After leading the first-team offense inside the 10-yard line during Tulane’s last preseason scrimmage, sophomore quarterback Tanner Lee found running back Sherman Badie over the middle for a 7-yard touchdown pass.
The play epitomized the day for the Green Wave. Taking what the defense gave him and checking down repeatedly, Lee spread the ball around as Tulane ended preseason camp on a positive note.
Lee, for one, liked what he saw with the opener against Duke at Yulman Stadium looming in 12 days.
“I feel like we had a great camp, I really do,” he said. “We’re right where we need to be. We need to just keep on plugging away, and we’re very excited. We’re ready to hit somebody else and see a different color.”
Lee completed 17 of 22 passes for 111 yards with one touchdown and one interception during the modified scrimmage, which featured no live tackling until all of the starters left. Officials from the American Athletic Conference whistled plays dead and marked the ball where they thought the tackle would have been made.
Backup quarterbacks Glen Cuillette and Jordy Joseph also led touchdown drives, but the highlights came on Lee’s two possessions. Before his scoring toss to Badie, he threw a perfect strike to wide receiver Teddy Veal for 35 yards down the sideline.
“Tanner played outstanding,” coach Curtis Johnson said. “He threw deep, he threw short. He has command of the offense and looks a lot better than he did at this time last year.”
That’s the motto for the entire team coming off a disappointing 3-9 debut season in the American Athletic Conference. The Wave needed to improve in virtually every department and could point to several pluses Saturday morning, which was billed as Fan Day.
Although it was hard to judge the first-team defense without live tackling, the front four, and sophomore end Ade Aruna in particular, applied consistent pressure. Lee’s one mistake — an interception he threw directly to end Daren Williams — came because he had to get rid of the ball quickly.
Senior defensive end Royce LaFrance batted down a third-down pass, and second-team cornerback Stephon Lofton ended the scrimmage by intercepting a Devin Powell pass that sailed behind his intended target because of more pressure.
“We are in 2013 form, if not better,” said LaFrance, comparing the defense to a unit that finished 22nd nationally as Tulane ended a streak of 10 losing seasons. “We want to be great.”
All of Tulane’s defensive starters appear to be set with the exception of strong safety, where Tristan Cooper and Donnie Lewis Jr. are battling to replace the departed Sam Scofield.
The picture is less clear on offense, but only because of a gaggle of options at running back. Josh Rounds led all rushers with eight carries for 39 yards, and he’s not even guaranteed to play.
Badie, Lazedrick Thompson and Dontrell Hilliard all had 100-yard rushing games last year. Rob Kelley caught a team-high five passes Saturday. The coaches have designed a limited package for freshman Devin Glenn (5-foot-8, 164 pounds), and Johnson said he would find a role for fellow freshman Nigel Anderson, too, after Anderson broke off a long run right before the scrimmage started.
“They really all are on the same page,” Lee said. “They all have their different personnel groupings, they know where they fit in, and everybody knows their job.”
The touchdown to Badie was an example.
“I have so much confidence in him next to me, especially on a play like that,” Lee said. “I already feel like I have a touchdown in my pocket because he’s going to win. He’s a good enough athlete to get open and win.”
Even the kickers were sharp Saturday.
After struggling earlier in the week, sophomore Andrew DiRocco hit all four of his attempts in a drill, connecting from 34, 36, 39 and 42 yards. Walk-on freshman Steven Logan, his primary challenger for attempts under 45 yards (Trevor Simms is the long-range kicker), converted from 36, 39 and 44 yards, missing from 39 because of a bad snap.
The only thing missing from the scrimmage was tackling to the ground until the key players were safely on the sideline.
“I don’t want to lose a guy now,” Johnson said. “If I’m going to lose them, I want to lose them against Duke. We’ve been tackling a lot. This was more than I’ve ever tackled since I’ve been here.”
Starting cornerbacks Parry Nickerson and Richard Allen were held out with unspecified minor injuries, but Johnson said he expects both of them back next week. Nickerson did not practice at all this week. … The Wave received a scare when Glenn stayed down after being tackled on the sideline after a short catch. He got up favoring his left shoulder, but he appeared OK a few minutes later. Johnson said: “He kept telling me he was not soft. Well, I know he’s not soft.” … Second-team defensive tackle Corey Redwine exited with a left-arm injury late in the scrimmage.