Thursday, March 10, 2005

Spring Practice- Ricard

Tulane appears to be conducting Spring Practice under a sort of neo-Stalinist security. What is going on over there? Why is there literally zero coverage on even our own website? Spring practice is the one chance a football program has to cut through the noise and clutter of spring sports- particularly with the increasingly nice story about the baseball team moving center stage more and more. I plan to soon provide some light- on at least the spring game.

Last year, spring was dominated by one overwhelming story: which of these three quarterbacks was getting the nod to replace Losman? It is no secret now that Scelfo picked the wrong one- a decision that clearly cost them the sixth win needed for the New Orleans Bowl. The Wave might not have won the UAB game with Irvin- but they surely would not have lost all four of this slate: MSU, ECU, Houston and USM- games that screamed to be won with any sort of positive play from the quarterback position. Throw UAB back on that list- and yeah- Irvin would have gotten two.

That is kind of it in a nutshell. Ricard's three best games were against a triad- UAB, Navy and Army- that featured a friendly home atmosphere against teams that either were unwilling to or unable to pressure him.

Teams defending Ricard went thru two distinct stages last season. The first was up to and including the UAB game. The MSU game suggested that Ricard was not ready yet- that the only way he could hurt you was to go over the top enough times- and then get sort of lucky with our quality wide-outs and subsequently create a big play. So teams took that away. They rushed the guys up-front, sat the back-seven in vanilla sets, protected deep down the field, safe in the knowledge that Ricard was not only incapable of stringing together the five completions needed to produce a score but also prone to feed you a whole bunch of utterly crippling turnovers.

During the UAB game, Ricard made his first evolution. For the first time, he was able to exploit the lack of pressure, and had a monster day. UAB, stupidly, never did commit to coming after him- and Ricard taught them a bad lesson. Seriously, UAB was by far the worst opposing coaching job presented to Tulane last year.

Well, any fool watching that game moved on to step two: Get after Ricard- make him demonstrate that now- that rather than completing the requisite five balls a drive- let's make Ricard demonstrate five good reads under pressure and consequential throws to the right guy. Ricard never squared that circle- never showed signs of that second evolution. He got away with it twice- because Army can't pressure anyone with their horrible group and our offensive line played its best game all year versus Navy. Those were two games Ricard enjoyed superior protection- and he was great.

In the other games, teams committed to blitzing Ricard to get pressure- Tulane normally could protect against a base rush- and he could not handle it. Guys were open- if the TCU game and Irvin's brief appearance against Houston were any indication- but Ricard is not yet a "read it and throw it" quarterback. Frankly, he never will be. It simply is not his game.

He is in his fourth year now in I-A- the days of radical improvement are past. He is a first a pro-style passer, that needs protection. He does not throw well under duress or on the move. Tulane does not run a pro-offense- where, for example, you commit to protection, accordingly you routinely keep a TE/TB in to protect, normally send two/three guys in the pattern, and depend on a big arm to make it all go. Tulane's offense frankly is not one where they can line up and run the ball effectively enough so that Ricard is not asked to make 45 throws- but instead only 25- and a lot of them on first down, or 3rd and short, or off play-action fakes people respect.

Our offense does not put a premium on pass protection or quaterbacks taking seven-step drops, standing tall and throwing down the field. It is "get it, look and throw." And that is not Ricard. He is sort of shoe-horned in here. But he is not a dope, he has all the physical tools, and has guts- so at times, under the right situations he looks great. But a lot of the time, he looks awkward. He simply isn't "quarterback-ish".

I imagine he'll be much the same in 2005. He'll perform well against teams that lack the physical ability to rush him- where he has four seconds to make a decision, not 2.5 seconds- games where we probably don't need superior quarterback play to be effective. But against the USM-style teams, where they'll be in his face- like TCU was against Irvin, where Tulane needs quality quaterbacking to win, he'll struggle. Yes, Ricard still has upside, but not as much as coming into last year. I am not sure if this offense is perfect for him. He never is going to enjoy pristine protection here, with Scelfo's penchant to send five guys out every single time. Candidly, Tulane lacks the wide-outs to only send two/three guys out and expect people to get open consistently. Our offense compensates for our lack of talent and bulk by giving the quarterback more options that require minimal time to develop. But in turn, your qb has to be a "read it and throw it" guy- and Ricard is a lot of good things- big arm and guts- but that is never going to be his mojo.