Tanner Lee has a No. 1 target.
Tulane’s third-year sophomore quarterback isn’t bashful about heaping praise upon sophomore receiver Teddy Veal. After a season in which the Green Wave’s options at receiver dwindled and offensive production evaporated, Lee is anticipating a bounceback in the passing game, thanks largely to his relationship with Veal.
The pair has worked together extensively during the offseason to ensure the timing, precision, and accuracy between them was perfect.
Through the first few weeks of preseason camp, Lee believes it has paid off.
“I think he’s grown into being our No. 1 receiver, and I think if you watch practice, you can just see his level of maturity is so much greater than just about anyone, just by the way he goes about his business,” Lee said. “He is always focused and he’s always doing something and never standing around. He’s either talking about a play or working on his footwork to the side or catching balls.
“He catches 200 extra balls after practice every day. That kind of stuff really gets you better over time. He’s put the work in, and that’s why he’s showing up this camp and standing out.”
While Veal showed flashes of top-notch potential as Tulane’s leading receiver last year — he had 381 yards on 40 receptions and scored a pair of touchdowns — he lacked the play-to-play consistency to help carry the Green Wave’s offense out of the doldrums.
Now, Lee and coach Curtis Johnson have started to see Veal emerging as a reliable threat downfield and on situational plays.
“Last year I think he was thinking a lot and was trying to figure out his routes — plus he was on a bigger stage and everything sort of collided,” Lee said. “But now he’s just let his ability take over and make plays. If I break the huddle, I know I have Teddy out there and there’s a good chance he’s going to get open.”
Johnson also credited fellow sophomore receiver Terren Encalade for his growth this offseason. After starting six games and hauling in 20 receptions for 235 yards last season, Johnson said Encalade has earned his way to being a clear-cut starting receiver.
Considering the Green Wave is thin at the position, with only six scholarship receivers on the roster, it’s imperative that those on the top of the depth chart perform well.
So far, Johnson said he’s pleased by what he’s seen.
“Both of those kids are starting to look like something,” said Johnson, who spent 27 years as a receivers coach before he took over at Tulane. “You can see a definite separation. We are getting to where we need to be with those two kids. They’ve taken their games and just elevated them.
“I think Tanner has an extreme amount of confidence in them. Even I am getting some confidence in them, and I don’t get usually get confidence in young kids.”
Tulane will hold its second prolonged scrimmage Saturday morning, when it also hosts fan day at 9 a.m. inside Yulman Stadium.
It will serve as the Green Wave’s final opportunity for the first-team offense and defense to match up in a game-like setting before Tulane opens the season Sept. 3 against Duke.
Johnson said he wants to rest many of his established starters like linebacker Nico Marley, safety Darion Monroe and cornerback Parry Nickerson to avoid injury, but he expects to see a competitive scrimmage.
“I would like to see Tanner continue to execute like he’s doing, because he’s getting a lot better,” Johnson said. “That battle between the offensive and defensive line is going to be important to watch — especially on defense, since some of those guys are battling for jobs.
“I just want to see everyone go out there and execute and look like they know what they’re doing. That’s as important as anything else.”