With so many new faces taking on prominent roles, the Tulane offense is still unclear on what its identity will be heading into the season.
Having a redshirt freshman take over quarterbacking duties makes the offense’s outlook a bit more blurry, as well.
But the Green Wave has plenty of confidence in Tanner Lee, believing that the young quarterback can turn what was the 101st-ranked passing offense last year into a strength.
“I think he can get the ball to us in any kind of coverage,” wide receiver Justyn Shackleford said. “He has a great arm and great understanding of the offense. We just have to get our timing down.”
Lee, a Jesuit High grad, was named the starter last week and has had to change his focus from winning a quarterback competition to winning a game at Tulsa on Aug. 28.
“I’ve just been getting more and more comfortable in the offense,” Lee said. “I’m getting more reps with the (first unit), so now I’m just really focused on the offense. We’ve just been focused on Tulsa and how they’re going to try to attack us.”
Lee is not the only freshman who’s expected to make plays once the lights come on. Tulane coach Curtis Johnson has said throughout the offseason he expects freshman receivers Teddy Veal, Terren Encalade and Leondre James to make immediate impacts on the passing game.
Shakleford said he and fellow senior Xavier Rush have made it a priority to help the young receivers transition into the college game. After all, their production will be a must.
“They just always come to Xavier and I with a lot of questions because we have such a great understanding of the offense,” he said. “We have some fast guys that can make moves on a defensive back and take it to the end zone. We just have to help them see what they are supposed to be looking for.”
No secondary concerns
While the many new faces on offense may give Tulane fans a reason to worry, they can surely find comfort in a defensive secondary they’ve seen grow up before their very eyes.
“We all started together freshman year and we were just thrown in there,” said junior safety Darion Monroe, who’s been a stalwart on the Tulane with fellow safety Sam Scofield and cornerback Lorenzo Doss.
All that experience has bonded the players and helped them grow into what should be a fierce group this season.
“It’s like a brotherhood,” Doss said. “We’re always together off the field going over plays and stuff like that, so when we’re on the field it’s easy to us. It’s like second nature.”
Johnson added: “I think (the secondary) is one of the biggest parts of our team. They play a huge role. We have six or seven guys on the back end that we have confidence can get the job done.”
One of the the things the players learned over the years is how well they can play off of each other, giving the offense different looks and potentially causing confusion.
“We’ve grown and learned,” Monroe said. “We can do different things to give teams different looks so they can’t get a hold of us. Our strength is our communication back there. We talk a lot, sometimes we do stuff and the coaches don’t even know what we’re doing.
“But it works, so that’s all that matters.”
A closer look
1. Redshirt freshman cornerback Parry Nickerson had another exceptional day in the closed practice at the Saints facility. Fellow corner Lorenzo Doss said Nickerson, who missed all but the season opener last year with knee problems, made two interceptions. On Tuesday, coach Curtis Johnson said half-jokingly that Doss, an All-America candidate, needed to play well to keep his job over Nickerson.
2. Tulane is into full preparation mode for the season opener against Tulsa now, with preseason camp officially over. For the first time, the Green Wave spent most of the practice with the offense and defense working against the scout teams. The guys who are going to play know who they are now.
3. Safety Darion Mornoe, whom Johnson loves to use closer to the line of scrimmage at nickelback, said he actually prefers safety after playing there the last two years. He quickly added he is happy to do anything the coaches want and understands the value of being versatile.
Guerry Smith contributed to this report.