March 31, 2009
New Orleans - The Tulane football team returned to the practice field for the first time since late November today and held a bit of a reunion as numerous injured players returned to action during the Green Wave's first of 15 spring practices at the Westfeldt Practice Facility.
During a mid-morning practice under breezy conditions and overcast skies, the Green Wave spent a little over two hours in helmets and shorts during the 21-period practice. The practice featured as many as nine players returning from season-ending injuries in 2008, the Green Wave's first practice under defensive coordinator Steven Stanard and the beginning of its third spring under head coach Bob Toledo.
"I think for the first day practice went relatively well," Toledo said. "The players were very excited to be out there and so were the coaches. It was a new beginning for us and I thought there was a lot of energy that were displayed out there.
"The goals were, No. 1, learn the things we are trying to do and to play fast. We want to do things at a rapid pace and not have to think and then react, but react right away, and I thought for the most part our players did a good job of that."
One of the highlights of the day, other than the cool weather, was the return of running back Andre Anderson, a 2008 Doak Walker Award candidate prior to his season-ending injury, and Jeremy Williams, who along with Anderson, was one of Tulane's top playmakers and all-purpose yardage leaders prior to his season-ending injury in the fourth game of the year. Also returning were fullbacks Kasey Stelly and Jordan Stephany, linebacker James McMurchy, safety Alex Lauricella, defensive tackle Josh Smith and running back Albert Williams. Albert Williams will join Anderson as one of the two players that will see limited contact this spring.
"It was really pleasing to see Andre Anderson running for example and to see Jeremy Williams making some plays. Those two guys in particular were two of our key players that were injured. We had 17 season-ending injuries last year and nine of those required surgery, and two of the guys wound up not being able to play football again. So, to have them out there running around and doing what they were doing was really pleasing for us to show that they had made a lot of progress after the surgery and through the offseason program," Toledo said.
The defense spent the day putting what they've learned in meeting into action on the field under Stanard. The group focused primarily on pass coverages and will practice run support then the team dons the pads for the first time.
"I thought from a teaching standpoint, they (defensive coaches) have done a good job during the offseason and in the first meetings of explaining the philosophy of the defense and what we are looking for. We are trying to be fundamental and make sure guys are fitted in the right place so that we are in a gap-control defense and making sure our secondary understands when they are in run support and when they have to cover passes. I know one of the things Steve wanted to do as was have the players show great effort, and I thought for the most part they gave us pretty good effort today," Toledo said.
"Steve brings experience to our defense. He's been a coordinator for quite a while and he is a proven coordinator. He has a great understanding of what he wants to do. His defense is basically Monte Kiffins, the coach that used to be with Tampa Bay (Buccaneers) and is now at Tennessee (Volunteers). Steve's been running the defense for a long time and understands it, and does a great job of teaching it to his players," Toledo added.
Tuesday's practice also marked the first day of Tulane's open competition for the quarterback position. Kevin Moore, who started all 12 games last season returns, as does Joe Kemp, who showed glimpses of promise in 2008 before being sidelined with a season-ending injury against Houston. A pair of redshirt freshman will also vie for playing time, including Ryan Griffin and D.J. Ponder, who is also moonlighting as a pitcher on the Green Wave's baseball team this season.
"I think all the quarterbacks did some good things, but they did a few bad things too. I think it's going to weed itself out over the next 14 practices. We are going to continue to add to the offense and see what they can handle and let them play, and just see how they do. I told them the job of a quarterback is to get the ball past the last white stripe and score points and win. And the one that can do that is the one that will be the player," Toledo said.
Tulane returns to the gridiron on Wednesday morning from 9-11:30 a.m. All practices will be held at the Westfeldt practice facility located behind the James W. Wilson Jr., Center on Ben Weiner Drive and are open to the public