Four Tulane football players have been suspended for Thursday’s season opener against Jackson State in the Superdome, and a fifth will miss the first half, coach Curtis Johnson said after practice Saturday morning.
Senior linebacker Zach Davis, sophomore offensive tackle Todd Jacquet, sophomore cornerback Jordan Batiste and sophomore walk-on offensive lineman Preston Paine will sit out because of unspecified violations of team policy. Johnson said sophomore defensive end Royce LaFrance would be eligible to play in the third quarter.
None of the suspended players were certain starters, but four of them are expected to have significant roles this year.
Batiste started nine games at nickelback in 2012 as a true freshman, making 41 tackles. He has practiced with the second team at cornerback behind senior Jordan Sullen during preseason camp, which ended Saturday.
Davis was Tulane’s second-leading tackler last year with 78, starting eight games. He has been working behind Dominique Robertson at middle linebacker in camp.
Jacquet has been alternating with Arturo Uzdavinis at first-team left tackle in a close competition. Jacquet started three games as an extra tight end last year.
LaFrance, who started the last two games of 2012 and finished with 20 tackles, backs up Andre Robinson at end.
All of the players are expected to come off suspension for the second game against South Alabama, although Davis might be out longer. He was suspended from practice early in training camp along with wide receiver Brent Comardelle.
Comardelle has not returned. Davis missed a day.
“I’m just trying to stay active with the team and get the rest of the linebackers ready and help where I can,” Davis said. “I’m not sure (if the suspension will carry over to the South Alabama game). It’s unannounced.”
Tulane has bounced around from the Superdome to Newman High School to the Saints Facility to its own baseball field this preseason while the construction of on-campus Yulman Stadium eliminated the old practice field. Still, it sure beats bugging out to Birmingham.
Five days before Johnson’s debut against Rutgers last season, Hurricane Isaac forced the Green Wave to take buses to Birmingham, Ala., where the team practiced for three days on the campus of Samford University. The Wave returned to New Orleans on Friday and played the Scarlet Knights on Saturday night in the Superdome.
Five days before the season opener this time, Tulane finished training camp on Saturday at the Superdome with no hurricane on the horizon.
“It’s good to be home,” Johnson said. ‘It’s just so much more rewarding just being at one place, being able to go back to your locker. Those people (at Samford) were outstanding last year. They took care of us, but getting the logistics and scheduling around their practices, it was just difficult for a first-year coach. It was like, what have I gotten myself into?”
Everything about the preparation for year No. 2 has been calmer. The players and coaches know each other much better.
“It’s much easier just for the fact of the matter that we’re used to them now,” senior defensive end Julius Warmsley said. “We understand what they’re trying to do and what their focus is and what they really want out of us. It really makes it easier for us to go hard and run hard.”
The advantages this year may really hit home the day before the game. Last season, the Wave buses returned to New Orleans a little more than 24 hours before kickoff against Rutgers.
“I had a hole in the bedroom roof of my house,” offensive guard Rio Mares said. “There was just a lot going on that was distracting a little bit. Things like that were just different. It’s a lot smoother process now.”
While Tulane has gotten much bigger on the line of scrimmage defensively, the guys behind the front four are smaller.
When the Wave practiced in its nickel package this week — its starting look nine times in pass-happy Conference USA last year — 5-foot-8, 180-pound freshman linebacker Nico Marley lined up next to 5-foot-8, 181-pound nickelback Derrick Strozier.
That duo made Robertson, a 6-1, 190-pound middle linebacker, look like a giant.
“It’s all about speed,” Johnson said. “We’ve got the big D-linemen. I don’t think (runners) are going to get past the D-linemen. They’ll consume blocks and then we’ll use our speed to run right through them.”
Tulane is undersized almost across the board at linebacker. The exception, freshman Edwards Williams (6-3, 221), missed more than two weeks of preseason drills with a sprained ankle before returning this week.
Early in the year at least, look for much more of Marley, the grandson of reggae singer Bob Marley and the son of former University of Miami linebacker Rohan Marley, than Williams.
“I love his (Marley’s) intensity, his speed and his ability to hit,” Johnson said. “I worry about his health because he needs to slow down sometimes. He’s a missile.”
This and that
Johnson said he might not name a starting quarterback until the day of the Jackson State game. Transfer Nick Montana, the prohibitive favorite, has gotten most of the first-team repetitions. Freshman Tanner Lee and redshirt freshman Devin Powell are next in line. … Redshirt freshman wide receiver Fudge Van Hooser has been sidelined by a recurring hip problem, but he still received some attention earlier this week when USA Today placed him first on a list of the 25 best nicknames in college football. His actual first name is Walker. ... Freshman running back Sherman Badie from John Curtis returned to full practice on Saturday after missing two weeks with a sprained ankle.