2011 Tulane Preview – Offense
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CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - Tulane Green Wave Offense
Preview 2011 - Offense
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What You Need To Know: If Bob Toledo is going to get the offensive balance he's after, this is the year to do it. Tulane returns its starting backfield, QB Ryan Griffin and RB Orleans Darkwa, both of whom can vie for all-star recognition. Griffin is set to come into his own after battling through injuries to play well in 2010. Darkwa was one of the league's biggest surprises, nearly rushing for 1,000 yards as a rookie. The pair forms the building block in New Orleans, but won't be able to go it alone. The offensive line can be spotty and last season's top three pass-catchers are no longer on campus. Opportunities abound for WR Ryan Grant and a host of tight ends looking to supplant Cody Sparks.
Star of the
defense: Senior LB Grant Fleming
Passing: Ryan Griffin
223-372, 2,371 yds, 14 TDs, 8 INTs
Rushing: Orleans Darkwa
184 carries, 925 yds, 11 TDs
Receiving: Ryan Grant
33 catches, 515 yds, 4 TDs
Player who has to step up and be a star: Senior DT Jordan
Unsung star on the rise: Junior DE Nate Douglas
Best pro prospect: Junior CB Dwight Bentley
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Fleming, 2) LB Daylon
McCoy, 3) Bentley
Strength of the defense: Cornerbacks, Depth
Weakness of the defense: Pass Rush, Run Defense
State of the Unit: Bob Toledo finally has a quarterback to build around, and his name is Ryan Griffin. The 6-5, 215-pound junior completed his first full season as a starter by going 223-of-372 for 2,371 yards, 14 touchdowns and just eight interceptions. While not a flamethrower, he does have nice touch on his passes and throws an accurate ball. After playing through pain for much of 2010, he's healthy following offseason shoulder and foot surgery, and eager to build on a solid sophomore campaign.
Junior D.J. Ponder is the likely backup to Griffin this season. The 6-2, 200-pounder held the role at the end of last year, making five appearances and completing 8-of-14 for 52 yards and an interception. Also a pitcher on the Green Wave baseball team, he'll be looking to fend off redshirt freshman Taylor Bullock .
Watch Out For .... Griffin's shoulder. He threw in the spring, but surgery is surgery and the program wants to be a little cautious with the way he's brought along. No. 11 is a player Tulane can ill-afford to be without this fall.
Strength: The future. Not only is Griffin a junior, but Bullock just got done redshirting and rookie Nick SanGiacomo has yet to arrive on campus. If the coaching staff does its job, the program should be set for the next few years.
Weakness: The backups. After Griffin, only Ponder has taken snaps at this level, and that was in mop-up work last fall. There isn't a player on the roster that Tulane can hand the ball to with confidence in the event of an emergency.
Outlook: For the first time since J.P. Losman in 2003, the Green Wave believes it has a true building block under center. While Griffin won't be on anyone's All-American short lists this summer, he's the kind of distributor who'll limit his mistakes and get the ball in the hands of his playmakers. With some development, the program hopes he can add a few more money plays to his repertoire this season.
State of the Unit: From Matt Forte to Andre Anderson, the Green Wave has done a nice job of developing productive runners in recent years. Sophomore Orleans Darkwa is poised to take the baton and keep the trend going. A backup when he began his first season out of The Ensworth School (Tenn.), he was impossible to keep out of the huddle. The starter by the mid-point of the year, he went on to rush for 925 yards and 11 scores on 184 carries and earn a spot on the All-Conference USA second team. The 5-11, 200-pounder went over 100 yards in five straight, hitting the hole quickly and proving tough to arm tackle.
Giving Darkwa breathers will be 5-9, 194-pound senior Albert Williams, a veteran of three letters. A tough back who runs with good leverage and balance, he went for a career-high 370 yards and a touchdown on 86 carries in 2010. Junior Stephen Barnett is a former key recruit from the 2009 class who played sparingly a year ago. A quick and decisive 5-11, 209-pounder, he wastes no time hitting the hole.
Watch Out For .... Darkwa's encore. A revelation as a rookie, can he build on that debut as a sophomore? The Green Wave is banking on it because his running plus the passing of Ryan Griffin might finally give the team the balance it craves.
Strength: A workhorse. In August, Tulane had no idea who'd shoulder the load on the ground. By November, it had a young face of the program. Darkwa is the kind of back that can be fed 25 times a game and really wear down opposing defenses.
Weakness: A big-play threat. Where is the gamebreaker, that jackrabbit capable of going the distance with a sliver of space? The Green Wave doesn't have one, trading speed and explosiveness for more methodical runners. Last year's runners didn't produce a single run of more than 40 yards in 434 attempts.
Outlook: Plain and simple, Darkwa was a godsend for Bob Toledo and his staff in 2010. With little advanced warning, he quickly blossomed into one of the league's best backs and a focal point of the offense for the next three seasons. He's itching for an encore and a full season to pile up some eye-popping numbers on the ground.
State of the Unit: The biggest challenge for QB Ryan Griffin in 2011 might be gaining a comfort level with his receivers. Last year's top three pass-catchers are gone, Casey Robottom and Cody Sparks to graduation and D.J. Banks to a transfer to Louisiana Tech. On a team that boasts a veteran presence just about everywhere else, this is an area that could sabotage the offense if a couple of consistent playmakers don't emerge.
The Green Wave's leading returning receiver is 6-1, 192-pound junior Ryan Grant, who caught 33 balls for 515 yards and four touchdowns. He has good hands and the long and lean build to go up and pluck balls out of the air. The consensus around New Orleans was that 6-2, 193-pound junior Devin Figaro had a great future with the program. Unfortunately, he asked for his release in April, opening the door for sophomore Wilson Van Hooser to climb the ladder on the depth chart. He caught eight passes in 2010 to earn his first letter. The shift of 6-4, 211-pound senior Joe Kemp from quarterback is now complete. He did a lot of learning last fall, catching 14 passes for 154 yards and a score, and will be used in the slot, where he can read the linebackers and safeties.
Sophomore wideouts Brett Comardelle lettered a year ago, and will have an opportunity to dramatically expand his role this fall. There's an APB out for quality tight ends now that Sparks and Tyler Helm are gone. Redshirt freshman Matt Marfisi was getting first team reps in the spring, and has a chance to elevate above the marginal talent on campus.
Watch Out For .... the impact of losing Figaro. The pure talent was unequivocal, but his desire was to play elsewhere. His departure puts more on a receiving corps that was already facing a dearth of depth and talent.
Strength: Length. Grant and Kemp, the two favorites for playing time, all stand no smaller than 6-1. This trio has the size and leaping ability to get vertical and play above opposing defensive backs.
Weakness: Proven playmakers. Although last year's unit wasn't otherworldly, at least it had a few veterans who'd gained the confidence of the quarterbacks. All of the receivers have to operate with a next-man-in mentality, and someone has to emerge at tight end to Griffin more options in the middle of the field.
Outlook: Just how good is Griffin as a pocket passer? We're about to find out. He lost a few valuable security blankets from 2010, and will need to become the kind of player who elevates the talent around him. There's potential, especially with Grant, but this will have to be a collaborative effort for the unit to be better than average when final grades come out in December.
State of the Unit: While two long-time starters are gone, Tulane feels good about the collection of talent it has back on the offensive line. Seven linemen earned letters in 2010, and all but one started at least a game. They'll need to collectively do a better job in all phases in order to provide better support for the program's skill position players.
At left tackle, 6-6, 298-pound sophomore Pat Husain is expected to succeed Pete Hendrickson. He impressed as a true freshman, earning a backup role and turning heads with his quick feet and athleticism. Over at right tackle, 6-6, 302-pound junior Eric Jones, returned from a redshirt year to start 10 games.
At the pivot, 6-2, 304-pound senior Joey Ray is finally ready to assume a full-time role now that Andrew Nierman has exhausted his eligibility. A three-time letterwinner and spot starter throughout his career, he's the kind of seasoned veteran who won't shudder at the prospect of performing on every down. The Green Wave harbors three experienced guards, with extensive playing time. Senior Harris Howard, a 6-4, 289-pound veteran of three letters, started 11 games in 2010, doing a nice job of opening holes in the running game.
To the right of center, senior Emmanuel Aluko has proven to be a valuable performer as a starter or a reserve. A former defensive tackle, he was in the opening lineup four times last fall and has the versatility and athleticism to get to the second level quickly. Junior Zach Morgan, the No. 2 center, has started games in each of the last two seasons, including nine times in 2010. At 6-2 and 294 pounds, he plays with good leverage and can move a pile.
Watch Out For .... Husain to lay the foundation for a terrific career. He has ideal size to play left tackle and really impressed the staff with his quick retention of the position a year ago. He's being entrusted with Ryan Griffin's blindside, a huge responsibility for the 2011 squad.
Strength: Run blocking. The Green Wave boasts a physical offensive line that's tough at the point of attack and strong enough to bully people off the line. Orleans Darkwa didn't run for more than 100 yards in five straight games without considerable help.
Weakness: Pass protection. Again. The Green Wave continue to have problems sealing off edge rushers, ranking tenth in the conference in sacks allowed. Husain has a bright future, but is still very young, and Jones isn't likely to be playing after his college career. Depth is a concern as well.
Outlook: Yeah, there are concerns, but there's also a decent amount of talent for the staff to assemble into a cohesive unit. While the Green Wave will have problems keeping Griffin upright, it'll adequately support the running backs, doing its part to get Darkwa over the 1,000-yard threshold.
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