of them overheated, but everybody’s fine. There was no ambulance. They weren’t like me. They would have had to carry me off.”
Senior wide receiver Xavier Rush said concerns about the heat were overblown. Rush welcomed the outdoor practice and insisted the Wave would be ready for the heat of the home opener.
“Mostly it’s just mindset,” he said. “We just have to come out here and not even think about the heat. We played Pop Warner ball outside and high school ball outside and junior high ball outside. Before coach (Johnson) came, a lot of us had practiced outside every day.”
A day after performing adequately in a short drill at the Saints facility, Tulane place-kickers Andrew DiRocco and Steven Broccoli fared much worse at Newman.
The problems started with a shaky performance from snapper Matt Marfisi, who sent one about 2 yards wide of holder Peter Picerelli, messed up the timing on the next one by snapping it too high and bounced a third one.
The result: a couple of low, line-drive misses and some other shanks.
Replacing 2012 Lou Groza Award winner Cairo Santos is a daunting task, but Johnson said it was too early to panic.
“I don’t think it’s a problem yet,” he said. “I’m concerned not about the kicks as much as getting the ball back. When we get the ball back, those guys will make it, but we snapped the ball kind of everywhere.”
Johnson said sophomore Michael Lizanich, a recruited long snapper who lost his job after a rough outing at Syracuse in September, had moved back ahead of Marfisi, a tight end.
Sophomore linebacker Edward Williams caused some consternation when he fell to the ground clutching his knee near the end of Wednesday’s practice. He got up quickly, though, and completed the workout after Johnson yelled at him.
Williams, a 6-foot-3, 230-pound prospect from Warren Easton who signed with Tulane late in 2013 after committing to Texas Tech, is expected to play a huge role at middle linebacker this year after an injury-plagued freshman season.
“I’m going to be hard on him because he’s got a lot of potential,” Johnson said. “So he’s going to mope and cry, but it (Johnson’s motivational technique) is for a reason. He’s going to be a very good player for us.”
Former Tulane cornerback Devon Walker, who suffered a cervical spine fracture against Tulsa in 2012, attended practice in his wheelchair and gave a motivational speech to the team. … Safety Darion Monroe returned to practice after missing the first few days with a minor injury. Cornerback Lorenzo Doss remained out, and fellow starting cornerback Taurean Nixon, a former Southern Lab star, joined him. Both are considered day-to-day.
Three observations from Wednesday’s practice:
1. Junior Diaz, a freshman who enrolled at Tulane in January and practiced during the spring, has moved up to the second unit at center. Johnson said Diaz, a three-star recruit according to Rivals.com, was improving rapidly.
2. Freshman RB Dontrell Hilliard drew hollers from his offensive teammates after knocking linebacker Eric Thomas to the ground in a one-on-one pass protection drill.
3. With starting CBs Lorenzo Doss and Taurean Nixon injured, freshman Donnie Lewis Jr. and sophomore Richard Allen were the first-team corners.