Spring practice is usually a time for auditions, and fall camp is the place to lock down those spots.
But when Tulane received news that expected starting strong safety Leonard Davis would be forced to redshirt because of academic troubles, it changed the tenor of preseason practice in the back end of the secondary.
Now, rather than building rapport and continuity alongside four-year starter Darion Monroe, the Green Wave is pushing and pulling a variety of candidates into the position, hoping to find the best fit. And the search isn’t being limited.
Freshmen Malik Eugene and Roderic Teamer have gotten a long look, as has cornerback Donnie Lewis. But redshirt sophomore Tristan Cooper has the most experience at this juncture and secondary coach Jason Rollins said he’s the current favorite, but added the competition is nowhere near completed.
“It’s going to take pretty much all of camp to sort out,” Rollins said. “Right now, the leader in the clubhouse is Tristan Cooper, mostly because of experience, but there are a lot of young and athletic guys who are competing and really going for it. Right now, we are just trying to find another guy.
“Malik is an unbelievable athlete and so is Donnie, who is also a very smart football player.
“These guys are all trying very hard and we are cross-training some of them to also play corner and we just need someone to kind of emerge.”
Monroe said it’s a far cry from where the back end of the secondary has been the past two seasons, when both he and graduated senior Sam Scofield carried full command and understanding of the unit, helping produce two of the team’s best defensive seasons in the past 15 years.
So, Monroe’s job as the defense’s signal-caller was already going to expand, but now with bodies at the spot next to him switching nearly every drill, an even greater burden has fallen on his shoulders.
“I wouldn’t exactly say it’s night and day, but it’s more like dawn to dusk,” Monroe said, when comparing the newcomers’ insight to Scofield’s. “But we have some good guys who can make plays and they’ll get it figured out eventually, but right now a lot of it is on me to tell them where to be and I’m always trying to say ‘go back’ or ‘come up’ or how to look for the ball.
“It’s going to take some time, but I think by the time we actually start playing games, it will get figured out and they’ll know what they’re supposed to do.”
Rollins said he didn’t expect to see much separation between those vying for the position in the opening week of camp, but with full pads coming on Sunday and scrimmages scheduled for the next two Saturdays, Rollins hopes to see a noticeable gap as someone takes ownership at the top of the depth chart.
“That second safety spot is tough right now, because we just lost the team’s leading tackler for two years (Scofield) and you also lose a fifth-year senior behind him (Brandon LeBeau),” Rollins said. “That’s a lot of talent and experience gone. I think you’ll start to see someone start to separate himself by the end of the week, but for now we are just watching and waiting and coaching them there.”
Tulane coach Curtis Johnson said Saturday’s practice at Yulman Stadium was one of the offense’s best performances in his four years with the Green Wave.
After struggling to get anything going Friday morning, quarterback Tanner Lee made strides by finding receivers underneath the coverage and avoiding making mistakes, nearly eliminating his interceptions in both seven-on-seven and 11-on-11 drills.
“This was really as good as I can remember it since I’ve been here,” Johnson said. “Tanner was sharp and he was checking down doing what he was supposed to do. The backs were running really hard and living up to the competition. Tight ends like Trey Scott had a great day today. It’s really starting to look like it’s supposed to look.”