Tulane quarterback Tanner Lee kept looking for wide receiver Teddy Veal in Saturday morning’s scrimmage at Yulman Stadium. More often than not, he found him.
Although Veal did not have any long receptions, he made catches in traffic, converted pop passes into first downs and even broke up an interception on an underthrown deep ball.
To pump up a passing game that struggled in 2014, Tulane needs a huge year from Veal, a sophomore who led the team with 40 receptions as a true freshman.
“He’s got to be the Ryan Grant now,” said Lee, a redshirt sophomore. “He has great body control, he understands how to get open, he understands the holes in the defense, and he knows the play as well as I know it.”
Last year, Tulane lacked anyone remotely like Grant, who surpassed 1,000 receiving yards in 2012 and 2013 before earning a roster spot with the Washington Redskins. Justyn Shackleford’s 465 yards were a team high, and he is gone, leaving Veal as the top returner with 385 yards.
He learned on the job, though, in his first year of college football, and has started applying that knowledge this spring, developing a swagger on the field. Turning the corner on an end around during Friday’s practice, he high stepped a couple of times before taking off.
“I’m just flying around having fun, executing the plays,” he said. “Going into my second spring now, it’s awesome.”
Veal has been much than a happy-go-lucky guy. Through hard work in the film room, he has learned how to play all four receiver spots in Tulane’s offense, a necessity with only three scholarship receivers on the spring roster. He also spent extra time after practice earlier this week working on fielding punts because he had some critical muffs last fall.
Helping him become more polished before the start of the season is new receivers coach Carter Sheridan’s primary goal. After spending 11 years on the staff of the Saints, Sheridan liked what he saw from Veal right away.
“Man, he certainly looks the part,” Sheridan said. “He has great hips. He’s what you would call a small receiver when you categorize him. He has the foot quickness, he has the transition better than I’ve seen even on the next level, so this guy definitely has a shot to be very productive and have a good collegiate career and beyond.”
Lee is even more impressed with Veal’s mind than his moves. He is listed as a sophomore, but after enrolling in January of 2014, he is playing the role of a veteran to a very young group of receivers.
“He helps in the huddle,” Lee said. “We’ve got some guys that are doing some new things, and when they ask questions, he can answer them. He gets it organized out there, so that’s good to have.”
Tulane brought in referees for Saturday’s workout, ending the second week of spring drills, and the defense won the scrimmage. The offense failed to reach the end zone, although coach Curtis Johnson made it difficult by starting possessions at the 5-yard line and stopping them before it was fourth down two times.
The only touchdown came on safety Leonard Davis’ long interception return of a Lee pass.
“The defense was good,” Johnson said. “They are a little bit ahead. Leonard did a phenomenal job. I told (senior three-year starter Darion Monroe) he better watch out. Leonard may be the best safety on the team.”
Davis, who struggled in coverage last season as a true sophomore, used what he said was newfound guile to fool Lee into his errant throw.
“I baited Tanner,” Davis said, “I backed off as if I was going toward the middle, but I came back down. He took the bait, and I took off with it.”
The longest gain for the offense was on the first play — a 45-yard completion from Lee to tight end Tre Scott down the middle of the field. The only points came later on 45-yard field goals by kickers Andrew DiRocco and Trevor Simms after a drive stalled. Both were given a chance, and DiRocco’s barely cleared the crossbar.
Lee and backup quarterbacks Devin Powell and Glen Cuillette all directed series. Powell, whom Johnson has praised a few times this spring, threw an interception that went right to cornerback Donnie Lewis, drawing Johnson’s ire.
“I thought the scrimmage was outstanding,” Johnson said. “There weren’t many penalties, and I told those officials to really be hard on what we’re doing. Tanner moved the ball well. We put the offense into two big disadvantages having them backed up, and I stopped a couple of possessions because I didn’t want to go over 70 plays.”
The second play of the scrimmage caused some concern when sophomore defensive tackle Sean Wilson went to the ground in obvious pain and had to be helped off the field by two trainers without putting any weight on his left leg.
About a half-hour later, Wilson asked to go back in. His request was denied, and his initial reaction drew some good-natured ribbing from Johnson.
“He was scared to death, but he’s fine,” Johnson said. “I was teasing him that I thought we were going to get the helicopters out there and Touro Hospital called him. It’s nothing.”
Wilson made 29 tackles as a true freshman, starting the last seven games.
Cornerback Lorenzo Doss, who declared for the NFL draft after the season, watched the scrimmage and admitted it was a strange feeling not being a participant.
“Every time they threw the ball to the right side, I was like, ‘aw, man, I wish I was back there,’ ” he said. “That was my spot.”
Doss, who said his official time was 4.5 at the Indianapolis scouting combine, admitted he was unsure of his draft position, adding “it was all over the place.” He will train at Tulane for the next month before participating in the school’s Pro Day on March 26.
He said he had no regrets about leaving Tulane a year early and was satisfied with his performance at the combine.
“The only thing I will miss is playing with my teammates and this defense I was part of these last two years,” he said.
Doss had 15 interceptions in three years, the second-highest total in school history.