Tulane’s depth at tight end may be tested early.
Senior Charles Jones, a talented receiver with 23 career starts and 51 catches, is sidelined by a sprained ankle that leaves in question his availability for the Green Wave’s Aug. 30 opener against Wake Forest.
“I sure hope (he is back by then),” coach Willie Fritz said after Wednesday morning’s practice at Yulman Stadium. “Unfortunately, he sprained his ankle pretty good and is going to be out a few weeks. We are going to have to monitor him. He’s been doing a nice job and is going to have a great season for us.”
If Jones is not available, fellow senior Kendall Ardoin could get his 19th career start. Only one of them came last year, when he had five catches for 63 yards.
The other candidates are redshirt freshman Wade Wallace and true freshman Tyrick James.
“I feel good about the position,” Fritz said. “Kendall Ardoin has experience. Will Wallace is a bigger guy. He’s close to 6-foot-4, 245 (pounds) and he’s got some toughness to him. Tyrick has great movement and great ball skills, too.”
Jones, a St. Augustine High graduate, was having his best camp until his injury. The knock on him in the past was his inconsistency from game to game and practice to practice, but Fritz praised him for his focus the past two weeks.
Jones made a career-high 21 catches with three touchdowns as a true freshman in 2014 but did not really build on that debut, gaining an extra year of eligibility when he redshirted in 2016 because of injury. He caught 13 passes last year, scoring a pair of touchdowns against Memphis.
He talked about his newfound commitment at Media Day.
“Why not try to be the best that I can be?” he said. “It’s hard because there are days when you’re not feeling up to par or there are days when you’re feeling really good. But when you’re not feeling good, you have to perform at your peak.”
Wallace has made plays almost every day in practice, improving significantly in his second year in the program after playing for small Cathedral High in Natchez, Mississippi.
“He’s really matured physically and mentally,” tight ends coach Slade Nagle said. “I don’t think he had a lot of weight training going on in high school, and he played several sports. He is the strongest of our tight ends now.”
James (6-2, 250) is learning the position. He played more wide receiver than tight end at China Springs High School in Texas, also logging time as a wildcat quarterback and at defensive end.
“He’s learning how to play physical,” Nagle said. “He has the willingness to do it, but blocking and playing in the trenches is a learned skill.”
Coming off an indoor practice at the Saints facility, players dragged a little bit in the steamiest conditions thus far in camp Wednesday.
Fritz was not a happy camper.
“One thing these guys have to understand is it is to our advantage coming out here and practicing in the heat and humidity,” he said. “This is probably the hottest day we’ve had so far. I told the guys the last time I checked, all of our games are going to be played outdoors, and the first two are going to be here. We have to do a better job of pushing through.”
Fritz added the practice improved after the slow start.
Kings of consistency
On the first play of the 11-on-11 drill that ended practice, wide receiver Darnell Mooney ran past everyone on the sideline to haul in a deep ball from Jonathan Banks.
A little later, strong safety P.J. Hall broke on the ball quickly to knock away a pass over the middle.
It was just business as usual for both of them.
“Darnell’s kind of the guy on offense and P.J.’s the guy on defense, they are just Steady Eddie and don’t make any mistakes,” Fritz said. “They’re smart players. That’s half the battle right there.”
Defensive end Cameron Sample missed his second consecutive day with a knee injury but is expected back soon along with offensive tackle Noah Fisher, who has been out two weeks with an unspecified injury. … Four fighter jets flew over the stadium near the end of practice. Fritz asked for the flyby. He said jokingly his only disappointment was they arrived five minutes after they said they would get there.