Looking to avoid the special teams debacle that doomed it against Duke, Tulane in practice this week used Darion Monroe instead of Teddy Veal at punt returner and Leondre James instead of Dontrell Hilliard as the primary kickoff returner.
The players most responsible for the issues, though, figure to keep their roles. Coach Curtis Johnson said he liked what he saw from freshman kicker Andrew DiRocco in practice, and long snapper Matt Marfisi continued to get every repetition in the absence of the injured Mike Lizanich.
DiRocco missed an extra point against Duke for his fourth errant chip shot of the year, joining field goals of 21, 27 and 34 yards.
Marfisi snapped the ball over punter Peter Picerelli’s head for a safety and snapped another high one that turned into a touchdown for the Blue Devils.
In practice Wednesday, DiRocco missed back-to-back attempts from 32 yards. He nailed a kick from 37 during a 2-minute drill, even though Marfisi bounced the snap.
“We didn’t miss a kick today,” Johnson said after Thursday’s practice. “The operation was really good.”
Lizanich strained a quad muscle during warmups against Duke. Although Marfisi was the deep snapper for 44 punts last season and competed for the job this August, he had not gotten any work at the position since the start of the season.
“He hasn’t done it enough,” Johnson said. “How many times in a season do you lose your long snapper? Never.”
Johnson added Lizanich would get another chance Friday during a walkthrough to determine whether he’s healthy enough to play. He did not practice Thursday.
With Tulane tied for last nationally in penalties (44 through four games), Johnson brought in referees for Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s practices at Yulman Stadium.
The idea was to make sure players did not get away with anything that would draw a flag during a game.
“(The officials will) be here forever,” Johnson said. “We are still having too many penalties during practice.”
Coming off its first winning record and bowl appearance in 11 years, the Green Wave did not expect to be 1-3.
Monroe, a junior in his third year as a starter, said the upperclassmen were making sure the slow start did not affect the morale of the newcomers. Tulane still has two-thirds of the season left to turn it around.
“They aren’t taking it too bad because us older guys are teaching them how to deal with it,” he said. “We just tell them, ‘The next week, we have to work harder — no playing in the meeting rooms, no talking when the coaches are talking. Everything is going to get tighter and strict around here.’ That’s not even on the coaches; that’s from the older guys because we want to win.”
Disappearing tight ends
After catching two passes in each of Tulane’s first two games, freshman tight end Charles Jones came up empty against Southeastern Louisiana and Duke. He was not even targeted against the Blue Devils.
Johnson said Jones’ disappearance from the passing game was dictated by the matchup’s circumstances.
“The last game wasn’t his game,” he said. “He did outstanding blocking. He’s one guy that you want to do play-action and do stuff like that, but when you fall behind and have one-tight personnel or no tight ends, you can’t do it.”
Tulane’s other freshman tight end, Trey Scott, dropped a pass against Duke and was quarterback Tanner Lee’s target on his first interception. Scott has three drops and zero catches this season.
Freshman linebacker Rene Fleury, a factor on special teams earlier this year, did not practice this week after pulling a hamstring on the opening kickoff against Duke. … Kickoff specialist Trevor Simms remains out with a leg injury. … Johnson said legally blind walk-on long snapper Aaron Golub would not play this year because of concerns about his ability to cover kicks. The coaches will watch him next spring.