Oct. 9, 2012
NEW ORLEANS - When Curtis Johnson stepped to the podium on Tuesday to address the media during Tulane football's weekly press conference, a look of calm shrouded the first-year head coach as he fielded questions in the Hall of Fame Room of the James W. Wilson, Jr. Center.
Part of that came from seeing improvement from his team their last time out, and a larger part of that came in the fact that senior quarterback Ryan Griffin took the bulk of the snaps with the first-team offense during the team's early-morning practice. Griffin missed the last three games after suffering a shoulder injury on Sept. 8 at Tulsa and Johnson announced that he sees a difference in his squad with the veteran under center.
In addition, Johnson previewed the upcoming game against Conference USA foe SMU and talked about the high level of intensity and focus his team continues to display after a tough early-season schedule. A complete transcript of Tuesday's press conference is below.
Tulane (0-5, 0-1 C-USA) will kickoff against the Mustangs on Saturday at noon in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, and the game will be televised live on Comcast/Charter Sports. Tickets to that game and future Green Wave events are available through the Tulane Athletics Ticket Office. The Ticket Office is located on the first floor of the Wilson Center on Ben Weiner Drive, and tickets can be purchased in person, over the phone at 504-861-WAVE (9283) or via the Internet at www.TulaneGreenWave.com.
TULANE HEAD COACH Curtis Johnson
On getting Ryan Griffin back from a shoulder injury
"It's our first day back and Ryan Griffin took most of the reps today. It was night and day. The coaches weren't teaching everything all over again like from the start. Nothing against D.J. (Ponder). D.J. was great for us, and (Devin) Powell was fantastic when he played, but everything was being taught. Last spring, D.J. was playing baseball. He was winning games for the baseball team. Powell was in high school, going to the prom. Now we finally have a guy who knows the offense, knows what he's doing a little bit and it looked a lot better. It's been good. The emotions have been up, the enthusiasm has been up and it looks like we're moving in the right direction as a football team."
On if he feels the team can turn the page after an 0-5 start with Griffin back under center
"I hope so. It's not only him. We got (Orleans) Darkwa back. He's a guy who's been in the mix a little bit last season. Overall, it was just better for everyone. I'm looking at (Adam) Skidmore in the back, but these mike IDs - when you've got to identify the mike and identify the jack - they're not guessing. We're not telling them, `Wait, wait wait.' I blew my whistle less today. (Griffin) makes me feel more comfortable. It was a good day and a good practice. As you can see, I'm a little more refreshed today because I didn't have to coach as much."
On if Griffin has been cleared 100 percent by the medical staff
"He's not out of the water totally yet, but I don't see why he shouldn't be."
On how Griffin's arm strength looked in practice
"It looked good. I'm not going to sit here and say it was 100 percent. He hasn't thrown as many balls. He had 25 and then it was 35. It was in increments of 10, and now he's throwing 100. It was a little bit different today and I he got a little tired at the end of practice, but I thought he threw it well."
On if returning to conference play is like hitting the restart button
"I want to go more one game at a time and one play at a time. I don't think we've matured enough to say, `Okay, let's start over.' What we have to do is we have to build upon everything. I told our offensive line that this was the first game that they were physical in the run game. Those guys last week, Lafayette had some big guys - some big JC transfer. They battled and I thought they played well. We just have to build on that."
On substitution issues and how much that will improve with Griffin's healthy return
"Here is what our issues were last week. If you look at the Saints, Drew Brees will look over, get the play and he knows the play and knows who's in the game. Ponder didn't know the play sometimes so he had to fiddle through the wristband. Now they're trying to figure out who's in the game and who's doing what. And like I told the coaches, they can't solve problems. They can run the plays. Nothing against them, but now we've got a problem solver. He can get guys in and out of the game. He knows the plays. He knows the offense. He knows the language. That was one thing. The next thing is this past game was a little bit hot and a little bit later, and we had an abnormal amount of injuries. It was guys going out and several needed IVs. I can tell you one vividly. We were getting ready to kickoff in the second half and Cameron DeJean is getting ready to lineup and all of the sudden he's running off to the tunnel because he's going to get an IV. Now, we haven't run one play in the second half and we've got four or five guys in the locker room, so our special teams begins to scramble. The personnel packages weren't very hard. It was just getting the special teams together. We also had times where Ryan Grant was out and (Justyn) Shackleford was out. That put a little bit more pressure on our substitutions from that standpoint. With Griff, I think the offense will be cleaned up. I thought the defense was bad two weeks ago, but better this week. Now we just need to clean the special teams up and I think we'll do that."
On so many players needing IVs last week at UL-Lafayette
"It's the young players who haven't played. The first thing you need to know is you need to know thyself. They've got to know their own bodies. Right now, for me, I'm 50. A couple of weeks ago, I didn't know my body and I had a big cramp. My body cramped. I would say for everybody that the best thing is to hydrate the night before, drink a lot of water, and on the day of the game drink a lot of Gatorade and eat right. It's the young players who really don't know. Guys like Cameron DeJean and Royce (LaFrance), all of a sudden it's a hot afternoon and they're not ready to play. Why? Because they're freshmen."
On how the boil edict in New Orleans has affected practice
"I thought (athletic trainer) Danny (Taylor) and those guys did a great job. They've had enough bottled water. I don't know if these guys have showered or not. When they come up, I'm leaving! But it was good. I thought Danny and Andy (Massey) did a fantastic job of getting us ready for practice this morning."
On SMU's offense and the role Zach Line plays in it
"He's something else now. He's a good player and I think that's one of the keys to the game. If we can control that, we stand a great chance."
On if the first five opponents of the 2012 season were perhaps better than everyone thought at the beginning of the year
"You look at Rutgers and you say Rutgers is going to be in the Orange Bowl. I really believe that. Ole Miss is taking everybody to the wire. Tulsa is a good football team. They went on the road and won this weekend. These last two guys - you know Monroe was good because just by who they played and how they played. They've all been veteran teams. This team (UL-Lafayette) was a good team, too. They're a veteran team. They're older than us. They've got a lot of guys who have been playing. They're a senior team. Their leadership is intact. Like these guys in the back - (Adam) Skidmore and Darion Monroe - they'll be better at leading once they've played a little bit whereas these guys (opponents) have been playing."
On SMU quarterback Garrett Gilbert and what he expects to see from the Mustangs' offense
"I think this running back they've got is pretty good. I think they're going to try and pound us. They start with the run and then they try and throw it. June Jones is creative enough to help him. He'll get him on the perimeter, and he'll move around a little bit. Our ends have to be very focused on keeping him contained. I think we'll do well with that, and I think the defense practice well again (today) too."
On what the team has to do to improve the running game
"Early on in the last game, I thought we were running pretty good. Then all of a sudden, we give up a pick for six and we go down 14 points and if you want to win the game you really can't run it because you get in these scoring races. What I'd like to do is have a close one so that we can run it, so that (Orleans) Darkwa can get 15-16 carries, (Rob) Kelley would get his 10 carries, Danté (Butler) would get his five and (Josh) Rounds would have the special plays. I'd like to have Darkwa get his 15 or 20, but once you're down, you've got to throw it downfield and you have to catch up with the chains. Then, we've been a lot simpler on first and down - very few motion shifts, easy reads. If we get positive yards on first and second down, third down would be manageable. Somehow, third downs really haven't been manageable throughout the year."
On if he feels the honeymoon phase of his coaching career is over and if he is beginning to feel some pressure
"I've always felt the heat. For me, this is what I want to do. This is it for me. I want to do this. I want to turn this thing around. The heat has been on since I said `I do' to Tulane. I think the heat is on. When you get in a situation like this where you've got a whole new defensive line and an almost truly new offensive line, what you do is you build a culture. These players have my vision and they begin to build culture. The locker room is clean. It's just the little things like the hustle on and off the field. It's just one step at a time. Like I said last week, it's not a sprint. It's a marathon. I think by the time we get through with this process, we'll be on with the next phase. Again, it's a no-excuse program. We lost a lot of players, but there are no excuses. Those other teams, they really don't care what we lost. They just want to beat us and move on to the next opponent. We just have to match their intensity and their culture, and our culture will be better because I really believe that we're smarter."
On the similarities between Tulane now and the SMU team June Jones took over back in 2008
"I think June has done a fantastic job with what he's doing, and this is very similar. I was at SMU for a year after the Death Penalty, and we didn't win a game. That's how far that program has come. The one thing about it was we tied Texas A&M. That was the highlight of our season. Back then, they had a 20-some home winning streak, and we tied them. What I think June and his predecessors before him began to do is they began to change the thinking and changing the young men who went into the program. The Steelers' receiver (Emmanuel) Sanders is a heck of a player and he was in that program. They began to get some players, and that's what we have to do. We have to evaluate and get our type of guys. It's nothing against anybody who's already here, it's just that we have to get smart football players who are good football players. We've got a lot of them here now, but we'll do that and we'll bridge this thing together."
On the new players from winning prep programs like Darion Monroe could get disheartened and transfer
"I think the kids who really want to be here are going to be here. What I think is special thing about being here now is because when the chips are down, nobody thinks you're ever going to be able to do it. With the Saints (in 2006), we got through the preseason and nobody thought we were going to win a game. All of a sudden, we end up in the NFC Championship game. I just think that guys like that wouldn't have come here if they didn't feel that this is the challenge they want. They want to do this. When we do reach the heights that we're going to reach, they'll be the first one to hold the trophy up and it'll be appreciated more. Some programs just build and build. When I was at the University of Miami, we were winning so much that winning didn't even matter. We knew that we were going to win the game. We just didn't know the results of it. Now, we're building. We're building something special. (Monroe) is a leader. He understands and he's smart beyond his years. Instead of transferring, he'll get some more guys in here. He'll say, `Hey, you're like me. You're coming with me.'"
On how Tulane's defense handles SMU's offense based on their run/pass options
"Without giving our gameplan away, we've got some packages with five d-linemen - which we ran some against Rutgers - with two linebackers. This is a 10 personnel team - four wideouts and one back. They don't use a tight end very much. We've got packages to handle all of that. We can add on one more, bring one guy down into the box, if we need to. What you don't want to do is you don't want to put these young kids like (Lorenzo) Doss and (Jordan) Batiste on an island, but you're almost forced to make them become grownups in a game like this. I think we've got enough that we can just add on. If they start pounding us (with the run), you've just got to add another guy down."
On his response to the letter Tulane Director of Athletics Rick Dickson sent out last week
"Well, I'm disappointed, too. That's first and foremost. One thing about me, I'm a competitor in everything. Sometimes I fight my wife to brush my teeth first. I'm a competitor now. I'm just telling you. She knows. The players know. It's disappointing. The fans, they should be disappointed somewhat. But they also have to look at what's really going on. Last year, they had five d-linemen and I saw one of them last week (Dezman Moses) when the Saints played Green Bay. He knocked the ball out of (Darren) Sproles (hands). It was a bad call. He was here and now he's playing in the NFL. Last year, they had four offensive linemen that we don't have. We were missing our quarterback. We've been missing our best running back. (Ryan) Grant was out all last year, he's coming back and he's still a young kid. Our tight end is banged up. (Evan) Tatford, he's out. At d-line, we lost some players to academic reasons or whatever. We lost a lot, and the thing is we're playing young kids. We're playing a lot of young kids. If you don't want to be patient with me as a coach, that's fine. Just be patient with these young kids because they are doing some good things. Look at the positives. (Darion) Monroe is playing outstand. (Jordan) Batiste is playing something else. (Lorenzo) Doss never even played on the defensive side of the ball and he's one of the better defensive backs playing. We've got some young kids on the offensive line. So we are young. We've played with our fourth-string quarterback, really. He didn't take a rep in the spring and he barely took a rep in the fall where you're playing guys who have fifth-year quarterbacks. Have some patience, if not for me than for these kids. I think they'll do fine."