Tulane Camp Report: Curtis Johnson tells players to stay on their feet

The first full-pads practice in college football usually involves intense hitting and an overload of pent-up physical aggression. Tulane went the other direction on Friday morning at the Saints’ indoor facility, with coach Curtis Johnson stopping the action to tell his players to remain on their feet.

Saturday morning’s scrimmage at Tad Gormley Stadium is the time for tackling.

“There was too much time spent on the ground,” he said. “Young guys think that when you put pads on, all of a sudden they have to tackle guys and go to the ground. That’s not what we do here. We want to practice staying up. We want to practice speed. We ran around well, but I was just disappointed with the number of guys being on the ground.

“I want them to come out crisp tomorrow, and I want them to do some hitting tomorrow.”

Friday’s workout was anything but crisp. Johnson pulled redshirt freshman quarterback Tanner Lee aside after one repetition and lectured him. He also had harsh words for sophomore quarterback Devin Powell and senior quarterback Nick Montana before the practice ended.

“Nick practiced really well, but a couple of times he didn’t get the ball out on time, so I got on him,” Johnson said. “I got on Montana. He has to get it off on time, and the same with Powell. He had a long throw, but I got on him, too, because if he throws it on time, it’s a touchdown and (wide receiver Justyn) Shackleford’s not diving for it.”

Another factor in the ragged play was a depleted offensive line. Starting right guard Chris Taylor was excused to attend the funeral of his aunt, and center Nathan Shienle was limited with a thumb injury. Their absences left the middle of the line with a trio that has limited or no game experience — freshman center Junior Diaz and guards Colton Hanson and Nate Skold.

“The line wasn’t where we wanted it to be today, but those younger guys got a chance to play with the first group,” Johnson said. “Now they’ve got to pick it up some.”

Cornerback depth

With returning first-team All-Conference USA cornerback Lorenzo Doss and projected starting cornerback Taurean Nixon continuing to sit out with minor leg injuries, young replacements Donnie Lewis Jr. and Richard Allen have gotten plenty of reps on the first unit.

Lewis, a true freshman, made a terrific interception on Friday He read an off-target Lee pass to freshman receiver Leondre James and dove to grab the ball just before it hit the ground.

“He made a nice play,” Lee said. “I thought I could get it in there before he broke on it.”

Johnson has liked what he has seen from Lewis and Allen.

“Richard Allen’s playing outstanding,” he said. “This young Donnie now, he does some things. He’s improved probably the most from Day 1 to now, so these guys may play.”

Johnson said Doss and Nixon, who has a slight groin strain, could have practiced if needed. He added they likely would be held out of Saturday’s scrimmage, too, to make sure they get 100 percent healthy.

Backup bonanza

Look for the obvious starters to head to the sideline early in Saturday morning’s scrimmage. Johnson wants a better read on the players vying for spots in the rotation.

“This is a time now where we have to figure out if we have 20, 30 or 40 players,” he said. “We’ll judge those guys probably more than anything else just to see what they can do in a live setting. I don’t expect to see the older guys playing that much.”

The scrimmage starts at 8:30 a.m. and is open to the public.

Quick read

Five observations of note from Friday’s practice:

1. Another day, another botched kick. Freshman Andrew DiRocco barely got any height on a 20-yard attempt, and it was blocked in the middle of the line. Johnson said a poor snap from Michael Lizanich messed up the timing. Five days into camp, Tulane appears nowhere close to replacing the nearly automatic Cairo Santos, who kicked a 28-yard field and made both of his extra points in a preseason game for Kansas City on Thursday night.

2. Tulane appears deep at safety. Johnson praised backups Leonard Davis and Brandon LeBeau, both of whom received plenty of reps with the first team in combination with starters Darion Monroe and Sam Scofield. Their development could allow Monroe to spend more time at nickelback, where Tulane has to replace sacks leader Jordan Batiste.

3. The wide-open race to replace four-year starter Orleans Darkwa at running back should get a little more clarity Saturday. Redshirt freshman Sherman Badie, junior Josh Rounds, sophomore Lazedrick Thompson, senior Dante Butler and true freshman Dontrell Hilliard all have had good moments in the first week of practice.