Tulane quarterback Tanner Lee said Monday that he is 100 percent and will return from his lingering shoulder injury this week.
The redshirt freshman missed Tulane’s past two games after being injured midway through a 31-6 loss at Rutgers on Sept. 27, but he is slated to be back under center for the Green Wave’s 7 p.m. kickoff against Cincinnati (4-3, 2-1 American) on Friday at Yulman Stadium.
While Tulane (2-5, 1-2) played its best defense of the season in Lee’s absence, beating Connecticut 12-3 and losing 20-13 at Central Florida, coach Curtis Johnson said he’s expecting to see more balance with his top quarterback in place. Tulane scored just 25 points with senior Nick Montana at the helm, opting for a conservative approach.
Now, with Lee back in the fold, the offense is expected to evolve in his presence.
“We need to open it up,” offensive coordinator Eric Price said. “We need to score points, because we have done a terrible job of that. We have played conservative and played towards the game. When you’re doing that and you turn the ball over, it’s 10 times worse. So we can take some bigger risks now, and we probably have to.
“Our defense has done such a great job the last two weeks, and Nick did a good job, but we need to start running a bit more of our offense and maybe not play so conservative.”
Not only is the play-calling expanding, but Price also believes Lee’s knowledge base grew during his injury. After starting the first five games, Lee has now had a month to concentrate almost exclusively on the film room.
Lee admitted that, although watching from the sideline was occasionally excruciating, it gave him an opportunity to take a look at each aspect of his game. A pair of open dates sandwiched around two missed games also provided the perfect balance of time to rehab the injury and work on his mental approach while not missing a too-significant chunk of the season.
“I wouldn’t wish to have the situation, but now looking back that he did get injured and sat out, it may have been helpful for him overall,” Price said. “When you’re a freshman, everything goes so fast. He got the chance to slow things down and really analyze what he needs to do better. ... I think he has a better understanding of what he wants us to do, and it’s going to make him better.”
Johnson said the improvement has already begun to make an impact on the practice field. After Lee struggled to pinpoint check-down routes early in the season, choosing to throw dangerous passes into coverage, a more cerebral approach has emerged.
Lee’s nine interceptions in less than five games was a concern, but Johnson said most were the result of confusion rather than errant throws. After getting an opportunity to break down how opposing defenses were disguising coverage, Lee said it has helped ease him over the learning curve.
On Monday, Johnson could quantify the difference.
“We set up traps for him to make sure he’s learning to throw to a certain guy,” Johnson said. “Today, I would say 75 to 80 percent of the time, he was exactly right. A couple of times he didn’t, but before he was around 50/50.”
Washington interviews at Nicholls State
During Tulane’s open date, co-defensive coordinator Lionel Washington interviewed for the vacant head coaching position at Nicholls State.
The job came open in September when Charlie Stubbs resigned citing health reasons; he was 10-38 in less than four seasons.
Johnson, who added Washington to his staff upon his hiring in 2011, advocated for his assistant to become the Colonels’ next coach. Washington, a Lutcher native, graduated from Tulane in 1983 before playing 15 seasons as a cornerback in the NFL and coaching for 12 years in the league.
“They would be crazy not to offer him the job,” Johnson said. “He will get local kids and get down in the River Parishes where there’s great talent and great players. He can turn any program around, and he’ll do it. If I was them, I would offer him the job right now.”
If Washington accepts the position, Johnson said he would remain on Tulane’s staff for the rest of the season.
Cornerback Richard Allen spent Monday in a walking boot, and Johnson said he didn’t expect him to play Friday. … Tulane’s game Nov. 8 at Houston will kick off at 2:30 p.m. at TDECU Stadium and will air on ESPNU. … Both kicker Andrew DiRocco and kickoff specialist Trevor Simms converted a 50-yard field goal during Monday’s practice.