Sept. 25, 2012
NEW ORLEANS - After overseeing his team's daily practice session on Tuesday morning at the Westfeldt Facility, Tulane University first-year head football Coach Curtis Johnson took the podium to address the local media at noon during his weekly press conference in the Hall of Fame Room at the James W. Wilson, Jr., Center.
Two of the bigger points of discussion on Tuesday was the health of his quarterbacks and the adversity the Green Wave have experience so far in the young season. A complete transcript of the press conference is below.
Senior Ryan Griffin missed last week's game against Ole Miss with a shoulder injury and true freshman Devin Powell - who started against the Rebels - was in a boot on the sideline during today's practice. While the status of both players is still up in the air for this Saturday's game against Louisiana-Monroe, Johnson was quick to point out that fifth-year senior D.J. Ponder is more than capable and ready to take snaps against the Warhawks.
In addition to the quarterback situation, the Green Wave have also been forced to play without its top incumbent running back as junior Orleans Darkwa has yet to suit up after suffering an ankle injury during preseason drills. On top of that, Tulane has had the added emotional strain of senior safety Devon Walker suffering a spine injury at Tulsa on Sept. 8.
Following a 39-0 loss to Ole Miss, Tulane (0-3, 0-1 Conference USA) returns to action on Saturday, Sept. 29, when the Green Wave play host to ULM at 2:30 p.m. in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The game will be televised regionally on Cox Sports Television and will be broadcast on the radio on the flagship station of Tulane Athletics, WIST AM 690.
TULANE HEAD COACH Curtis Johnson
"The best thing about today is the weather has been great. We had a little breeze today. We practiced earlier. We're already done with practice and it was a pretty good day."
On the health of his quarterbacks at this point
"Devin (Powell) was in a boot today. Hopefully, the swelling in his foot will go down and he'll be able to go. We don't know that right now. Ryan (Griffin) had a couple of throws early in practice and he didn't do very much today. We'll have to wait until tomorrow and by Thursday we'll definitely know. Tomorrow will be big."
On if redshirt-senior D.J. Ponder may be the starting quarterback this weekend
"Ponder is impressing us. He missed a large portion of our camp (while playing professional baseball) and now he's thrust in a situation where he's definitely going to play on Saturday. He may be the starter."
On what Devin Powell's specific injury is
"I think it's his big toe. It's inflamed and swollen. I'm not saying turf toe because turf toe can be forever. All we know right now is that it's inflamed and swollen. The swelling hasn't gone down and he's in a boot."
On if Ponder is like Powell in that there are limitations to what they can do based on experience with the offense
"If you look at it, they are almost like two guys just learning the offense. We definitely will be limited. I think Orleans (Darkwa) will be back this week, and I hope to lean on the running game a little bit more. With him, he's a more experienced runner - and that's if we can stay with (UL-Monroe) and maintain striking distance where we can run it a little bit more. If they get out on us, we're going to have to throw it and no one wants to be one-dimensional."
On the limitations he has had to put on his offense with inexperienced quarterbacks
"In this type of offense, the more experienced guy you are the better off you'll be because of the number of plays and number of formation and how you kind of get teams off balance. We don't have a real ability to get them off balance like we want to (right now). I thought the coaches did a great job. They did some quick-screen stuff and took advantage of a couple of things that we could. They did what we could, but it's just limited us so much not having the experience back there. We have guys who didn't get the spring (practice season). He didn't get the installs two and three times like Griffin did. We'd love to have Griffin back. I can see Powell playing a role because he did some real good stuff on Saturday. And Ponder, if he has to play, he'll be limited also and we'll get the things that he can do best."
On the importance of having D.J. Ponder back after not having him for the spring or summer practices
"Like I said earlier, we're blessed to have him. Not only is he back, but he's a veteran guy. He's been in games before and he's not wide-eyed. I thought Powell would be more wide eyed, but he wasn't. Powell was cool. He took some hits, he stood in there and did some things real well. But D.J. is a blessing. Here's what we didn't have the other day - we didn't have a bunch of center-quarterback exchanges. We didn't have those problems. I don't expect to have those problems with D.J. either. We had some turnovers, but (Powell) didn't fumble it or do stuff that was uncharacteristic of a quarterback. I expect that to continue."
On the struggles of the offensive line and if there is anything he can do to remedy that
"Here's what we are doing every time. We're cutting back - we've got to cut back because of these quarterbacks - but we're cutting back more and more and hopefully there are some runs that we can stick to and we can sustain some drives by running the football a little bit. If we can do that, I think the whole offensive line will look better and gel better. It's hard on Coach (John) McDonell. He's playing nine guys, and out of the nine guys only one guy had any experience. They're starting to get a little bit better. Pass protection was a little bit leaky, but it was getting better. Here's another thing, we're playing against some teams. You've got a good SEC football team (in Ole Miss). You had a good, physical Tulsa team. You also had probably the best Big East team with Rutgers. I think Monroe is going to be a good team, but we'll get some breaks somewhere on the schedule."
On the status of safety Sam Scofield
"Scofield didn't do much today at all. We'd love to have him back, but I don't know if he's going to be ready for this game either."
On the challenge that Louisiana-Monroe presents to the Green Wave
"The No. 1 thing with this team is their quarterback. This quarterback is something else. It's another week where the quarterback is fantastic. I think he makes the ship go. When you watch the games, he righted the ship against Arkansas. He righted again the next week and they should have won. They should have won all of their games. They had an opportunity to win all of them. The one thing is we have to stop him from running it more so than stopping the run, and stopping these two backs from running it. Hopefully they throw it and hopefully they throw a couple of them to us. I think they're playing outstanding."
On what has surprised him in a positive and negative fashion through the first three games
"The big pleasant surprise is the way these freshman. Darion Monroe just walked in here (along with Lorenzo) Doss, (Jordan) Batiste, Sydie London. Every time you play a freshman they're doing something that's pretty dog gone good. That's been a big surprise. The worst thing so far this season has been our inability to run it. Our special teams have been good. This freshman, Peter Picerelli, has been kicking it pretty well. We had the one problem this last game, but it's been good. (Josh) Rounds did a great job this week on the returns. I thought he was just fantastic and we were just one guy away (from breaking one). We've got to sustain something and we've got to run the ball."
On his team facing a lot of adversity in the early part of the season
"Today has probably been the most normal day that we've had. It's been something every week. I walked in here today and was like `I don't have to make a grave announcement or anything like that.' Once we get into a pattern and once we get back into get into our groove, I think we'll play a lot better. It's been hotels, going here, traveling there. It is what it is. I want to run a program with no excuses, but right now we're going through our adversity. It's happening early and it's good for us because we're learning a lot from it."
On how the Tulane defense matches up with UL-Monroe and their offensive line
"We're going to have those match-up problems throughout the season size wise because we aren't big up front. With the way these young guys are covering, we are doing that. We've got to get a little better pass rush, and (co-defensive coordinator) Jon (Sumrall) is doing a great job of getting a lot of guys in the game and keeping fresh troops going. We're not getting really worn down. It's just that we're a little out-manned right now. We've just got to play physical like they've done. I thought they've done a pretty decent job and we'll continue to bring a lot of guys in the game. I think we'll be okay."
On if the staff will continue to honor Devon Walker with the 18 jerseys or if he feels the team needs to return to normalcy
"I think there will be something for him throughout because the players want it. I had a meeting with the senior leadership council and I asked that question to them. They said, `No, he's one of us.' So they want to do something. I don't know exactly what it is. Hopefully, we do turn the page and the best way to turn the page is by winning. If we can win a game here, everything is well for a week until the following game. And you love to play well, go out there and have some fun. I want it for these kids to just play well, look up at the scoreboard, get a win and then now we'll feel what the hard work is all about."
On if there is a point where he has to make a redshirt decision on Orleans Darkwa
"In our situation, we have to play Darkwa. I think Darkwa is our best back. If he goes out this week and he limps around, then I'd say yes. I think this is the cutoff week, but you have to play him."
On if he feels there is room for his offense to improve despite the setbacks due to injury
"I hope so. You'd love to have all of your troops, but you don't. It's unfortunate. Some of the teams are pretty good and they have good defenses. We've got to play better. Again, our challenges are that we may be playing our third quarterback. That's no excuse. It is what it is. We just have to play better."
On if Darion Monroe would be his fourth quarterback in an emergency situation
"No. Not right now. He's not the fourth quarterback. We have Jordy (Joseph). And they we also have (Devon) Breaux. He'd probably be the next guy up."
On if is aware of his offense's standing among FBS teams
"It's early. We're not looking at the FBS (standings) right now. We don't look at our statistics too much. We're just looking at trying to improve daily. Statistics are good. If we're No. 1, we'd want to be better. I've been the No. 1 offense. Last year, we were the No. 1 offense with the Saints and that wasn't good enough. It won't ever be good enough. Right now we're not where we want to be, but we'll get there. We'll get there once we get a little bit more stability and once our trigger man comes back and he has some skins under his belt."