Tulane freshmen Charles Jones II and Terren Encalade could not be more different in personality, with the gregarious Jones willing to talk forever and the laconic Encalade choosing his words very carefully.
The similarities show up when they run pass patterns in practice. In Tuesday morning’s workout, they kept getting open and catching everything thrown their way, already turning heads at positions with an opportunity for immediate playing time.
Jones, from St. Augustine High, hopes to give the Green Wave its first legitimate receiving tight end threat in the three-year tenure of coach Curtis Johnson, who wants his offense to resemble the Saints but has had no one even remotely resembling Jimmy Graham.
“This kid is very, very athletic,” Johnson said. “You look at him, he’s catching it, turning and running. He can run a lot better than I remember, so he’s a guy that we can count on.”
Encalade, from Belle Chasse High, is one of several wide receivers trying to fill the void left by Ryan Grant, who had back-to-back 1000-yard seasons before getting drafted by the Washington Redskins.
“We actually did have to fight off some bigger schools for him (Encalade),” Johnson said. “(Primary recruiter) David Johnson did a sensational job of identifying him early and just started recruiting him. The kid began to like us and his mother was a doll and we got lucky and got him.”
At 6-foot, 185 pounds, Encalade already is close in size to the 6-1, 191-pound Grant. Like Grant, his time in the 40 (4.51) won’t wow anyone, but he has a knack for getting open. Also like Grant, he had more than 1,000 receiving yards in 2013, finishing with 55 catches for 1,029 yards while earning first-team Class 4A All-State honors at Belle Chasse.
On Tuesday, he beat first-team cornerback Taurean Nixon to haul in a long touchdown pass from Devin Powell.
“I feel like I can go up and catch the ball,” he said. “My ball skills are my best asset.”
Those are as many words as Encalade will utter in succession. Jones, in contrast, speaks in paragraphs.
A late bloomer whose only other offer was from Northern Colorado of the Football Championship Subdivision, he committed to Tulane in January after going to four schools since the seventh grade.
He went to St. Aug in middle school for basketball but never played. He transferred to John Curtis to play football but quit after a year. He ended up in Atlanta when his mom moved there but had little interest in football after going through his coach’s tough conditioning program.
“It made me hate football even though deep down inside I love football,” he said. “I hated Atlanta, but then I got a call from one of the coaches at St. Aug telling me to come play tight end and that it was a big opportunity for me, so I did it.”
As a junior, in his first year at tight end, he said he had one catch. Last year, though, he caught 37 passes for 602 yards and seven touchdowns for a loaded offense that included the nation’s No. 1 recruit (and LSU signee), running back Leonard Fournette.
Jones also was quick to point out he did not drop a pass.
As long as he learns Tulane’s thick playbook, he expects to make a contribution this year. Tulane sorely needs production at tight end after the group combined for only 78 receiving yards in 2012 and 111 last season.
He said he developed a rapport with quarterback Tanner Lee during summer voluntary workouts.
“Ninety percent of the game is mental,” he said. “At first Tanner probably hated me because on like every play I was like, ‘Tanner, what do I have to do, where do I line up?’ I had to buckle down, put some things aside and get in my playbook. Now sometimes I’m correcting him. I’ve come a long way.”
Enough to push the veterans for major playing time? In the case of Jones and Encalade, absolutely, insisted Johnson, who referenced them as he talked about senior wideout Xavier Rush’s solid Tuesday practice.
“All of a sudden with these young receivers all around them coming up, you better have a good day,” Johnson said. “You can’t afford to have a bad one.”