With one week of spring practice left, the Tulane football team’s lack of available bodies at certain positions had coach Willie Fritz harkening back to his days at Blinn Junior College in Brenham, Texas.
When he took over as coach in 1993, he said he was given 56 beds for the players, limiting his roster to that number.
The numbers are not that low at Tulane, but the Green Wave is practicing with nine offensive linemen, and that’s when all of them are healthy. Only three scholarship receivers and seven linemen were available by the end of Saturday’s practice at Yulman Stadium.
“We’re a little thin in spots, so I’m having to slow down the tempo when we’re repping plays,” Fritz said. “Usually I like almost three plays in a minute, but we just don’t have the depth, so we’re having to extend practices a little bit longer than we normally do.”
With 21 freshmen arriving in the fall, Fritz is not worried about the long run. It’s the short-term practice issues that concern him.
“We’re not in great shape right now,” he said. “We really used our offseason program to get stronger. This summer we’re going to run like crazy and be in incredible shape when fall practice rolls around.”
The immediate impact will be on Saturday’s spring game, which was going to feature the first live tackling in Fritz’s tenure.
“It’s going to be difficult for us to tackle,” he said. “I really wanted to do it, but with the numbers that we have, I’m very hesitant to get out and tackle. We had seven offensive linemen at the end of practice today. We have three scholarship receivers for the rest of the spring. We’re having a tough time at some positions.”
When quarterback Jared Johnson decided to leave Sam Houston State this week and play somewhere else as a graduate student, there was speculation that Tulane might be his landing spot.
Johnson, the 2015 Southland Conference Player of the Year, was recruited by Fritz at Sam Houston State and played in eight games under Fritz as a redshirt freshman in 2013, starting once.
Neither of Tulane’s top two quarterbacks in the spring — redshirt sophomore Glen Cuiellette and true freshman Darius Bradwell — has thrown a pass in college.
Although Fritz could not comment directly on Johnson, he said he is not a big believer in taking transfers.
“It’s difficult for us to get transfers,” Fritz said. “They’ve got to graduate and they have to have a high GPA, so it’s difficult for us to get transfers. We’re going to build this program into a consistent winner with high school kids.”
Fritz estimated he had 150 coaches in attendance at his first coaches clinic Friday and Saturday.
“I like these clinics because I get to sit in there and learn football, too,” he said. “I’m always trying to learn, and they did an excellent job.”
The clinics give Fritz a rare chance to meet high school coaches under current NCAA rules, which don’t allow head coaches to go on the road for evaluations in the spring and permit only one evaluation trip in the fall.
“In the old days, the head coach could go out as much as anybody,” he said. “Now we’ve limited it.”
Redshirt junior Quinlan Carroll, who has three career tackles, practiced with the first unit at defensive end this week and earned positive reviews. Normal first-stringer Daren Williams was sidelined by a concussion.
“Quinlan was a guy that sort of surprised us,” defensive line coach Kevin Peoples said. “Coming in, you have some ideas and you hear some things, but he’s exceeded our expectations. He has quickness. He’s doing a great job.”
Carroll, from Belle Chasse High School, said he finally is 100 percent recovered from an ACL tear he suffered in 2014 against Houston.
“Sometimes you feel like you’re back, and then you realize you’re not,” he said. “My knee’s fine now. I’m playing with speed, aggression and explosiveness.”
Fritz confirmed that sophomore receiver Andrew Hicks, another Belle Chasse product, would miss the season after having ACL surgery on Thursday. … Cornerback Parry Nickerson returned to practice after missing most of the spring with a leg injury. He fielded punts with Dontrell Hilliard and Larry Dace. … Junior Kenneth Santa Marina was moved to guard from tackle, and he’s starting with the first unit.