Royce LaFrance was Tulane’s most productive defensive end last season, leading all returning players with 6.5 sacks.
This year, he may spend more of his time inside.
LaFrance, a junior who made Phil Steele’s preseason first-team All-American Athletic Conference list, received as many reps at defensive tackle as at end in Tuesday’s practice without pads at the Saints’ indoor facility. The loss of stalwart tackles Julius Warmsley and Chris Davenport has left a significant void in the middle of the defense.
“We just need more pass rushers,” coach Curtis Johnson said. “Last year, (LaFrance) was one of those guys who had some practice inside when Davenport was out (with an injury).”
LaFrance (6-foot-4 and 265 pounds) was happy to be back at practice anywhere after getting an excused absence for undisclosed reasons on the opening day of camp.
“I’m going to move around for mismatch purposes,” he said. “Sometimes we have a speed package, and I might be the biggest guy in there. We are just trying to get after the quarterback this year.”
Warmsley fulfilled a similar role in the past, starting at end or tackle depending on Tulane’s bigger need. Playing primarily inside, he led the Wave with 18½ tackles for loss last season, confounding blockers with his quickness and flexibility.
LaFrance would love to duplicate those numbers, only with more sacks. He said when the coaches reviewed video from last year, they pointed out six sacks he should have made that he missed.
“I’m just trying to perform at a high level at the top of the country,” he said. “I’m going to use all these techniques Julius showed me. He just went out there and handled his business, and that’s what I want to do this year.”
The battle to replace 2012 Lou Groza Award winner Cairo Santos is between two players: freshman Andrew DiRocco and walk-on junior Steven Broccoli. Neither has kicked in college.
Attempting field goals in a drill with no rush Tuesday, DiRocco kicked low a couple of times and also was wide right on a 33-yarder. Broccoli converted all of his kicks — from 20, 28, 32 and 37 yards.
“I like what both of those guys are doing,” Johnson said. “This kicking stuff, it’s good right now when we don’t have pads on, but it will heat up as soon as we get pads on. I’m going to give them some live rush and some live kicks.”
No QB announcement
Don’t expect Johnson to name a starting quarterback anytime soon in the competition among Tanner Lee, Devin Powell and Nick Montana. Johnson wants to wait awhile before making any public judgments.
“I love the competition,” he said. “When you’re building a program, you gotta have position battles. We’ve got some time. Probably some time next week we’ll start thinking about sitting down and saying what direction we’re going in.”
Starting defensive backs Lorenzo Doss and Darion Monroe sat out practice with unspecified injuries that Johnson termed a “tweak” and “swelling” — nothing serious. ... Guard Jason Stewart, who reported at about 400 pounds last year as a freshman, has slimmed to 355. … Tulane is slated to practice outdoors at Newman High on Wednesday morning.
Quick read: Three observations from Tuesday’s practice session
1. Quarterback Tanner Lee completed two perfect, deep sideline touchdowns, launching the ball with a low trajectory right into the hands of receivers Xavier Rush and Devon Breaux.
2. Freshman defensive tackle Braynon Edwards appears headed for a redshirt. He reported at 6-foot-2 and 350 pounds and will have to shed some serious weight to become a factor.
3. Senior safety Matthew Bailey turned in the defensive play of the day, anticipating a short pass from Lee to freshman running back Dontrell Hilliard in the flat and cutting inside to make a nice interception.