Tulane’s third scrimmage of preseason camp provided the last chance for players to make an impression before the Green Wave switches gears Monday and begins preparing for its Aug. 30 opener against Wake Forest.
Coach Willie Fritz was not particularly impressed after watching the situational work that featured some live tackling but also a quick whistle to stop plays before contact on most downs.
“I thought it was a little sluggish,” he said Saturday morning at Yulman Stadium. “It’s warm out here obviously, but I just got done telling the guys, all we can base our evaluations on is how you perform. Some guys took a step forward and are going to earn the right to play more, and some guys didn’t do much and are going to play less.”
Projected backups played more than the starters in hot, humid conditions, with redshirt freshman Dane Ledford getting the bulk of the work at quarterback. He threw a pretty touchdown pass to freshman Ygenio Booker early in the scrimmage and hit running back Stephon Huderson for an easy score against a busted coverage a little later. He also threw an interception, struggling along with the rest of the offense in the latter portions.
“I did all right,” Ledford said. “We came out strong. Energy was high, and it kind of flattened out more towards the later part. I felt I did well overall. I need to improve on decision-making. I had a couple of mistakes today, but overall it was pretty good."
Freshman Christian Daniels, competing with Ledford for the No. 2 spot, ran for a touchdown but did not have any big completions.
“Christian did some good things, too,” Fritz said. “He threw some good balls and did some nice stuff.”
Starter Jonathan Banks and the first-team offense went in third, although wide receiver Terren Encalade and running backs Darius Bradwell and Corey Dauphine were given the day off. Banks threw an interception in red zone work when cornerback Donnie Lewis snagged a pass intended for tight end Kendall Ardoin.
Still, Banks exited the scrimmage much more confident than at this time a year ago, his first season at Tulane as a junior college transfer. The Wave went 5-7 but expects to reach a bowl game at the bare minimum in 2018.
“We are heading in the right direction," Banks said. “Last year I probably couldn't say the same. We are more comfortable with each other and the coaches. We have a high-energy team and young guys that want to get the older guys’ spots. When you have a team like that, you can do big things.”
Although no official depth chart has been announced, most of the starting spots have been determined through 16 practices. The first-team offensive line is left tackle Noah Fisher, left guard Dominique Briggs, center Corey Dublin, right guard John Leglue and right tackle Keyshawn McLeod.
Ardoin is the top tight end while Charles Jones recovers from a severely sprained ankle.
Bradwell and Corey Dauphine, who has missed some practices with an unspecified injury, lead a deep group of running backs. Redshirt freshman Stephon Huderson and true freshman Cameron Carroll and Amare Jones also are pushing for playing time.
The third starting wide receiver to complement Encalade and Darnell Mooney has not been determined yet at an injury-depleted position. Freddy Canteen, Kevin LeDee and Sorrell Brown are out for the year due to injuries, and D.J. Owens and Jorrien Vallien are sidelined temporarily. To improve depth, Devin Glenn has moved back to receiver from running back and Chris Joyce has moved to receiver from cornerback.
On defense, the starters up front are defensive end Cameron Carroll, who is expected back from a minor leg injury this week, nose guard De’Andre Williams, tackle Robert Kennedy and outside linebacker Patrick Johnson.
The top linebackers are Zach Harris on the weak side and Lawrence Graham and Marvin Moody in the middle.
The first-team cornerbacks are Lewis and Thakarius Keyes, with Jaylon Monroe playing a huge role.
Roderic Teamer is the starting free safety, with P.J. Hall at strong safety.
The 11th starting spot — nickelback — is wide open. Larry Bryant played there on Saturday, but Tirise Barge is in the picture as well as a third cornerback.
A sluggish scrimmage notwithstanding, Fritz remained cautiously optimistic.
"You know, you never feel like you're on schedule,” he said. “You always feel like you're treading water and trying to get ahead, but we're in a good spot right now. The thing we have to do is keep pushing ourselves.”