2012 Tulane Preview – Offense
CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - Tulane Green Wave Offense
Preview 2012 - Offense
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What You Need To Know: Tulane plays in Conference USA, where a high-powered offense is needed to thrive. The Green Wave has had the individual parts in recent years, but the whole has been incomplete, rarely closing out drives with touchdowns. The new staff is installing a pro-style attack that will aspire to achieve balance behind a power running game and greater use of the tight ends. The backfield, while experienced, won't be a finished product unless senior QB Ryan Griffin can deliver the best season of his career. He'll have decent support from all-star RB Orleans Darkwa and an underrated corps of receivers. However, he'll also have some scary moments, dropping back behind a patchwork line featuring three wide-eyed first-time starters.
Star of the offense: Sophomore RB Orleans Darkwa
Passing: Ryan Griffin
227-408, 2,502 yds, 13 TDs, 10 INTs
Rushing: Orleans Darkwa
210 carries, 924 yds, 13 TDs
Receiving: Orleans Darkwa
37 catches, 305 yds, 0 TDs
Player who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore OT Sean Donnelly
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore WR Justyn Shackleford
Best pro prospect: Darkwa
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Darkwa, 2) Junior WR Ryan Grant, 3) Senior QB Ryan Griffin
Strength of the offense: The running game, experience at quarterback, potential of the receivers
Weakness of the offense: Inconsistency at quarterback, the offensive line, red zone scoring
He's only RG1, not RG3, but senior QB Ryan Griffin is still plenty important to the overall success of the Green Wave in 2012. The senior carries 30 starts into his final year of eligibility, and already has a prominent place in the school's record books. However, he's coming off a tough year, which was pegged as his breakout time, completing 227-of-408 passes for 2,502 yards, 13 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. The 6-5, 218-pounder shows nice touch and accuracy on his balls, but lacks the zip and mobility that the new staff would like to see. While his edge in experience is indisputable, there's a growing line of young quarterbacks eagerly looking to knock the veteran from his perch.
Redshirt freshman Leon Blouin has not only pulled ahead in the race for the No. 2 job, but he's pushing Griffin for snaps in the fall. Although he's young and only 6-0 and 201 pounds, his play is reminiscent of former NC State and Wisconsin star Russell Wilson's. He's mature in the huddle, makes things happen and is improving as a passer.
Blouin has passed 6-2, 199-pound senior D.J. Ponder , who doubles as a relief pitcher on the baseball team, on the depth chart. He's been around for a long time, and might have the strongest arm, but lacks the consistency to challenge for the starting nod.
Watch Out For .... … incoming freshman Devin Powell . Griffin should be safe, but the coaches are excited about the potential and athleticism of Powell, who could see the field as a change-of-pace to the lumbering starter.
Strength: Experience. There's no replacing the experience that comes with a senior quarterbacks who has taken a ton of snaps at this level. In Griffin, the Green Wave harbors one of the most seasoned hurlers in all of Conference USA.
Consistency: Alright, so Griffin has played a lot of football for the Green Wave, but the results haven't always been stellar. In fact, last year, his third as a starter, the team ranked last in the league in completion percentage and next to last in yards per attempt.
Outlook: Griffin has one more shot to become the quarterback the last regime had hoped he'd become at Tulane. After going in reverse in 2011, the Green Wave is keeping its fingers crossed that the senior can digest the new system, eliminate his mistakes and better employ an improving corps of receivers. If he fails to do so, one of the young kids could be summoned from the bench once the season starts.
Whatever changes the new staff initiates on offense, there'll be one constant in New Orleans: RB Orleans Darkwa is going to get a steady diet of touches as the focal point of the attack. Without a whole lot of support from up front, he's run for more than 900 yards in each of his first two seasons. Last fall, he went for 924 yards and 13 touchdowns on 210 carries to earn a second straight spot on the All-Conference USA Second Team. His seven career 100-yard games already rank him fifth all-time in the Tulane record book. The 5-11, 200-pound junior runs with determination, hits the hole quickly and often requires multiple tacklers to bring him down. Darkwa is also a dangerous receiver, catching a team-high 37 passes for 305 yards in 2011.
Depth in the backfield will not be a concern for the Green Wave. The program boasts a couple of promising sophomores in 5-10, 210-pound Dante' Butler and 5-11, 223-pound Robert Kelley . After being suspended for a violation of university rules last November, he's run with a sense of purpose so far in the offseason.
Kelley is a bruiser between the tackles, yet also showed off some nifty moves in 2011. The team's second-leading rusher went for 332 yards and two scores on 74 carries, adding 16 catches for 178 yards.
Watch Out For .... … junior Derrick Strozier to do his best Darren Sproles impersonation in an effort to get on the field. The 5-8, 179-pounder started eight games in the secondary in 2011, but was shifted to offense in the spring by the new regime. He has the soft moves and quick moves to evolve into an interesting situational weapon for the Green Wave.
Strength: Depth. Not only does Tulane have a workhorse to build the ground game around, but it has depth as well. Butler and Kelley are good enough to warrant a handful of touches a game, and Strozier is a new option who has the intrigued about his potential uses.
Weakness: Big plays. The Green Wave has a methodical ground game that rarely produces runs of 10 yards or more. Unless Strozier addresses the shortcoming, the backs aren't explosive, while the line winds up doing more harm than good.
Outlook: Darkwa to the left. Darkwa to the right. Darkwa up the middle. The Green Wave is fortunate to house one of Conference USA's best running backs. He'll shoulder the load, touching the ball at least 25 times a game, yet will give way to the backups a little more than in the last two years. The junior should author his first 1,000-yard season at this level, which could make him consider an early jump to the NFL once the season ends.
The Green Wave got a lift in the receiving corps from a couple of rookies last year. Challenging those kids for starting jobs will be a pair of proven veterans, juniors Ryan Grant at "X" and Wilson Van Hooser at "Y". Grant was sorely missed in 2011, lost after just one game to a sports hernia. The 6-1, 194-pounder was slated to be the starter at flanker a year after he'd caught 33 balls for 515 yards and four touchdowns. He has soft hands and the length to beat opposing defensive backs over the top. However, despite returning to practice in the spring, he clearly wasn't all the way back to full strength. The receiver—and his coaches—are hoping he can regain all of his explosiveness prior to the opener.
Van Hooser started nine games in the slot in 2011, catching 36 balls for 487 yards and four scores. Whether starting or coming off the bench, the 6-0, 194-pound junior will provide a steady and reliable target for the quarterbacks. Not only does he run tight routes, but he also has some of the best hands on the team.
Sophomore Justyn Shackleford was a pleasant surprise in his debut out of Berkmar (Ga.) High School, ranking second among wide receivers with 31 receptions for 404 yards and a touchdown. The 5-11, 167-pounder would benefit from the addition of more mass and muscle, but possesses the jets to blow past defenders without absorbing contact. He's a bona fide field-stretcher who needs to get more opportunities to make plays in space.
Xavier Rush Rush, too, laid a very nice foundation in his rookie year, making 24 grabs for 338 yards and three scores. He peaked against Syracuse, turning four catches into 135 yards and two touchdowns. At 6-1 and 197 pounds, he's a bigger target than Shackleford, yet can still motor. If he can improve on the little things, such as his routes and hands, he's capable of doubling his production this fall.
With Curtis Johnson at the helm, the Green Wave plans to use the tight end a lot more this season. The biggest beneficiary figures to be sophomore Matt Marfisi , a part-time starter who had 13 receptions for 131 yards and a touchdown in 2011. At 6-6 and 250 pounds, he has the size to create matchup problems for linebackers.
Watch Out For .... a big year from Grant. He was gone but not forgotten in 2011, a talented playmaker who was poised to contend for all-league honors. Now that he's healthy again, the junior is itching to be the primary target that the program is craving on the outside.
Strength: Yards after the catch. Grant, Shackleford, Van Hooser and Rush have all flashed the ability to turn short tosses into long gainers during the time with the program. In fact, all four have averaged no less than 13 yards a catch during their last full season of action.
Weakness: Consistency. Grant hasn't played in live action in over a year, and Rush and Shackleford are only entering their second seasons on campus. There is no doubt potential within this group, but it's going to take some patience and practice before the wide receivers fully realize it.
Outlook: The good news is that seven of last season's top eight receivers are back on campus, and the new head coach excels at mentoring the position. The concern? The leading returning pass-catcher is RB Orleans Darkwa. While the Green Wave does feature a lot of potential on the outside, sure-things might come at a premium. Obviously, the health of Grant and the development of the underclassmen will go a long way toward determining the fate of the aerial game.
With just a pair of regulars back in the trenches for 2012, the Green Wave has justifiable worries about its offensive line. What else is new? The headliner of the group is 6-6, 308-pound senior Eric Jones , a starter in each of the last two seasons. He has good length and reach, but needs to improve on his pass protection skills.
The loss of talented Pat Husain to transfer will leave the staff searching for new tackles to complement Jones. Sophomore Sean Donnelly and redshirt freshman Arturo Uzdavinis are the only holdovers from a year ago. However, 6-6, 298-pound redshirt freshman Nate Skold nudged ahead of both at left tackle this past spring.
On the inside, 6-2, 305-pound Zach Morgan is back after starting 10 games at left guard in 2011. The versatile senior is expected to shift inside to center in order to fill the void left by the graduation of Joey Ray. He'll be flanked at guard by 6-5, 305-pound junior Rio Mares on the right side, 6-6, 300-pound sophomore Adam Skidmore to the left. Skidmore and Mares both lettered last season. Junior Mike Henry will be an extremely valuable—and busy—backup.
Watch Out For .... the rookies to get an immediate chance to contribute, especially at tackle. The Green Wave is going to be very thin after Jones, opening the gate for someone, like local product Todd Jacquet , to avoid a redshirt and bust into the two-deep.
Strength: The pivot. Now that Morgan has taken control of the center spot, he'll bring physicality and veteran leadership to the middle of the line. He's the type of heady, unselfish player who'll make those around him better.
Weakness: Overall depth and talent level. Not only does the Green Wave begin the year with no obvious all-star candidates, but three new starters must be broken in as well. This group will need time to mesh, which could make for an awkward start to the campaign.
Outlook: Especially in the early going, the quarterbacks might want to consider the use of a flak jacket. Heck, with the concerns about depth, they probably ought to keep it on as the grind of the season wears on. The Green Wave is going to labor to move the pile, forcing the skill position players to make a lot of yards on their own.
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