Tulane coach Willie Fritz is not losing any sleep about replacing the 1,091 yards rushing Dontrell Hilliard had last season — or, for that matter, backup Sherman Badie’s big-play ability.
Fritz has immense respect for the talent that propelled both of them into NFL training camps, but he believes the Green Wave is loaded at running back.
Name after name rolls off his tongue when he talks about the group, starting with junior Darius Bradwell and Texas Tech transfer Corey Dauphine, then continuing through sophomore Stephon Huderson and freshmen Amare Jones and Cameron Carroll, then stopping at senior Devin Glenn.
They are not proven yet, but Fritz will take that six-man group any day.
“I’ll be surprised if we’re not as good as what we were last season at running back,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of depth there and a lot of talent.”
The intense competition should force each of them to get better. Seeing Bradwell in the back of the room at media day Tuesday, Fritz praised his upside while giving him a little verbal kick to the backside.
“He came out (Monday) at practice, and it was like, wow,” Fritz said. “There was a significant difference in that practice compared (to the first week). I don’t know what he did, but he got himself ready to go. Where he (messed) up is I expect that out of him every single day.”
Bradwell, converted from quarterback near the end of his freshman year in 2016, showed in the finale against SMU why Louisville recruited him as a running back. He raced for a 57-yard touchdown and added a second scoring run, finishing with a career-high 80 yards on nine carries.
A bruiser (6-foot-1, 230 pounds) with deceptive speed, he appears ready to at least double his total of 411 yards (on a team-best 6.2 average per carry) if he gets the opportunities.
“If we had kept playing the season, he may have ended up starting,” Fritz said. “He really came on.”
Bradwell said he wants to pound opponents until they break down.
“If you look at the NFL, most of the time they are not making all the big runs,” he said. “But if you stay consistent, stay on your landmarks and keep grinding, they are going to eventually open up and you are going to get a home run.”
If Bradwell does not start, Dauphine will. He has waited four years for a significant role, redshirting at Texas Tech as a four-star recruit in 2015, playing only the opener in 2016 and sitting out 2017 after transferring to Tulane.
Shifty with quick acceleration, Dauphine provides a different look than Bradwell but is big and physical enough (6-0, 200) to take contact, and he cannot wait for the Aug. 30 opener against Wake Forest.
After biding his time on the scout-team offense a year ago, his only outlet for competition came on Tulane’s track team, where he helped the Wave to a third-place finish at the American Athletic Conference 4x100 relay in a school-record time.
“Who likes practicing and not playing?” he said. “I will be pumped because I’ve got a lot of things on my shoulders. I feel like I have to prove a lot. I just want to show everyone I’m not just a track guy. I’m a running back. I’m a football player. I’m an athlete.”
Fritz praised Huderson, who carried 19 times for 70 yards as a freshman, for getting stronger and better. He loves Carroll’s size and Jones’ moves.
Even Glenn, a Warren Easton graduate and the smallest player on the roster (5-7, 160), has found a niche as a change-of-pace back in practice after playing primarily on special teams in his first three years. With a blazing time of 4.31 in the 40-yard dash, he is Tulane’s fastest player and was part of that record-breaking 4x100 relay, too.
Other than a lack of experience, Fritz said he sees no weaknesses in the group.
“The thing I was impressed with today, we had three running backs step up and splatter linebackers blitzing,” he said after one practice. “We hadn’t had that in the past.”