Darius Bradwell dropped back, looked downfield and launched a deep ball to receiver Devin Glenn for a long gain on a fade pattern during Tulane’s football practice Friday.
A little later, Glen Cuiellette connected with Terren Encalade for 20 yards on a perfectly timed out route.
Just in time for the end of spring drills, the Green Wave’s top quarterback candidates found their footing as passers in new coach Willie Fritz’s system. Both of them know they still have a long way to go, but at least they will enter their first public performance with some confidence.
Tulane’s spring game will start at noon Saturday at Yulman Stadium. After questioning whether he had enough bodies to do much earlier in the week, Fritz said Friday the controlled scrimmage would feature live tackling and down-and-distance marks for the first time this spring, with only the quarterbacks off limit for contact.
After getting in some special teams work, the offense-versus-defense session will last 54 snaps. None of the players will get more than 36 reps.
Until Friday, downfield completions were few and far between.
“We’ve steadily been getting better on timing throughout the spring,” Cuiellette said. “It was a new system at the beginning. We were trying to feel each other out and had a lot of new guys playing because of losing a lot of people as well. We showed today and in the past couple of practices that we’re getting it.”
“Our chemistry is getting better,” he said. “Everybody is not confused out here. They know what they’re doing. That’s why we completed most of our passes today.”
Cuiellette, a redshirt sophomore; Bradwell, a freshman who enrolled in January; and senior Devin Powell will share the quarterback reps Saturday. Although neither has thrown a pass in a college game, Cuiellette and Bradwell are the frontrunners for the starting job vacated by Tanner Lee, who transferred to Nebraska.
Fritz has said repeatedly that the competition will last into preseason camp, but Saturday will provide their quarterbacks’ first opportunity to show what they can do on their own.
“What I like about this also is the coaches will be out of bounds,” Fritz said. “We will be using our sideline communication with headphones, trying to get us acclimated to those kinds of things as well. We’ll see how the quarterbacks take charge without having an offensive coordinator in their ear.”
The quarterbacks have concentrated on much more than their throwing, too. Fritz and offensive coordinator Doug Ruse brought elements of the triple option, forcing them to learn how to pitch and maintain proper spacing with the running backs. They also have the freedom to take off and run often, an almost nonexistent feature in former coach Curtis Johnson’s Saints-based system.
With defenders not allowed to touch the quarterback, it has been hard to judge how many yards they would gain in a live drill. Much easier to spot have been all the balls, sometimes on simple swing passes, that have hit the ground.
Part of the problem was the offense had not been completely installed as the quarterbacks worked on the basics.
“There was some good stuff today,” Fritz said Friday. “I noticed (offensive coordinator Doug Ruse) put in a couple of new things, which was good. Sometimes you start off and the offense is ahead and the defense catches up and the offense starts tweaking things a little bit.”
The emphasis on fundamentals clearly has made an impression on Cuiellette and Bradwell. Asked what they wanted to accomplish in the scrimmage, they shied away from bold predictions.
“I just want to have a good tempo and a clean scrimmage with no turnovers,” Cuiellette said. “I want to get the ball out quickly, move the chains and score.”
Last week, Fritz said avoiding mistakes was just as important as making plays in the early stages of the quarterbacks’ development.
“Ball security is the number one thing in the offense,” Bradwell said. “Great tempo, excitement and playing fast — that’s the key right now.”
Fritz said he expected 54 players to participate in the scrimmage, including just eight offensive linemen. … Tulane will have its final practice of the spring Monday, making up for a workout that was canceled earlier this week after thunderstorms. … Running back Lazedrick Thompson practiced after missing the past few workouts while undergoing the team’s concussion protocol.