With redshirt freshman quarterback Tanner Lee starting and 2013 stalwarts Ryan Grant and Orleans Darkwa gone, Tulane’s offense is a great unknown this season.
What is known: The Green Wave has many more potential playmakers than a year ago, when Grant (as a runner) and Darkwa (receiver) were the only reliable playmakers.
After Tulane’s closed scrimmage at the Saints’ indoor practice facility Saturday, offensive coordinator Eric Price noted the possibilities.
“We have a lot more speed as a whole in the tight end, running back and receiver groups,” he said. “It’s exciting for me because I’ve got some toys now that we can play with. They are really learning this offense quickly, but they are all very young. It’s a process with these kids.”
The list of potential true freshman contributors includes tight ends Charles Jones II and Trey Scott, wide receivers Terren Encalade, Teddy Veal and Leondre James and running back Dontrell Hilliard. Throw in Lee, who will take his first snap of college football in the opener against Tulsa, and it will be an entirely new look.
The Wave will miss Grant, who had consecutive 1,000-yard receiving years in 2012 and 2013, but wide receivers coach Keith Williams is looking forward to having the ball spread around more, courtesy of his three newcomers plus the return of seniors Justyn Shackleford and Xavier Rush along with sophomore Devon Breaux.
“It was the Ryan Grant show last year,” he said. “Just because you can say that, I think they can be better (than the group as a whole last year) because these three freshmen are an infusion of talent. Xavier, Justyn and Breaux are better than they were last year, so that equates to a better group.”
Still waiting on Kelley
As the end of camp approaches, coach Curtis Johnson had no definitive information about the availability of senior running back Rob Kelley, who has been academically ineligible since before the start of spring drills.
“There’s nothing new,” he said. “Between now and the start of school (Aug. 25), I expect to find out one way or another.”
Kelley has 1,038 career rushing yards and 10 touchdowns. None of the five running backs competing for playing time — Hilliard, redshirt freshman Sherman Badie, junior Josh Rounds, sophomore Lazedrick Thompson and senior Dante Butler — has scored a college touchdown.
Johnson plans to use all of them in different packages at the start of the season.
“You don’t really like to play five or six guys every game, but the thing about our offense that allows you to do that is we have so many different personnel groupings,” Price said. “There are a lot of combinations we can get to utilize those guys to whatever their strengths are. We have a good feel for what our guys can do.”
Sophomore Sergio Medina, who practiced at linebacker until this week, has been added to the running back logjam as a short-yardage specialist.
“My concern is we have to get some stuff down at the goal line,” Johnson said. “The only power back we had was Lazedrick Thompson.”
Thompson played in the scrimmage after missing Friday’s practice with pink eye, a condition he contracted from his roommate Butler, who missed three days earlier in the week. ... Redshirt freshman defensive end Ade Aruna, who has earned praise the past week, was credited with a sack in the scrimmage. … Tulane will take Sunday off before having morning practices every day next week in preparation for the Aug. 28 opener.
1. Tulane’s offense ran 17 third-down scenarios of varying distance Saturday and converted just six times. The defense also racked up a turnover, sack and tackle for loss in the scenarios.
2. Curtis Johnson said he still had no update on running back Robert Kelley, but expected to know the senior’s status before classes start Aug. 25. Kelley, the team’s leading returning rusher, has been held out because of academic issues.
3. Tulane’s defense collected three sacks on the afternoon. They were logged by redshirt freshmen defensive ends Quinlan Carroll and Ade Aruna, along with junior defensive tackle Corey Redwine.