After a positive preseason camp, Tulane football coach Curtis Johnson found plenty to be negative about in Monday morning’s practice.
He benched the entire first-team defense for not hustling enough during an 11-on-11 drill. He yelled at receivers who dropped passes. Then he ripped them again as he talked about the practice.
Whether it was part motivational technique to put them on edge for the Sept. 3 opener against Duke at Yulman Stadium or real anger at a rough workout, he certainly made his point.
Instead of practicing, the Green Wave went to the movie “Straight Outta Compton” on Sunday and also listened to former Florida State All-America safety/Rhodes Scholar Myron Rolle give an inspirational speech in a team meeting room.
Johnson’s words on Monday were a different form of inspiration.
“It was sloppy,” he said. “We gave them the day off and took them to a nice movie, and then we come back and we’re not running to the ball. I was at Tulsa last year (for a season-opening double-overtime loss) and saw the defense didn’t run to the ball. I was at Duke last year (for a 47-13 defeat) and saw the offense turning the ball over. We’re not going to do that again, and if we do that, we won’t win any games.
“We regressed today. We should never do that.”
Johnson directed most of his vitriol at the defense, which returns several key veteran starters like end Royce LaFrance, tackle Tanzel Smart, linebacker Nico Marley and safety Darion Monroe. His high expectations for that unit turned into expectorations when running back Lazedrick Thompson popped through a huge hole. (The Wave was in shorts and shoulder pads with no tackling allowed).
“They weren’t running to the ball,” Johnson said. “If you’re going to jog around, I’ll play the twos (second-team defense). We may get killed, but we’re not going against my philosophy of running to the ball. We will do the right things in this program. It will get right tomorrow morning, guaranteed.”
Marley, already the subject of one Johnson tirade in the preseason, said he understood what his coach was doing. Johnson yanked him out of an Aug. 15 scrimmage for drawing an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and made him stand next to him the rest of the way.
This time, Marley’s 10 fellow starters were pulled as well, watching from the sideline for a few minutes.
“He’s getting us ready because we are going to see adversity and pressure,” Marley said. “We’re definitely a much more mature team, and he’s doing a great job.”
Quarterback Tanner Lee reacted in a similar fashion to Johnson’s insistence on ratcheting up the pace of practice and eliminating any sluggishness.
“I love it,” Lee said. “If we practice hard and get in and out of plays quickly, it’s only going to make the games that much easier to do well in.”
Johnson admitted he has been tougher on this team during practice than last year, when Tulane had freshmen in key roles at numerous spots. Entering the Duke game, no true freshman is on top of the depth chart anywhere.
“I couldn’t be (as tough) last year because they were too young,” Johnson said. “Some of those kids had never gotten on an airplane before. If I yelled at them, those guys would call their mom, and I’d have a two-hour conversation with mothers and fathers. Now they’re grown up, they’ve been around me enough, and they know I care about them and I want to win.”
Several players tweeted Sunday night about the powerful speech Rolle gave to the team.
Rolle, an Associated Press third-team All-America selection in 2008, spent a year at Oxford University in England as a Rhodes Scholar after graduating from FSU before playing briefly in the NFL.
“He’s an unbelievable man,” Lee said. “The drive and focus he’s had at such a young age really inspired all of us. He said if you prepare so much for football every day, why wouldn’t you prepare yourself that way for school and not settle for anything less than the best.”
Rolle spoke for a half-hour to the football team and again later to all of Tulane’s athletes.
“To be a Rhodes Scholar and an NFL-caliber athlete at the same time,” Marley said, “I’m still at a loss for words describing how unbelievable he is.”
Cornerback Parry Nickerson, whom Johnson said was being rested, returned to practice for individual drills for the first time in seven days but did not participate in team drills. … Second-string offensive tackle Kenneth Santa Marina went down with a left leg injury and was screaming in pain. His status will be updated Tuesday.