Tulane’s Dane Ledford and Christian Daniels swapped their red quarterback jerseys for regular white offense jerseys this week in practice, a significant change on two fronts.
First, LSU transfer Justin McMillan has taken over as the Green Wave’s clear No. 2 quarterback, receiving every rep that starter Jonathan Banks does not get.
Second, Tulane (1-2) is searching for anyone who can contribute at wide receiver other than the terrific tandem of Darnell Mooney and Terren Encalade. Ledford and Daniels both practiced at receiver on Thursday as the Wave completed on-field preparation for Saturday’s game at fourth-ranked Ohio State (3-0).
McMillan, a graduate transfer with two years of eligibility left, practiced with the Wave for the first time on Aug. 25 after leaving LSU a month ago, coach Willie Fritz said McMillan was about 50 percent up to speed in the offense.
Three practices with more repetitions this week have raised that percentage.
“We think he’s closer,” Fritz said. “He's learning what we're doing. That's always the big dilemma. You don't want to put a guy out there and he knows a tenth of the offense. Now he's getting closer and closer to having a grasp of what we're doing.”
Fritz cannot say the same thing about his receivers other than Mooney and Encalade. Sophomore Jaetavian Toles is third on the team with three catches for 19 yards. Starter Jabril Clewis, who has been targeted frequently, has two receptions for 38 yards.
The rest of the wideouts who have played — Jacob Robertson, Brian Newman and Jorren Vallien — are waiting for their first catch. The loss of Notre Dame graduate transfer Freddy Canteen to a season-ending shoulder injury in the preseason has proven significant.
“We need some more guys to step up and just at the very least be assignment sound and know that they are going to run the right route and know that they are going to catch the ball if we throw it to them when they're open,” Fritz said. “We need them blocking the right body. Just being assignment sound is a big deal.”
Ledford played wide receiver against Oklahoma last year, catching one pass for 11 yards, before returning to quarterback, his original position, this spring.
Daniels, a true freshman from North Carolina, was trailing Ledford in the competition for top backup quarterback before McMillan arrived.
“If he (Daniels) can learn what he's doing, he'll play for us (at receiver) here in a few weeks,” Fritz said. “He's a big body and he's got all the tools. He's got really soft hands. A quarterback should have a pretty good sense of where to line up and the depth of the route because he's had to go over all those things. It is putting him at a different position but not entirely a different position.”
Fritz said junior wide receiver D.J. Owens has received a medical disqualification and no longer will play football, keeping his scholarship while not counting toward the NCAA limit of 85.
Owens, whose lone reception went for a touchdown as a true freshman, played in only one game last year, suffering from recurring migraine headaches. The issue resurfaced in preseason camp, ending his career.
“He's helping us coach right now,” Fritz said. “He's a good young man."
Look for true freshman nose tackle Jeffery Johnson to play more against Ohio State after logging 35 downs against UAB despite not practicing last week due to a leg injury.
Johnson, who practiced some this week, graded out fairly well in the UAB game even though he was not 100 percent healthy.
“We need him because he's big and physical,” defensive coordinator Jack Curtis said. “He ended up playing 35 snaps and he's going to play a good bit more than that. He can do it. His presence in there just at 330 pounds is a big factor for us.”
To prepare for the atmosphere at Ohio Stadium, the coaches pumped in crowd noise at practice Tuesday before switching to loud recordings of the Buckeyes band on Wednesday. … Mooney ranks 19th nationally in receiving yards with 308. Throw in his 168 yards from the 2017 finale at SMU, and he has 476 receiving yards in his last four games.