During Tulane’s media day, co-defensive coordinator Lionel Washington sat in his office with a Cheshire Cat grin, insisting he had someone who could fill the role in which Jordan Batiste excelled last year.
The catch: Washington refused to name the player.
Two weeks later, that identity has become clearer. Say hello to Darion Monroe, Mr. Multipurpose.
Lining up as a nickel corner in Tulane’s dime (six-defensive back) package last year, the 5-foot-8, 169-pound Batiste was equally adept at blitzing and coverage. He led the team with seven sacks and four forced fumbles. He also broke up eight passes, but off-field issues forced him to transfer to Southeastern Louisiana before the start of the spring semester.
Guys with that type of dual ability don’t come around often. Tulane plans to find out if Monroe, who starts at free safety in the base defense but will frequently move into the box when the Wave goes to five defensive backs, can approach Batiste’s numbers.
“Monroe is doing that job right now, and he’s doing a very good job,” coach Curtis Johnson said. “I like how he plays. He has a little bit thicker body (than Batiste) and he’s heavier (5-foot-11, 197 pounds), so we like him closer to the line of scrimmage.”
When the Green Wave goes to its dime package, redshirt freshman Parry Nickerson will play outside corner on the side opposite All-American candidate Lorenzo Doss. Taurean Nixon, the other starting cornerback, will shift inside to guard slot receivers, with Monroe capable of pressuring or covering depending on the offensive look.
If last year is any indication, this won’t be just a situational package. Tulane’s starting lineup in the final two games — against Rice and Louisiana-Lafayette in the New Orleans Bowl — featured six defensive backs. Batiste had 3½ of his sacks in those weeks, and the Green Wave held both teams well below their season rushing averages despite having plenty of small guys on the field.
“I could see us doing some of that (starting six DBs) again,” Johnson said. “We just have to make sure our run fits are right.”
Monroe had 3½ sacks last year, so he is no stranger to blitzing. Unlike Batiste, whose only role was in the dime package, he expects to move around constantly after making 186 tackles in his first two years at Tulane.
“I’ve been learning the whole defense from the back end to the front end,” Monroe said. “I like to get around the box at times but right now I still love playing safety because I know everything back there and I can see everything back there.”
Monroe is not the only player performing more than one role. Nixon, a Memphis transfer, has become comfortable inside and outside. His versatility has helped carve a spot for Nickerson, who has drawn rave reviews from the coaches since returning during camp from a knee injury that sidelined him for all but the season opener in 2013.
“I like being versatile,” Nixon said. “I like to be able to come in the box and actually cover slot receivers because a lot of quarterbacks are trying to make that quick throw to slot receivers. With my speed and my ability to play the game, that inside spot will be a good spot for me when Parry comes in.”
Still, Nixon does not compare himself to Monroe.
“Three positions, one player, that’s every coach’s dream,” Nixon said. “It’s great for the defense.”
While others talked, Washington remained circumspect about the exact responsibility of each of the defensive backs. He likes creating a little mystery.
“You’ll see the type of defense from last season that was really successful,” he said. “It’s a great defense. Batiste did a great job last year, and the guy who is going to do it this year, I’ll say he’s going to be even better.”