Defensive end Royce LaFrance has been suspended for the first half of Tulane’s season opener against Tulsa next Thursday for what coach Curtis Johnson said Friday was a violation of team policy.
LaFrance, a junior who made Phil Steele’s preseason first-team All-American Athletic Conference list, had 27 tackles and 6½ sacks last year, the most for a returning Green Wave player. He endured a rough camp, though, with Johnson refusing to name him as a starter and saying he needed to work harder while paying less attention to his press clippings.
Johnson did not reveal the specific reason for the suspension, but sources said LaFrance was involved in a fight before the start of preseason drills.
It is unclear who will start instead of LaFrance. True freshman Daren Williams of East St. John High School has split time with him on the first unit at left defensive end, but Williams struggled with the heat on Thursday morning at Tad Gormley Stadium and had to sit out the end of that practice.
Another possibility is going with six starting defensive backs and a three-man front of Tyler Gilbert and Corey Redwine at ends with Tanzel Smart in the middle. Tulane used the same 3-2-6 look to start its last two games of 2013. In addition to certain starters Lorenzo Doss and Taurean Nixon at cornerback and Darion Monroe and Sam Scofield at safety, cornerbacks Parry Nickerson and Richard Allen have earned consistent praise in camp along with safeties Brandon LeBeau and Leonard Davis.
“That secondary has the most numbers of any I’ve been around,” Johnson said. “They are ready to roll in a game.”
LaFrance had more sacks last year than the rest of Tulane’s returning linemen combined. Gilbert had three, and reserve tackle Kenny Welcome had one.
Mum’s the word
Johnson said he still did not know whether senior running back Robert Kelley would be cleared academically for the fall semester, adding he expected to hear soon with classes starting Monday.
Either way, Kelley will not be available against Tulsa after missing all of spring drills all of fall camp. The plan is for all five scholarship running backs — Sherman Badie, Lazedrick Thompson, Josh Rounds, Dontrell Hilliard and Dante Butler — to play. The pecking order among them is hard to distinguish.
“We are pretty good on where we are with those backs,” Johnson said. “I like all those guys. It’s perfect because they are job-description guys. All of them have a certain job description that we are going to try to use. I like where we are at running back.”
Throw it away
Although Johnson praised quarterback Tanner Lee’s passing in the closed Friday morning practice at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, he said one message was not getting through. For the second straight day, he did not like the way Lee forced some throws into coverage.
Returning quarterbacks Nick Montana and Devin Powell threw 15 interceptions last season. Johnson wants to make sure Lee avoids those mistakes.
“I’m mad with him again today, but he’ll get it,” Johnson said. “When you’re a young kid, you always think you can make the perfect play. No, throw it away sometimes.”
The Green Wave will continue preparing for Tulsa with practices on Saturday and Sunday at the Saints facility before getting a day off Monday. …Tulsa is a five-point favorite, according to VegasInsider.com, a point higher than the opening line at the beginning of August.
Three observations of note from Friday’s practice:
1Tulane’s rebuilt defense, which will have six new starters, dominated practice for the second consecutive day according to coach Curtis Johnson. He said the offense could not get much going in a two-minute drill but added he expected his young, talented defense deserved more credit than the offense deserved blame.
2Although the Tulsa game is Thursday, Tulane’s early practice schedule has not changed from the Saturday game routine. Just like it would for a normal game, the Green Wave will practice Sunday, take off Monday and practice Tuesday before Johnson’s weekly media luncheon. Johnson said the focus will be different, though, with lighter workouts. Tulane flies Wednesday to Tulsa.
3Friday’s workout was Tulane’s second at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. With Yulman Stadium still unavailable, the Wave has practiced at least twice at four different venues — the Saints’ facility, Tad Gormley Stadium, the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and Newman High School. A fifth practice site — Tulane’s baseball field — will join the rotation next Tuesday.