Bothered by a recurring ankle sprain, Sherman Badie was a nonfactor in the second half of Tulane’s 2014 football season.
This year, he plans to be double trouble.
Badie, a John Curtis product who rushed for 215 yards in his debut against Tulsa last August, is spending plenty of practice split out wide in three-receiver sets. The Green Wave is short-handed at wide receiver with only six scholarship players, so his knack for making people miss in open space should come in handy.
“It’s good, because we have a lot of running backs and it opens up the playbook,” he said Sunday after Tulane’s first practice in full pads. “It allows me to use my athletic ability.”
Badie had runs of 90, 86 and 73 yards as a redshirt freshman, exhibiting explosiveness the Wave had lacked for years. He did all of that damage early, though. He managed only 154 yards on 47 carries (3.3 average) in the final six games, adding nine receptions for 25 yards. His average gain for the season on 24 catches was 4.5 yards, but most of those opportunities were swing passes with no blockers in front of him.
The approach in the opening week of preseason practice is to incorporate him in a much broader route-running package.
“We are limited at wide receiver, so I’m going to do everything it takes to help us win,” he said. “I’m very comfortable now. There were a couple of things I did not know last year because I was young and still learning, but now I feel like I know everything.”
It’s just a matter of staying healthy. Badie’s game is based on quick cuts and acceleration, so the ankle issues rendered him even more ineffective than other backs would have been. They weren’t minor tweaks, either. He could have opted to sit out the second half of the year entirely but showed his toughness by playing through the pain.
“He just lost a step,” offensive coordinator Eric Price said. “One thing after the other. Each week, it was something. But like we did against Tulsa, we’ve got to give him the ball in the open field and let him roll a little bit more.”
The visions of a 1,500-yard season that popped up after Badie’s dazzling debut against Tulsa are a thing of the past because of Tulane’s depth in the backfield. Lazedrick Thompson and Dontrell Hilliard emerged as potent threats a year ago, and Josh Rounds and Rob Kelley have crowded the picture even more after not playing in 2014.
But Badie’s combined rushing/receiving total still could be eye-popping if he continues developing as a receiver.
“He’s a freak athlete,” quarterback Tanner Lee said. “We need to get him the ball any way we can. We have a lot of running backs, so he can’t always be in the backfield.”
A healthy Badie is a happy Badie. His inability to plant without pain turned the end of last season into torture.
“In the offseason, I worked hard on it, and now I feel 100 percent,” he said. “I’ve been taking care of my body, and it feels great.”
Limited full contact
About 10 minutes of Tulane’s practice in full pads Sunday featured live tackling, with Tanner Lee and backup quarterback Devin Powell each getting a series.
Lee, sticking to short passes, produced a couple of first downs against the first-team defense, although one came when senior safety Darion Monroe jumped offside.
Powell was less successful, throwing three straight incomplete passes to start. Rob Kelley then lost a fumble on his only carry.
Coach Curtis Johnson praised the pass protection, saying it was ahead of schedule for the day in pads.
Beating the heat
The morning workout was in less-oppressive conditions than anticipated thanks to a constant cloud cover and a steady breeze, but Johnson did not taking any chances. For the third consecutive day, players waited more than an hour before putting on jerseys and helmets.
Johnson said he got the idea after talking to three or four NFL coaches during the summer.
“At first I didn’t believe it (was a good idea). But the first day (of preseason practice Wednesday), we got some cramps and it was very hot out there, so I just want to save them,” he said. “We’ll put helmets and pads on, but early on when we’re doing walkthrough and other stuff, I just want them to get the work done.”