It all feels familiar around the Tulane locker room and practice field.
The Green Wave returned its coaching staff intact from last season, one of only 18 Football Bowl Subdivision schools in the country to do so. That helps breed confidence and allows the Green Wave to focus on details rather than terminology, coach Curtis Johnson said.
Johnson, his assistants and the players all mentioned a sense of comfort during the Green Wave’s media day Monday. It’s a direct contrast to the program’s state a year ago.
“It’s so different than last year,” offensive coordinator Eric Price said. “I remember in the first few practices, we would call the play, and some of the guys were so confused, they didn’t even break the huddle. The coaches were just as confused, though, because we really didn’t know (Johnson’s) offense all that well either, so we’re looking at each other and making sure we didn’t call something that made no sense.
“I think some of that confusion seeped in during the beginning of the season, especially when we had to go without (former starting quarterback Ryan Griffin) for a couple of weeks. Everything just felt jumbled. ... You saw how much better we got once things settled down.”
Tulane’s offense averaged just nine points in its first five games but improved to 30.2 in the final seven.
Shedding some of the schematic bewilderment played a large role in the improvement, said several Tulane players, who expressed comfort through three days of preseason practice. Without having to learn the playbook or familiarize themselves with a new position coach, nearly the entire roster was able to step in at full stride.
“It’s strange to say, but it helps to know what your coach expects from practice,” sophomore safety Darion Monroe said. “It’s also just easier to get the chemistry of everybody together when you have a whole team that can help coach the young guys into what the schemes are, rather than have one coach who can do it. Last year, it was new to everybody and it took a pretty decent way into the season before everyone was thinking the same way.”
Running on time
Athletic Director Rick Dickson said construction on Yulman Stadium is running on schedule, and the team’s new home is still set to open for the 2014 season.
“The good news is, over the last couple of weeks, we’re finally coming out of the ground,” he said. “For the first four and a half months, everything we did with regards to the stadium was going into the ground. I actually returned from a trip a week ago and saw the first semblance of a structure coming out of the ground. On the side, you see our home grandstand that’s underway. The project is on schedule.”
On the air
Tulane announced that WMTI-FM, 106.1 will be the school’s flagship radio station for football and men’s basketball this school year.
WMTI also will carry the football and men’s and women’s basketball radio call-in shows. Baseball and women’s basketball games — as well as the baseball call-in show — will return to WRBH-FM, 88.3.
The Tulane Radio Network also added WSLA-AM, 1560, which the school said will double the coverage around the New Orleans area and into Slidell and western Mississippi.
Picking a position
After missing the 2012 season with a shoulder injury, senior offensive lineman Zach Morgan said he’s still not sure where he’ll line up this season.
The Lake Charles product started his first three seasons at Tulane — two at guard and one at center — and is being worked into both roles this season as the Green Wave tries to reincorporate him into an offensive line that returns all three starters from the interior.
“I feel a little bit more at home playing at center,” Morgan said. “I like being the quarterback of the offensive line and making the calls. I like having everyone’s trust in me to get the job done there, so I’d prefer to be at center. But who knows how it all plays out. I’ll play wherever they tell me to.”
Defensive tackle Chris Davenport’s jersey looked like it belonged to a freshman at media day. Unlike the veterans’ uniforms, it didn’t have his last name stitched onto the back, signifying in-game use.
He certainly doesn’t look like a freshman. The LSU graduate is the Green Wave’s most physically imposing player, checking in at 6-foot-4 and 334 pounds.
While Davenport has yet to play a snap with the Green Wave, he said he has taken a leadership role because of his extensive college football experience and the openness of the Tulane locker room.
“It couldn’t have been a much easier transition,” he said. “Everyone here accepted me immediately, and they were looking up at me when I got here. They know I played in some big games against Alabama, Tennessee, Florida and those types of teams, so they want to hear about that. I’m happy to give them insight.”