These are the practices most coaches relish.
Every rising program focuses on these practices when stating the importance of reaching a bowl game and playing into December.
Well, Tulane has a 3-8 record and isn’t going to a bowl, but it’s still getting the extra work in. Due to a scheduling quirk which allowed the Green Wave three open weeks this season — including the Thanksgiving holiday — coach Curtis Johnson is allowed to use these practice dates to substitute for the bowl preparation he won’t be getting.
Before Tulane begins to prepare for its season finale against Temple at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 6, the Green Wave took a step back. Starters were mostly relegated to the sidelines for the past two days as Johnson held full-contact scrimmages between players who spent most of the past four months on scout team.
It was reminiscent of this time last year when Tulane spent time following its 7-5 regular season not only preparing for the New Orleans Bowl but readying its youthful roster for the season to come.
Tulane won’t get as many of these types of practices because it will miss bowl season. But the recent workouts added a positive dynamic to a young roster which lost its past two games by a combined score of 72-13.
“This was like our bowl practice, the first two practices we had last year,” Johnson said Tuesday. “We had scrimmage and guys who I wanted to take a look at. (Linebacker) Jarrod Franklin (who underwent season-ending knee injury in the spring) got a chance to do something for a change. He hadn’t practiced all year.
“We had some young corners come out and get a chance. Donnie (Lewis Jr.) came over and picked one off. Stefon (Lofton) played well. It was all kinds of guys who I haven’t seen a while, and they made plays.”
Starting quarterback Tanner Lee recalled last December as a time of substantial improvement when he was in a similar situation to those in full-contact scrimmages this week. After redshirting last season, Lee was thrust back into live action for the first time in months before Tulane began preparing earnestly for Louisiana-Lafayette.
It served as his springboard into 2014 which saw him wrestle away the No. 1 spot on the depth chart from incumbents Nick Montana and Devin Powell in spring practice before firmly securing the starting nod in preseason camp.
While Tuesday’s quarterback, freshman and former Mandeville High School standout Glenn Cuillette, is unlikely to rise the ranks as quickly, it’s still provides a rare time to shine.
“I remember that bowl week was a lot of fun because I got all of the reps for a while and we got to scrimmage a lot,” Lee said. “It really helps. I think if it was just a normal practice, it may have been kind of lackadaisical, but when you put some competition in it and some young guys who don’t always get a chance, that makes it fun.”
Johnson also pointed to sophomore running back Lazedrick Thompson’s significant improvement this season as evidence of the potential benefit these types of late-season practices provide. After gaining just 68 yards on 22 carries in Tulane’s crowded backfield last season, he took a starring role in December scrimmages and started to show the type of improvement Johnson was waiting for.
This year, Thompson burst on the scene as the Green Wave’s power running threat and gained 488 yards (4.8 per carry) despite missing a handful of games with a lingering ankle injury.
Johnson challenged his players to become the next emerging star hiding under the depth chart, and now he and his staff have two days of film make judgments.
“You take a kid like Lazedrick, and he barely knew the offense last year,” Johnson said. “He played, but he didn’t know what was going on. After the bowl practices, he knew the offense and he knew how to practice the same way. I think we had a couple of kids like that who got a real big additional benefit and we got to use some of that this year.”