Tulane coach Curtis Johnson is so pleased with his team’s efforts in spring practice that he’s canceled the last four days of the 15 days allowed to the Green Wave.
He’s only going to cut out the last two after using the first two this week primarily for special teams.
Such is the confidence of CJ as he goes into his fourth year coming off a 3-9 season that was a huge momentum-killer to the buzz engendered by the New Orleans Bowl appearance the year before and the opening of Yulman Stadium.
How huge? On a cool, but otherwise beautiful, Saturday morning at the Wave’s well-promoted spring game no more than 200 persons were in those stadium seats.
That’s not exactly a display of confidence from the fan base.
And with the first seven FBS foes for 2015 coming off bowl-eligible seasons in 2014, things look pretty challenging.
But if there’s a heightened sense of urgency around the program, Johnson isn’t admitting to it, at least publicly, saying that to him it’s no more than it was his first day on the job.
“We like the progress that we’re doing,” he said. “We’re definitely going forward.
“This looks like a much better team than I’ve ever seen here.”
Clearly Johnson is all in on his system — the offense and defense are virtually unchanged since his first year — his coaches — ex-Saints assistant Carter Sheridan is the only addition to the staff — his returning players — there were no position changes — and his recruiting philosophy — all 17 signees are either from Louisiana or Florida.
“This is what we’re doing and this is what we are,” he said. “We feel comfortable with what we’re doing, and we feel comfortable with all of our players.
“We’re comfortable with all of the staff. We think we’re ready to move forward.”
It can be hard to tell when you’re playing against yourself.
But in the Wave’s more glaring defect of last season — the uncertain play of quarterback Tanner Lee, there does seem to be improvement.
The redshirt sophomore from Jesuit went 5-for-5 taking the first-team offense against the first-team defense on the first series, capping it with a well-executed 3-yard touchdown pass to tight end Sherman Badie.
That might not seem like much, but anyone who saw Lee’s execution in the late stages of the 2014 season would come away impressed with Lee’s poise and touch on the ball.
“From this time last year, it’s completely different,” Lee said.
“Everybody’s more confident in the huddle because we’re not trying to think too much.”
Most of Lee’s throws were short ones to the tight ends and backs, reflecting the Wave’s lack of depth at wide receiver, so it’s hard to tell what he can do on deep throws.
But at least he doesn’t appear to be as overwhelmed as he was a year ago.
The running game displayed depth in the backfield and the line did it job well enough, especially guard Colton Hanson who was responsible for breaking several good gains.
The defense did get pressure on Lee on his numerous screen pass attempts while cornerback Richard Allen and safety Darion Monroe were the leaders in the secondary.
Count Monroe, a senior from East St. John who was the top recruit of Johnson’s first signing class, among those who do acknowledge that the accountability, if not expectation level, has been raised.
“Last year was no fun at all and we don’t want to have to go through that again,” he said. “You can feel everywhere, from the fans and around school that we need to win.”
Johnson, obviously, knows that too.
When a TV reporter asked him if there’s going to be another three-win season, he answered, “Look, I’m on my knees every night praying to Jesus that ‘Yeah, absolutely not.’ ”
For Johnson and the Wave, it might just be that prayer is needed more than those two canceled practice days.