Tulane will hold its scrimmage from 10 a.m. until noon Saturday at Yulman Stadium.
“Everybody is pretty excited,” Tulane coach Curtis Johnson said. “We’ll start the scrimmage with some goal-line and short-yardage work. That’s the one phase of a football game we haven’t worked on.
“After that, we’ll have a nice, long, all-out scrimmage. I think the players are looking forward to it. They want to see the alumni that are coming. They’re excited about having their families come. This will be a great test for us. It’ll be a great game. I want to see some of these young players.
“I’m looking forward to seeing what William Townsend, Zach Harris and Rae Juan Marbley can do.”
Spring practice won’t be over, however.
The Green Wave will return to practice Monday for a final week of spring drills, practicing Wednesday and Friday as well before closing out the non-traditional season Saturday morning.
Admission for the Spring Scrimmage is free, and fans can park for free in the Diboll Parking Garage, located on the corner Ben Weiner Drive and McAlister Extension. Fan prizes will be given away throughout the scrimmage.
Here are four things to watch:
1. The crispness (or lack thereof) in the passing game
Tulane was miserable in the air last fall, allowing opponents to stack the line of scrimmage to slow down its talented running backs and force the Green Wave to beat it in the air. The 3-9 record tells you all you need to know about the results. Operating behind a shaky line with mostly inexperienced receivers, then-redshirt freshman quarterback Tanner Lee ranked 101st out of 109 eligible FBS quarterbacks in passing efficiency, throwing more interceptions (14) than touchdowns (12). Lee, who has an excellent arm, expects dramatic improvement as a sophomore, and Saturday is a chance to view his progress. The receivers are still young, but sophomore Teddy Veal, junior Devon Breaux and sophomore tight ends Charles Jones and Trey Scott have looked sharp in practice. If Lee connects with them consistently Saturday, it will give them confidence heading into the summer.
2. The run blocking from the offensive linemen
Spring scrimmages are tough to judge. When one group excels, it is at the expense of another group. That conundrum noted, Tulane still needs to open up holes Saturday. Johnson loves his four-back rotation of Sherman Badie, Lazedrick Thompson, Dontrell Hilliard and Josh Rounds, saying some of them have an NFL future. Yet, the Wave ranked only 91st in rushing with 145.5 yards per game a year ago. With four starting offensive linemen returning, including junior center Nathan Shienle and junior guard Chris Taylor, the Wave should be much better on the ground now. The emphasis is on “should.” The key is individual improvement up front. The linemen have not been strong enough or consistent enough in the past.
3. The play of new defensive starters Leonard Davis, Richard Allen and Jarrod Franklin
Although end is Tulane’s biggest position battle, it will be hard to get a read on the group with one sure starter, senior Royce LaFrance, out for the spring due to academic issues. The secondary will be easier to judge. Davis, the replacement for leading tackler Sam Scofield at safety, struggled in coverage last season, but Johnson raves about his potential. Franklin was ticketed to be the starter at nickel back in 2014 before tearing three knee ligaments in spring drills and missing the season. Allen, a junior, is trying to hold off redshirt freshman Donnie Lewis as Lorenzo Doss’ successor at cornerback. Surrounded by experienced, proven players like safety Darion Monroe, cornerback Parry Nickerson and linebacker Nico Marley, the trio has to perform well for Tulane’s defense to excel.
4. Andrew DiRocco’s and Trevor Simms’ ability to kick straight
At some point, the scrimmage will stop to allow Tulane’s kickers to attempt a series of field goals, and everyone at Yulman Stadium will be holding their breath. DiRocco struggled mightily as a true freshman, finishing 8 of 15 on field goals, and he has not been much better thus far this spring. Simms has a huge leg but cannot harness it, spraying the ball all over the place. His one field goal try in 2014 started hooking the second it left his foot. Last week, a frustrated Johnson joked that he might insert himself as the kicker. The snaps have improved with new snapper John Leglue, so it is time for someone to put the ball through the uprights. A lousy kicking operation saps the confidence from the entire team, and the Wave does not want to rely on incoming freshman Zach Block as the only possibility for a savior.