Tulane’s defensive line received a significant boost Tuesday morning when sophomore tackle Sean Wilson practiced for the first time since being sidelined by a leg injury in the season opener against Duke.
Wilson started the last seven games a year ago as a true freshman, finishing with 29 tackles. In his absence, the Green Wave gave up 439 rushing yards to Georgia Tech earlier this month, getting gouged up the middle.
“I feel really good about him,” coach Curtis Johnson said. “He ran around well today. He looks faster. He has a little scar tissue, but he looks good.”
Wilson adds versatility because he is capable of playing inside or outside. He spent the latter part of practice Monday with the second unit but will start against Central Florida this Saturday if he does not have a setback.
His replacement, senior Corey Redwine, graded out well against Maine on Sept. 19, but the difference in their production last year was significant.
“We need him (Wilson),” Johnson said. “They (the Knights) are big and physical, so we have to try to match their physicality.”
While Wilson appeared ready to play, junior running back Lazedrick Thompson stayed on the sideline for most of Tuesday’s workout, still bothered by an ankle sprain he suffered against Maine.
“He didn’t do much,” Johnson said. “Hopefully he’s available, but I don’t know right now. I’d have to wait and see until (Wednesday) to tell you better.”
Thompson has a team-high 32 carries. His average per attempt of 4.1 is lower than backfield mates Dontrell Hilliard (7.0) and Sherman Badie (8.6), who both broke off long gains versus Maine.
Johnson said reserve linebacker Rene Fleury had been suspended indefinitely for an unspecified violation of team policy, marking the third straight game Tulane will be without a player because of suspension.
Fleury, a sophomore, played in the opener but did not get on the field for the next two games. Johnson said his suspension could last more than one game.
Tulane players have received more suspensions and gotten into more academic trouble than in recent years. Starting safety Darion Monroe missed the Georgia Tech game along with backup linebacker Eric Bowie for a violation of team policy, and tight end Trey Scott sat out against Maine for the same reason.
In August, Johnson suspended safety Leonard Davis and linebacker Edward Williams — a pair of potential starters — for the year because they were not making enough academic progress. Later, reserve offensive tackle Kenneth Santa Marina and backup defensive tackle Braynon Edwards became academic casualties for the rest of the year. Also, three members of Tulane’s 18-player signing class in February were not allowed to enroll in the fall semester.
This summer, sophomore wide receiver Leondre James was declared academically ineligible, too.
The neck injury Southern wide receiver Devon Gales suffered at Georgia on Saturday brought back painful memories for Johnson.
Gales had surgery to repair several neck fractures at an Athens, Georgia, hospital, where he will remain until he returns to Baton Rouge for more treatment.
Three years ago, former Tulane safety Devon Walker had a cervical spine fracture in a collision at Tulsa.
“It takes me back to our situation,” Johnson said. “All you can do is pray for those guys. As you can see when our guys get hurt, I always go out to the field just to make sure they’re OK. I feel for the kid and his family. Our thoughts and prayers go out to them. It’s just a tough situation.”
Walker, who remains paralyzed, graduated in 2014 and is about to begin graduate school at Tulane.
Sophomore receiver Terren Encalade, who has started twice and caught four passes, is not listed on the Wave’s depth chart for the UCF game. He hurt a shoulder against Georgia Tech and did not play against Maine. … Coming off its only open date, Tulane will play nine consecutive weeks. … Backup quarterback Devin Powell returned to practice after being held out last week with a leg injury.