His first tour through the American Athletic Conference taught Tulane defensive coordinator Jack Curtis an important lesson.
Bigger is better.
Opponents that took advantage of small but speedy nickelback Richard Allen in 2016 in the Green Wave’s alignment won’t have that luxury in 2017. Senior Jarrod Franklin, who is three inches taller and weighs 30 more pounds than Allen did a year ago, moved to nickelback from free safety at the beginning of spring drills.
"We were hurt a little last year by people putting the tight end out wide and blocking the nickel,” Curtis said. “Richard Allen played well for us, but it was a huge mismatch. We went back and looked at our film and determined we needed to be a little bit more physical on the perimeter. Jarrod’s going to provide that for us.”
Franklin, Tulane’s leading returning tackler with 79, started 12 games at strongside linebacker under former coach Curtis Johnson in 2015, so he is comfortable playing closer to the line of scrimmage.
“Jarrod is a big enough body out there at the nickel position where he can get off blocks,” coach Willie Fritz said. “He's got a size advantage over slots trying to block him, plus he's a good enough cover guy, so we're expecting a big year out of him.”
Junior Taris Shenall, who started three games at nickel last year but was double-trained at safety, will replace Franklin at that spot.
“(Shenall)’s getting a lot better,” Fritz said. “I’ve been impressed with his progress.”
When big isn't better
Opportunity can be a huge motivator, and redshirt junior defensive tackle Braynon Edwards is proving that point.
No longer buried behind NFL draft prospect Tanzel Smart on the depth chart, he finally changed his diet in December, shedding the excess pounds that had sidetracked him since he arrived on campus.
After weighing 368 pounds at the end of the season, he began spring practice at a relatively svelte 320.
“The main thing is mindset,” he said. “You are used to eating a certain way, and I just pray night in and night out that God can help me just keep on the right track. I did that over the Christmas break and it flowed all the way through the spring.”
Edwards, who did not play in his first two years, started at nose guard in a five-man defensive front against Navy in September, but his playing time dwindled as his weight rose. Curtis said he began the year at 340 before ballooning to 372, negating his quick feet.
He finished with zero tackles and did not leave the sideline for three of Tulane’s final four games.
Curtis believes he is capable of playing 35 to 40 downs per game at his new weight.
“He's only going to get better,” Curtis said. “We've got to do a great job this summer of keeping him motivated in his workouts, and I don't think it will be a problem. He's seen the light to where he can be.”
Healthy and happy
Tight end Charles Jones leaped in the corner of the end zone to haul in a touchdown pass from Jonathan Banks on Thursday for one of the best catches of the spring.
Healthy after an injury-plagued 2016 season, Jones, a St. Aug product, is happy to be on the field again.
He received a medical redshirt last year after suffering a high ankle sprain against Southern, then tearing ligaments and breaking the fifth metatarsal bone in his left foot at Massachusetts.
“It was very difficult watching my team go out there and battle," he said. “I kind of felt like we were the Spartans, and I was that one soldier that just had to go back home and tell the story about the rest of them. I'm glad to be back.”
Competing with junior Kendall Ardoin for a starting role, Jones is trying to rekindle the good feelings he had in 2014 and 2015, when he started 11 times. Fritz wants to see him produce at a high level regularly rather than sporadically, a point driven home by guest speaker and former Tulane star Matt Forte when he spoke to the team before practice Thursday.
“(Forte) talked about consistency and doing it over and over every single day,” Fritz said Thursday. “That’s something Charles has to do. When he has it together and the stars are aligned, he’s a very good player.”
Tulane completed its 11th practice Friday. The Wave will work out Monday, Tuesday and Thursday before Saturday’s spring game. … Fritz labeled Franklin and strong safety Roderic Teamer potential All-AAC players.