August has a way of dragging — until it suddenly dawns that the college football season is upon us.
For Tulane, the opener at Tulsa is now less than a week away.
“You can tell the difference,” junior nickel back Darion Monroe said after a morning workout at steamy Tad Gormley Stadium that launched the Green Wave’s game week preparations. “They guys are moving around more and because everyone knows where they are in the rotation, it’s all a little faster.
“We know it won’t be long now.”
With that in mind, here are nine things we know — and don’t know — about the Wave to this point:
1. Tanner Lee is ready to step up: The redshirt freshman quarterback from Jesuit will readily tell you he didn’t like having to sit out last year while Nick Montana and Devin Powell shared the starting duties, neither with great distinction.
“Redshirting is frustrating,” Lee said. “I had confidence that I could have performed last season.
“I came here expecting to earn the starting job, and this camp has been what I hoped it would be for me.”
Lee looks as confident in the pocket as he does in an interview session and can put the deep ball on the money, something Montana and Powell, now Lee’s backups, couldn’t do consistently.
And less Lee look like an egotist, he does credit the others with being role models for leadership and how to handle the workload of being a college quarterback.
2. Lee has some targets: Although Ryan Grant was a fifth-round draft pick, he was more of a possession receiver.
Sophomore Devon Breaux and freshmen Teddy Veal and Terren Encalade have demonstrated the ability to stretch the field, although between the three of them they have six career receptions.
“They’re better than we hoped they’d be,” wide receivers coach Keith Williams said. “It’s not enough just to come in here and be fast.
“These guys have absorbed the offense and adjusted to the pace of practice.”
3. Kicker could be a problem: While it’s not as bad as saying having two starting quarterbacks means you have none, neither freshman Andrew DiRocco nor junior Steven Broccoli have stepped forward to claim the job vacated by Groza Award winner Cairo Santos.
“We’re going to go by distance and situation,” special teams coordinator Jason Rollins said. “As the season goes on, things will prove themselves out, but for now we’ll do it by job description.”
So does that make Rollins nervous? “Yes.”
4. So could middle linebacker: Zach Davis wasn’t the most prominent player on the defense last year, but replacing him is proving more troublesome than it first appeared.
Sophomore Eric Thomas has been erratic at practice and fellow sophomore Edward Williams, one of the highest-rated players from the 2013 recruiting class, has yet to get untracked.
Freshman Rae Juan Marbley could wind up as the first-game starter, but all will play.
5. Keep an eye on Dontrell Hilliard: Running back is always a crowded position, but Hilliard, a freshman from Scotlandville, has worked his way into the rotation and might even be the starter for the Tulsa game.
The older players are talking about being pushed by the freshman, and Hilliard is just one of them.
6. There’s not a big drop off at defensive tackle: Seniors Julius Warmsley and Chris Davenport, both still in NFL camps, were outstanding contributors to last year’s surprising defensive play. But sophomore Tanzel Smart and redshirt junior Corey Redwine, both spot-duty backups in ’13, have shown themselves as capable of being disruptive playmakers like their predecessors were.
7. They can handle the hot weather: Although Wave coach Curtis Johnson wants his team to work indoors as much as possible (They’ll use the Saints facility for the next three days), drilling Thursday with the heat index at 104 (and that was before it really got bad), he liked the way they handled the conditions.
“If you can keep your mind on your assignments on a day like this and then press through when you’re tired without doing something silly, then you can survive about anything,” he said. “The disciplined, smart guys out here today are the ones who are going to play.”
That will serve the team well next week at Tulsa where the kickoff temperature next Thursday could be in the mid-90s and especially for the 3 p.m. kickoff for the Yulman Stadium debut on Sept. 6.
8. The players are looking forward to Yulman: While the return to an on-campus stadium for the first time in 40 years is generally seen as fan benefit, the players are starting to feel the thrill too.
“We went into the stadium the other night to check out the lights,” Monroe said. “It’s beautiful.”
9. Predictions can be wrong: While most predictions are for Tulane to finish in the bottom three of the American Athletic Conference, the truth is that the league has only four strong teams — Houston, Cincinnati, Central Florida and East Carolina. There’s very little difference among the rest, meaning the Wave realistically could wind up anywhere from fifth to 11th.
The team has come through camp without any season-ending injuries — always a welcomed nonoccurrence — and thus far looks to have answered most of the position concerns.
So what about all of those gloomy projections?
“That’s on them,” Monroe said. “We’ll see where we wind up.”