Tulane head football coach Curtis Johnson address local print and broadcast outlets during Thursday's Media Day press conference.
After welcoming the media in attendance, Johnson touched on several topics, including positional battles, how the team will replace some key graduates from a year ago and the talents of the newcomers. A complete transcript of Thursday's press conference is below.
The Green Wave return to the practice field on Friday, Aug. 8, when they don full pads for the first time with an open-media session beginning at 8:30 a.m. at the New Orleans Saints Indoor Practice Facility on Airline Drive. Tulane will cap week one of preseason camp with their first two-a-day on Saturday with an open scrimmage at 8:30 a.m. at Tad Gormley Stadium before concluding the day with a closed session at the Saints Facility at 3:30 p.m. Saturday's scrimmage is open the public and admission is free.
Tulane will kick off the 2014 season on Thursday, Aug. 28, when the Green Wave travel to Oklahoma to take on fellow American newcomer Tulsa at 7 p.m. on the CBS Sports Newtwork before opening the home portion of the schedule on Saturday, Sept. 6, against Georgia Tech at 3 p.m. in the new, on-campus Yulman Stadium in front of a national audience on ESPNews.
For season ticket information, which features packages starting as low as $200, contact the Tulane Athletics Ticket Office at (504) 861-WAVE (9283). The Tulane Ticket Office is located on the first floor of the James W. Wilson, Jr. Center and is open weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. For additional information, log onto the official website at www.TulaneGreenWave.com.
Third-Year Head Coach
"First of all, I would like to welcome you guys to our Media Day 2014. This is my third season and one thing I love about being here and being on this staff is that there is so much support here. The new president, he's very, very supportive of the new conference. The conference commissioner is coming down, and Michael Fitts has done a fabulous job of integrating us into the new conference. [Director of Athletics] Rick Dickson has done a magnificent job.
On Yulman Stadium opening in the fall
"When you take a job and they say, `We're going to get a new stadium.' I tell the recruits all the time, `We're going to get a new stadium,' At other places, we never got the new stadium. Now, we're excited about this new stadium. It's coming. We're excited about this new conference. This is going to be a great conference for us. We'd love to be in the company of some of the teams that have won championships in this conference, such as UConn. They won in both women's and men's basketball. Look at what Central Florida did against Baylor University in the Fiesta Bowl. I felt that was one of the greatest things about this conference."
On the coaching Staff
"I just want to take a moment to appreciate our staff. Our staff is here. We've been staying together. We've been sticking together through thick and thin, and I think those guys are our brothers. We do have some staff changes, and we can talk about those, but I really want to get to the questions as soon as we can."
On how he has grown as a head coach since his first year
"The game has slowed down, I guess, a little bit. There was a learning curve. All of a sudden, it began to slow down. Now, we're in this new conference where we have new opponents. We have nine new teams on our schedule. The only two teams that we played (last season) is Tulsa in the beginning of the year and East Carolina toward the end of the year. This is going to be new, new, new for us. But new is good because it kind of brings a pep in our step and a spark in our little glide. This is going to be good for us."
On the quarterback situation
"I thought the spring was outstanding. I thought Tanner Lee did the best during the spring. Devin Powell was right there and Nick [Montana] did some good things. So far in camp, Nick's looked pretty good, Tanner is still looking great and Devin is looking good, too. Glen [Cuiellette] is very impressive also. What I want to do first is, after this first week and after we have the scrimmage on Saturday, I want to know the 30, 40 or 50 players who are going to play and help us win as many games as we can. Once we know that, it may be two or three quarterbacks or it may be one quarterback, but it's about who is going to help us win. From there, we're going to pick and choose what position all of those guys will be in."
On the progress of Lee, Montana and Powell since last preseason
"Last camp, everything was so new. Last year, we didn't have Nick on campus very much. Devin was here some and Tanner wasn't here. This is a whole different ball of wax. These kids know the offense. They know what they're doing. So now it's `Who's the leader of the program? Who's going to lead our offense?' That's what we're waiting on."
On what he's looking for from his starter and if he knows who that will be right now
"We don't want turnovers and we're looking at stuff that a quarterback needs to do. Whoever the team rallies behind on offense, that's probably the guy that we're going to go with."
On what the quarterbacks needs to improve on from last season
"Just the turnovers. I don't think you can win any games with turnovers. We had an outstanding defense last year. I thought that without the turnovers, we could have won two, three or maybe four more games. The one thing that was most upsetting was turnover after turnover. If you can eliminate the turnovers, even in Pop Warner you have a chance to win."
On if he was upset with the inconsistent play of his quarterbacks last year
"Not at all. I don't think it upset us, but I would like to get some continuity. Now that we've got continuity on the defense, we've got a good look at these receivers and kind of know what direction we're going in. The backs and the offensive line are much better. I think if we could pick a guy this year, a little bit different, but if you can pick one guy, go with that guy and he's leading the team, that's the guy we're going to roll with."
On if playing home games outside will be different than playing in the Superdome
"Absolutely. You know what, you always wonder how you're going to handle success. Ninety-five percent of our team was here all summer long and they've worked extremely hard. The classroom situation for the most part is beginning to clear up. I don't see too much stuff that's going to be any different. Then you look at how we handled the sun yesterday, how those guys worked yesterday and how training camp is going. I thought they worked extremely hard. We were outside yesterday and I wanted to come in, but those guys were still running. I conditioned them after practice. For the first time in years during an outdoor practice, those guys ran like champs. So either we're too easy or I just need to kick it up a little more.
On if the team is excited about the new opponents in the American Athletic Conference
"If they aren't something is wrong with them. All you have to do is turn on the film. I alluded to Central Florida earlier. When you look at Central Florida, they lost one game. They've had three 10-win seasons and they only lost one game. You know Cincinnati is tough. We've got to play Connecticut. You've got two schools in the state of Florida. You look over at the state of Texas, they have some quality football teams. Houston is a speed team. They know this will be a step up in talent. And now, look at our non-conference schedule. If I wouldn't have gotten a new contract, I would think they're trying to get rid of me with Georgia Tech, Duke and Rutgers. And Southeastern [Louisiana] may be the best of all of them. This is one of those deals where you just wait and hope these young men get ready to play. We've got to strap it on this year."
On there were any suspensions on his team that were not previously announced
"Nothing right now. Nothing that I know about. We're still waiting on a couple of grades, but as of right now, everybody is practicing...knock on wood."
On having to replace defensive tackles Julius Warmsley and Chris Davenport
"Both of those guys signed NFL contracts and I don't think you replace guys like that. We've got a lot of young players. I like what [Corey] Redwine is doing. Corey Redwine is having a sensational camp thus far. You look at Tanzel Smart, who probably was one of the best ones last year but was a little bit overlooked. And then you look at these freshmen. Daren Williams is playing inside and outside. He's doing some stuff. Royce LaFrance can go inside. You just have to do it by committee and if we can get some four-man stops and some four-man pressures, then we'll blitz a lot less."
On the biggest asset of his defense
"I think the defensive line with numbers. We'll have a pass rush with some guys, and some freshmen. We've got Ade Aruna and Quinlan Carroll, who are very explosive players. Pass rush was one of the things that we didn't have last year. Tyler Gilbert, in his second year, is playing sensational so far. We've got some things going and I think that d-line. And Nico Marley is one of those guys that you have to pay attention to. He's a midget but he's a good player."
On the coaching job of co-defensive coordinator Lionel Washington
"He and John [Sumrall[ do a magnificent job. One of the strengths of our team is our secondary. We just keep going and going and going with those guys. You look what he's doing on defense schematically. He's a rising star."
On the way his defensive coaches have worked together
"I love it. I think all of those defensive coaches over there, they collaborate together. I think Lionel does a lot of it, but John [Sumrall] does a great job. Jason [Rollins] is phenomenal also. Now we've got Kwahn [Drake]. He's coming along over there. They're a very, very good staff. Stellar. They understand how to use what you've got and whatever else we don't have we'll go get next year."
On the team seemingly putting an emphasis on speed vs size
"Well, that's what we've got. We don't have Big [Chris] Davenport. We don't have Big [Julius] Warmsley. We don't have those guys like that. They're shorter, but they're faster. Their athleticism and the speed of the overall defense - and some of these young kids now, we've got some guys who can really, really run. This is the first time you can say, `What is Tulane?' And when you look at our defense, we've got speed on defense. When you turn it over to the offense, we've got these receivers. They're running. These backs are running. We've really got some guys who can get down the field."
On if injuries to returning players like Jarrod Franklin are setting the defense back
"That's one of the things with camp. We don't know yet, but I like the three safeties. Leonard Davis is one safety that can just fly and run. You've got Darion Monroe who you can move up or back. You've got Sam Scofield and Brandon LeBeau. All of those guys are playing so well. You just have to look at camp and fit these guys in the right positions."
On which safeties might play the `Boss' linebacker position
"All three of them and it goes back to the days with the Saints. What the Saints did last year is they played three safeties. They played with three safeties more than anything and I can see us doing some of that because of the caliber of athletes these three guys are."
"One thing we did do, and Eric [Price] is chomping at the bit, is to really run what we're going to do. That's not what we game planned before. We recruited to defense and did everything there was on defense, and he kind of got whatever was leftover. Now, I think the offensive line is bigger. They're stronger and they're faster. They've played together for a year. They know what we're doing. This will be great. I'll say one thing about Eric. He's been positive through this whole thing. We played with a true freshman starter - and that's unheard of in college football - a redshirt-freshman, and that's unheard of, a first-year player who never played before in Arturo [Uzdavinis] - who I think was one of the better ones - and a center who was up and down and hurt half the year. Last year was a tough year for us, especially with the offensive line. I think Coach [John] McDonell has got these guys going and we're going in the right direction."
On how the team replaces receiver Ryan Grant
"We look on Twitter every day and follow our guys. We've got six guys (in NFL camps) and all of a sudden you look up and RG3 is talking about how Ryan Grant is just the most dependable, unselfish, best and what he wants in an NFL receiver. He spent about a minute and a half talking about him last night. We kind of have to do it by committee. With the Saints, I don't think we ever had a true No. 1 guy. We just did everything out of committee. You have to get your speed guys on the field along with the guys who may not be as fast but have great hands. Keith [Williams] does a great job with them. He'll figure out who plays what and where, and then all of a sudden I think those guys will be very good."
On if true freshman Terren Encalade will be a major as a receiver over the middle
"I don't know if he does that. Terren has his game. Terren is very physical player and a big kid who can go up and catch the ball well. We just need to figure out where he fits in and what we want to do with him. It's kind of like when I was with the Saints. [Marques] Colston does some things, Lance [Moore] did some things. So did Robert [Meacham] and Devery [Henderson]. You just have to figure that out.These tight ends, now. We've got Charles Jones and he's just making play after play in training camp. He has to be the star of the camp so far because every time you look he's catching another ball or running another great route. We'll see in the scrimmage if he can block."
On if he was disappointed in wide receivers besides Ryan Grant last year
"I don't think it was more disappointing in the receivers. Sometimes we didn't have the opportunities that we wanted to. I love Justyn Shackleford and Xavier Rush. I think they're going to be magnificent players for us. They're great guys. They know the offense. They're tutoring these young kids. These three young receivers - and I can put Devon Breaux in there, he can be the fourth - they'll be something special around here. You're going to see something around here that we probably haven't seen in a number of years with Teddy Veal, Leondre James, Terren Encalade and Devon Breaux. The future here is really bright at the receiver position."
On the wide receiver position in 2014
"The overall group is a lot better because we've added some speed that we've probably never had. We've added some athleticism that we've probably never had. I just want to see guys come out, play hard, continue to progress in camp, and we'll figure out how they play, where put them and what we'll do with them."
On what he is looking for before naming a starting quarterback
"I think the most important thing right now is leadership - team leadership, getting guys in the right play and doing the right things. If we can get a leader, great. But you'd love to have a strong arm that can get it out there because what that does is create big plays. That's one of the things we have to get more of...more big plays."
On the importance of an improved offense in 2014
"I can't sleep at night about it. I hate it. But no, not really. I think our defense was the one strength of our team. Being I guess a more mature coach, I had to mature myself into not pouring everything into offense. Let's not just go out and get a bunch of offensive recruits. One of the philosophies out here that we've said the whole time, is that if we're going to build a program we have to build it through defense. Around college football, the great defenses are the ones that win bowl games. They're the ones that win national championships. And you'll watch the best defense win this playoff system. I just think defense is the way to go. Being in our third year, we can come and we can balance these classes off with offense and defense."
On the difficulty of moving a player from one side of the ball to the other after they arrive on campus
"In our case, I can tell you the one situation we had was with Lorenzo Doss. Doss was fine, but his parents weren't. His family wasn't. I had his whole family down on me. For about half a year, they thought I was the dumbest coach in America. Then all of a sudden, Doss started picking off ball after ball, and now he's on the Thorpe Award list, he's on the this list and that list. He's an All-American now and they kiss me every time that I see them. I don't want his dad to kiss me anymore."
On if Doss' successful transition has made it easier to recruit players to jump sides
"I don't know if it'll make it easier, but I do have an example of it. It's not that I'm just pulling straws out of the air. I can tell a kid right now, there's an example in Lorenzo Doss. He's a great receiver out of St. Augustine High School. He was one of the best receivers out there. A track guy. All of a sudden, now he's playing defensive back and look what he's doing. He's on every list and he's getting every award. He was the most recognizable person in our conference. The commissioner even mentioned him in his speech. I'd love to convince more and more, but I think it's easier for us now to make a convincing argument about that."
On Tulane football being talked about more around the city of New Orleans
"It's great. They're paying attention. We're getting to be relevant. Our coaches have done a great job, and all of a sudden our coaches are getting recognized. People are noticing who we are. It kind of feels good because I'll take the blame and I'll do that, but at least we're being noticed and we're not an afterthought right now."
On the power conferences threatening to break away from the smaller schools around the NCAA
"Before we say what's going to happen, let's see how the dust really settles. When you talk about power conferences, I would say that you could break away and do whatever you want, but UConn basketball proved who's the power in any conference because they won it all. UConn's men and women, they're in our conference and they won both of them. And Central Florida proved to everybody in America. Not one person picked Baylor and all of a sudden, they beat them. Here's the deal to me. All you have to do is continue to play ball, you recruit well and you just win. Winning solves everything. You just continue to win and we'll see where it all ends up."
On if being back on campus will be an advantage for home games
"Absolutely. I've always said that - the Superdome is a pro venue. It was great when I was with the Saints and our time there was fabulous. All of a sudden, we've got our own. We can walk to the games. Everybody can come see us play. I think there's a renewed excitement about Tulane football. I think the community is really behind us. Looking at the season tickets and where we are with that. Everybody is worried about parking. It'll be alright. Let me tell you. I went to a Yankees game and had to catch a subway. My wife and I, we were afraid because there were so many people on the subway. It was good, though. I enjoyed it. Everybody, after the game, we just started walking to the subway again or to the bus, but it'll be alright. I think the stadium is a big, big boost for us, for New Orleans and the uptown community."
On if Tanner Lee has the personality to lead the team
"I think all of them do. Tanner was fine at Jesuit. He had a great personality at Jesuit. It's just what you want to see and it's what you notice with the team. If Tanner is saying the right things and doing the right things, and his numbers add up, we throw out everything and we compare everything through compare and contrast, he'll be the guy."
On Lee's physical attributes
"He can throw it. He can throw the ball. He's extremely accurate. He has a very, very strong arm. He's big and he understands. He's smart. I don't see a glaring weakness, but he just hasn't had the experience."
On if Lee's lack of collegiate experience is a concern
"What keeps guys up at night is the unknown. That's what keeps me up. I haven't seen Tanner do one thing in a game. You just say, `Okay now, are we better with this product or that product, or can we go with Tanner?'
On facing a very good Southeastern Louisiana team in week three
"They're probably the best team on the schedule. That week for sure. One thing about a football season is you've got 12 games to prove `what you've done that whole year.' When you have a schedule where you have to go on the road and play a team like Tulsa, who was probably the flagship Conference USA even though last year they took a little dip, we all know that they are going to be back. We play them on the road and then we come back and play a Georgia Tech team that has been to a bowl game for 12 years in a row. They run this option that no one in American has stopped. Then the next week you play Southeastern, who one of the scouts told us that's the best team on our schedule. You have to hope your kids harness what you're doing and you hope that you are detailed, play competitive and do the things that they're supposed to do."
On recruiting against other in-state schools
"Not only this, but everybody is down here now. You've got the California teams, the Arizona teams, everywhere. The only thing that we have to do is we have to trust the coaches. We know the coaches. We have relationships. There are local guys who are on our staff when you look at Kwahn Drake and David Johnson. We hired Wayne Cardova. We hired Detrick Belvin from Florida. Those are the places we're going to make our money at with the stuff that we're going to do. We just have to trust our coaches and trust our relationships, and hope that we can get some of these kids and that they stick with us."
On what his selling points are to local prospects
"I think this is the best school in the world. The school costs about $70,000 a year. The faculty has done a phenomenal job graduating kids and they've done a great job in this community. You look over here and there's Audubon Place. It's land-locked by the zoo. You've got Loyola next door and Claiborne Avenue, so it's a very safe atmosphere here. And when it comes to football, we've got football back on campus for the first time in about 40 years. In New Orleans, there is a college football game every other week. That's almost unheard of and now you've got one. It can be very attractive. If you ask me, I like red beans and rice and gumbo. I'm staying home."
On comparisons between Ryan Griffin and Tanner Lee
"Ryan Griffin is playing outstanding with the Saints, and it doesn't surprise me at all. They are very similar in some things and different in others. When Ryan was here, he was so smart and he had his own way of seeing things. Tanner is a young man who is learning what to do. Aaron Price and Mike Neu are doing a fantastic job of getting this young guys playing. The difference is, and nothing against Ryan, Tanner Lee's arm and Devin Powell's arms are very, very strong. They have cannons for arms. That'll be a little bit different, so we'll probably take some more shots down the field with these guys."
On running back Rob Kelley's availability for the 2014 season
"Here's the deal. Robert has been in this office and he's been practicing and doing stuff. Robert can probably come and do the protections right now. It's no different than Derrick Strozier. He played running back for us one year and then played DB. The next thing you know, he goes to the Saints and now he's playing running back and hasn't missed a beat. Robert just has to get his situation straightened out. Once he does that and we'll all know in time, hopefully we'll have him back on the field pretty soon."
On his feelings about defensive tackle Calvin Thomas
"I like him. He's always in the mix. I just can't name them all. Calvin gets to be a lost guy sometime because he was redshirted last year with various injuries. He's in there. He's tough. He's big. He played as a true freshman. I think you'll see him sacking the quarterback several times."
On his team's goals for the 2014 season
"I don't know if I really look at it that far down the line. When I first took the job, I asked Sean [Payton] to keep my job open for a couple of months at first. I kind of had my toe in the water, but didn't dive all the way in. You get into the third year of your program, and one thing about our kids is that they've had some success. It was the first time anyone here has gone to a bowl game. The worst thing in the world is you worked so hard and you don't realize any of dreams. These young men have gotten one of their dreams already and had an opportunity to go to a bowl game, so they kind of smell it a little bit. Now, we're in a bigger, newer conference and playing on television almost every game this year in some form or fashion. They get to go to some new venues to play and get to play in a brand new stadium. This is an exciting year for us and I'm glad it's here."