Thursday, February 17, 2005

Spring Practice

Spring practice: Hard to believe it is right around the corner.

I prefer spring practice to the fall.
In the fall, you learn a lot about the 45 guys who are going to play the second Saturday in September. In the spring, all those odd, mysterious characters you have been hearing about get to strap it on and hit people: your freshmen, sophomores, red-shirts, etc.

To me, this spring is more interesting than the last few. Last year, Tulane had the quarterback situation- but not much else. Team expectations were low, plus quarterbacking issues tend to suck the oxygen right out of the room.

This year is different- I think you could make a rational case that the Wave ought to be better. The Green Wave managed five wins last year and the schedule ought to be comparable- so a minor bowl game is not out of the question. After the end of the 2004 season, I thought Tulane could get to seven or eight in 2005. Now I am not so sure- the off-season defections really hurt this team depth wise at two positions Tulane absolutely cannot afford to be hurting: defensive line and quarterback.

Because this is Tulane, fans spend most springs hoping both to go to Omaha and to identify guys who can help a normally horrid defense. Clearly the defense wasn’t horrid last year; in fact they played with verve in spots last year. The Navy game was arguably the best effort in years. The Wave played nasty and hit big upsetting a pretty talented offensive squad.

However, I think Scelfo knows what Tulane has here. Sure, no matter what he does, the defensive front is going to get blocked and stay blocked at times. The loss of Ryan Johnson hurts. In the fall, when Ryan was labeled “out of shape”, everyone watching was thinking “if this out of shape, we need more out of shape players”. Ryan started the second game of the season. It hurts to lose guys like that- and we are still going to have issues with size, depth, and talent up front at times.

The ‘backers ought to be at least okay- any defensive unit with Cannon on it is not a negative. Injuries aside, there is not much upside or downside here- so again, not too many questions. Of course, the secondary is horrible. Those of you who think Route can play are going to have a long year.

So the questions are largely on the offense. This is the side of the ball you can argue as being much worse or better:

First: Lester Ricard is obviously the man now. No one believes anymore that Nick Cannon is the answer to anything and Elliott, while he has looked real quarterback-ish to me, is not going to get any kind of look except in an emergency.

Ricard is fascinating- a real poster child for you play like you practice- probably the singularly easiest quarterback in the recent history of Tulane to deconstruct. Under perfect conditions: not pressured, friendly crowd, guys open- he is lethal. He can and will throw for cartoon-like numbers. Take that away even modestly, force him to be a real “read it and throw it” player- and Ricard ranges for mediocre to real bad. Let’s not forget his penchant for utterly crippling turnovers.

He is clearly not gutless. Anyone watching the USM game, where the Golden Eagles came at him with a vengeance and delivered some ferocious blows, knows that. So Ricard is arguably fixable- and accordingly, he needs to get fixed real good this spring. Ricard simply needs to get better- if just because he doesn’t have the wide-outs that are guaranteed to get open and catch it anymore.

Second, no likes to hear it, but our tailback position is a problem. I used to get endless flack about this, until eight tailbacks got votes for “All C-USA” last year, six were named to the team- and Jovon & Forte didn’t have a single vote. Facts are facts- and when you don’t have a single back who no serious observer of C-USA thinks is top-eight tailback in a weak league that relies on offense… well, that is a problem, right? So this has got to be looked at to. I suppose we might have to wait until the fall. More than any player we recruited, I want to see Ducre.

Anyone who put up big numbers, plus thirty catches, in a pretty good high school league, is a potential plus in our league. And he got offered from USM! I believe USM knows they are doing in the offensive backfield because everyone they bring to New Orleans absolutely destroys Tulane.

Third, I trust our offensive line more than any other unit on the field. But last spring, the guys “behind” the starters looked like guys who could play in this league. We lose the entire offensive line after this campaign and the next- and Scelfo has been stock-piling and red-shirting at this position more than any other. I am interested to get a look at these guys. There is a big scholarship and time investment here- I want to see it.