Curtis Johnson knew when he took the Tulane head coaching job that he would have to rebuild. He knew there would be growing pains in the process. He knew it wouldnâ€™t be easy. In his fi rst year on the job, his team finished with just two wins. It didnâ€™t look, at least on paper, like a step in the right direction. The progress was made off the fi eld and in recruiting. Unfortunately, that didnâ€™t help the 2012 team on the field. It could in 2013, as the foundation has been laid.
Quarterback Ryan Griffi n is gone. Heâ€™ll fight for some type of role with the Saints this season. Now thereâ€™s a battle for the starting gig in New Orleans. Redshirt freshman Devin Powell and transfer Nick Montana (Joeâ€™s son) fi nished the spring as co-starters on the depth chart. Powell played a bit last year when Griffi n went down with an injury. He completed 30 of 57 passes for 255 yards during that time. He also threw three interceptions. During the spring game, Powell had three completions of over 40 yards and a pair of touchdown tosses. Montana wasnâ€™t to be outdone. The former Washington backup fi red a touchdown strike of his own and showed off his legs for another. It may be hard to keep Montana off the fi eld, and not because of his name. His dual threat ability and experience on the college level may be key to earning the starting job.
Orleans Darkwa was poised for his third straight stellar campaign in 2012, but didnâ€™t have the year he did as a freshman or sophomore, when he rushed for over 900 yards each season. Dante Butler, Josh Rounds and Lazedrick Thompson, and Sherman Badie will all be in the mix to tote the pigskin. Regardless of who runs the ball, theyâ€™ll hope to do better than the 1.7 yards per carry mark the team posted last year.
As receiver, Ryan Grant had a huge 2012 year after an injury-plagued 2011 season. He led the team in receptions (76), receiving yards (1,149), and touchdowns (6). He was a deep threat to be reckoned with, averaging over 15 yards a grab. The rest of the unit is more than capable, too. Wilson Van Hooser, Justyn Shackleford, and Xavier Rush provide plenty of weapons for whoever is behind center.
Steps forward, in terms of progress, wonâ€™t be possible without improvement from the offensive line. The team fi nished 95 th in the FBS in sacks allowed. Todd Jacquet, Nathan Shienle, Adam Skidmore, Mike Henry, Zach Morgan, Rio Mares, and Sean Donnelly are likely to see the most playing time across the line.
The defense received what could be a big boost when Chris Davenport transferred from LSU to join the Green Wave. At 330 pounds, his size gives the Tulane front much-needed bulk. Corey Redwine will spell Davenport. Kenny Welcome, who had 26 tackles a season ago, and Calvin Thomas will join those two inside. Royce LaFrance, Julius Warmsley, and Andre Robinson could benefi t at the ends if opposing defenses focus too much on Davenport and company on the interior. Upperclassmen headline the linebacker corps. Seniors Dominique Roberston, Zach Davis, and Kyle Davis, and juniors Matthew Bailey and Taylor Bullock should all help improve the Wave defense with another year under their belts. Underclassmen Jordan Batiste and Lorenzo Doss will start at the cornerback spots. Those two sophomores hope to replace Ryan Travis and Shakiel Smith. Sophomore Darion Monroe led the team with 97 tackles in 2012. Heâ€™ll be joined by either Brandon LeBeau or Sam Scofi eld, who compete for the strong safety position.
Cario Santos is a projected All-American by at least one publication. The senior was perfect (21-21) on his fi eld goal attempts last season. Heâ€™ll play a critical role if and when the offense canâ€™t punch it in the end zone for six. Cario will do the placekicking. Peter Picerelli punted 68 times for an average of 41 yards in his freshman season. Heâ€™ll look to improve upon that as a sophomore.
Itâ€™s hard to expect a tremendous improvement in the win column for this bunch, though they could easily match their win total from 2012 by September 7 th . But the rest of the slate will be anything but. If the Green Wave can fi nd a way to win away from New Orleans, four to fi ve wins would be possible. Unfortunately for Curtis Johnson and his gang, they havenâ€™t proven they can do that. Better days are ahead. More growing pains will come first.
Photos courtesy of the Tulane Athletic Dept.