Tulane took to the air in its second scrimmage of presesason camp.
After churning up 173 rushing yards last week as part of an offensively dominant day, the Green Wave focused on the passing game in a situational scrimmage Saturday, which was closed to the media and held at the New Orleans Saints’ practice facility.
Starting quarterback Tanner Lee faced an array of third-and-long scenarios and a two-minute drill en route to completing 14 of 23 passes for 164 yards and two touchdowns. It was the redshirt freshman’s first scrimmage since being pushed to the top of the depth chart earlier in the week.
While coach Curtis Johnson complimented Lee’s throwing ability and arm strength, he admitted the Jesuit graduate still needs more game situations before completely grasping the offense.
“He can really zip the ball in there into some tight coverages,” offensive coordinator Eric Price said. “He needs to learn to let the offense work for him and know he doesn’t have to make a big throw on every single play. It’s just a process, and it’s (a) learning process, and in every one of those situations, he needs to go through them in order to keep improving.
“I thought he did a really good job today, but he missed a couple of things here and there. But then he has the ability to come back and make a throw and move the sticks. So he’s done a good job of moving the offense so far.”
Lee said he was comforted by being named the starter because he gets more snaps with the first-team offense. His connection with freshmen receivers Terren Encalade, Teddy Veal and Leondre James continues to evolve, and Price said this year’s receiver group is far deeper than the one that struggled to produce beyond fifth-round NFL draft pick Ryan Grant.
The young crop showed in a big way again Saturday. Encalade led all receivers by hauling in four catches for 53 yards, while Veal pulled in three catches for 43 yards and a touchdown and James caught four passes for 40 yards, highlighted by a 12-yard touchdown.
“The freshmen are really stepping up,” Lee said. “It’s hard to say they’re playing like veterans yet, but I don’t have to tell them what to do. I know what they do. I’ve seen them do it. We are starting to get those reps over and over again, so when I throw to Teddy, it’s like throwing to anyone who has been here for a long time.”
Several members of Tulane’s offense were particularly pleased with the two-minute drill, which laid out a scenario of trailing by three points. Lee quickly directed the offense to the 5-yard line in a handful of plays before tight end Matt Marfisi snared a 3-yard touchdown pass to end the drill.
However, the pass-oriented situations also allowed Tulane’s defense to shine, and Johnson said he felt the defense won the day.
“It was pretty even, but our defense still has so many guys who you can just count on every down,” Johnson said. “It’s not automatic, but it’s pretty close, and we have more and more guys coming up like that, and I’m really encouraged by the way they are playing.”
He specifcially mentioned defensive end Tyler Gilbert, who was singled out by Lee and several other coaches as being a being a constant presence in the backfield Saturday.
His pass rush helped Tulane’s secondary swat several passes, and assisted in Darion Monroe’s interception.
“I’m so tired of going against our defense, because they are really good,” Lee said. “I’m tired of going against (Lorenzo) Doss. I’m tired of going against (Monroe). I just want to play somebody else, but it’s really making it better. And our defensive line is seriously tough this year and they let me hear about it every time they get back there.
“These scrimmages are helping us get better though. We just have to keep getting in game situations and that helps us.”