Take a look around NFL training camps, and it’s not nearly as difficult as it used to be to find a former Tulane product.
After experiencing a five-year lull without having a player drafted, between 2009 and 2014, the Green Wave is once again starting to emerge on the NFL radar. As of the league’s first preseason game Sunday, 11 players who finished their careers at Tulane are working for NFL teams.
It’s a trend that coach Curtis Johnson said is a tribute to not only the rising talent of his team, but the professional environment he and his coaching staff have fostered during his four seasons atop the program.
“We have coaches here that have NFL experience,” Johnson said at the team’s official media day on Monday. “Because of our relationships with NFL guys, those kids are coming back and telling people that our practice is just like the NFL. We prepare just like the NFL.”
Johnson said four of his assistants visited with NFL teams this offseason, and Johnson served as a wide receivers coach under Sean Payton with the Saints from 2006 through 2011.
Tulane made news when cornerbacks Lorenzo Doss and Taurean Nixon were both drafted by the Denver Broncos in May. Then Orleans Darkwa, Sean Donnelly and Troy Kropog were invited to camp with the New York Giants.
Meanwhile, Dezman Moses and Cairo Santos are in Kansas City as Julius Warmsley (Seattle Seahawks), Ryan Grant (Washington Redskins), Jordan Sullen (Pittsburgh Steelers) and Ryan Griffin (Saints) serve as the lone Tulane representatives on their teams.
“Since CJ and the coaching staff got here, you can see that they’re teaching us the NFL way,” senior safety Darion Monroe said. “We practice like the NFL. I think it’s good for recruiting because when you see guys who are going to the NFL, it makes you want to go there.
“That’s why LSU and Florida State and those teams get the kind of recruits they do, because people want to get to that level. Now, you see us going in that direction and that will help us a lot going forward.”
Pointing the finger
The questions about the current version of the Green Wave focus on the offense, which was last seen sputtering to just one touchdown and 16 combined points in the final three games of the season, have been abundant this presason.
But Johnson defended his offensive coaching staff, which remained largely intact, including offensive coordinator Eric Price, who enters his fourth season, despite consecutive seasons with underwhelming units.
“I think you guys should take a shot at me, rather than at EP and all of them,” Johnson said. “I wasn’t letting them do much. We were turning the ball over too much and some of it was (quarterback) Tanner’s (Lee) fault, and some of it wasn’t his fault.
“The ideas that, some of the guys he was playing with were freshmen too and like I told everyone, they didn’t even know where the library was and they were starting games and playing on national television. This year I think things have calmed down and the game has slowed down a lot for those guys.”
The Green Wave went from being a freshman-laden team at the skill positions last year to a gang of sophomores this season, and Johnson said he’s already seen the difference just in their ability to relate to each other.
“I’m not good with young people, because all of my kids are gone, but I can now actually have a conversation about football with these young guys now,” Johnson said. “It’s a pleasant surprise just to talk football with them and they aren’t talking about the little game on their computers.”
Several sophomore starters said they also feel significantly more comfortable entering this season, both in communicating with the coaching staff and understanding the routine of a college football season.
“Everything is smoother the second time through it,” running back Sherman Badie said. “I know when to go to them with a question or an issue and it just feels better. I think we are really coming together as a team right now and it just feels a lot easier this year than last year because we are comfortable.”