2013 Tulane Preview – Offense
CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - Tulane Green Wave Offense
Preview 2013 - Offense
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What You Need To Know: Tulane harbors enough skill position talent to put up points. Running back and wide receiver are rarely a problem for the Green Wave. Orleans Darkwa has 1,000-yard legs, and the Ryan Grant-led receiving corps is terrific, but it's the supporting cast that'll dictate whether or not the attack can improve upon last season's dismal results. The first order of business on the staff will be to decide between two green quarterbacks, JUCO transfer Nick Montana and rookie Devin Powell. And then the coaches will need to milk better play out of an offensive line that was among the nation's worst last fall. If the blockers improve, Tulane will surprise some folks. If not, the Green Wave will once again stall, and attempt too many Cairo Santos field goals.
Star of the offense: Senior WR Ryan Grant
Passing: Devin Powell
30-57, 255 yds, 1 TD, 3 INTs
Rushing: Orleans Darkwa
81 carries, 241 yds, 3 TDs
Receiving: Ryan Grant
76 catches, 1,149 yds, 6 TDs
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior QB Nick Montana or redshirt freshman Devin Powell
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LT Todd Jacquet
Best pro prospect: Grant
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Grant, 2) Senior RB Orleans Darkwa, 3) Junior WR Justyn Shackleford
Strength of the offense: Running back, wide receivers
Weakness of the offense: Quarterback inexperience, tight end, the O-line, red zone scoring, third-down conversions
The race to replace underrated QB Ryan Griffin was narrowed down to two following spring. Garnering the most attention was 6-3, 215-pound junior Nick Montana, son of legendary QB Joe Montana. The transfer from Washington and Mt. San Antonio (Calif.) College is coming off a momentum-building campaign at the JUCO level. Not unlike his dad, he's a winner who throws nice touch passes and
can extend plays with his feet.
Looking to spoil Montana's debut in New Orleans will be 6-3, 215-pound Devin Powell, a top recruit from a year ago. The redshirt freshman lacks experience and seasoning, but he has the most upside of any quarterback on the roster. He has a big arm and the speed to give defenses fits when he leaves the pocket.
Watch Out For .... … this competition to drag out until the summer before Montana finally pulls away. Head coach Curtis Johnson didn't anoint a starter because neither quarterback pulled away. Not until the staff gets a long and hard look at both players this August will the "OR" be removed from the depth chart.
Strength: Montana. No, he's not an elite quarterback, or else he would have beaten out Keith Price when he was in Seattle. He is, however, poised in the pocket and coming off a full season of action against decent junior-college competition. If not for Montana, Tulane would have had no choice but to go with a raw rookie.
Weakness: Proven players. Montana and Powell have combined for zero passing attempts at the FBS level, an obvious concern entering a new season. How will the quarterbacks perform when Jackson State visits the Superdome on Aug. 31? No one has any way of knowing for certain.
Outlook: The hope around the Green Wave program is that competition will bring out the best in both contenders for the starting job. And that Montana will pull away when the team reconvenes in the summer. Powell has a bright future, but also has a long way to go before being considered a steady presence on the field. Ideally, Montana brings a steady hand to the offense, allowing Powell to mature at a reasonable pace.
Senior Orleans Darkwa has one final season to impress NFL scouts. And if the offseason is any indication, he's poised to deliver his best year in New Orleans. Darkwa is looking to rebound from an uncharacteristically quiet campaign, the result of a nagging ankle injury. He rushed for a career-low 241 yards and three scores on 81 carries, missing a large chunk of the year. However, when healthy, the 6-0, 210-pounder is one of Conference USA's premier workhorses. Darkwa, who looked stronger than ever in the spring, is a no-nonsense, north-south runner, hitting the hole quickly and often requiring more than one tackler to bring him down. He's also a skilled receiver, bringing 69 receptions into his finale.
No one is threatening Darkwa for the starting gig. Behind him is a trio of backs bucking for playing time. The veteran is 5-10, 208-pound junior Dante Butler, who rushed for 157 yards on 40 carries in 2012, while 5-11, 190-pound sophomore Josh Rounds and 6-0, 206-pound redshirt freshman Lazedrick Thompson remain light on experience.
Watch Out For .... … a traditional fullback to be replaced on the field by an H-back. Tulane doesn't even list a fullback on the two-deep any longer, opting instead to employ a tight end or an additional back to be used primarily as a receiver.
Strength: Darkwa. In No. 26, the Green Wave has one of the most talented runners in Conference USA. He's possesses 1,000-yard skills to go along with the ability to carry an offense with his legs. If Darkwa can stay healthy, he gives Tulane a workhorse who can make life infinitely easier on the new quarterback.
Weakness: Chunk yards. Darkwa is more of a grinder than a gamebreaker, which is partially the result of an O-line that really struggles to create daylight. In 2012, Tulane ran the ball 280 times, yet produced just a single run of at least 30 yards. Someone needs to step up and spread out defenses a little more this season.
Outlook: Assuming he can stay healthy, which is no given, it'll be the Orleans Darkwa Show in the Superdome this fall. He has the talent to turn 250 carries and more than 1,000 yards on the ground into an NFL audition. Now more than ever, Tulane needs its best runner to extend drives and wear down defenses. If for whatever reason Darkwa fails to deliver, the entire offense will suffer the consequences.
Tulane is going to be breaking in a new quarterback this fall. And that first-time starter is going to spend a lot of time looking around the field for No. 3, "Z" receiver Ryan Grant. The senior is coming off a sensational, First Team All-Conference USA season, bouncing back after missing most of 2011 with a sports hernia. The veteran of 19 starts caught 76 balls for a league-best 1,149 yards and six touchdowns, overcoming the opposition's best corner and persistent attention. The 6-1, 190-pound Grant has nice size and speed, but it's his fundamentals, route-running and clutch performances that helped make him so difficult to contain a year ago.
Joining Grant in the starting lineup at "X" receiver will be 5-11, 171-pound Justyn Shackleford. The elusive and speedy junior missed three games in 2012, yet still caught 28 balls for 431 yards and two touchdowns.
The Green Wave is blessed with tremendous depth at wide receiver. Behind Grant and Shackleford are 6-0, 192-pound senior Wilson Van Hooser and 6-2, 194-pound junior Xavier Rush, respectively. Van Hooser has soft hands and is a timely playmaker from the slot, turning 11 grabs into 233 yards and five touchdowns a year ago. Rush started only two games in 2012, yet finished third on the team with 43 catches for 520 yards and five touchdowns.
Battling it out at tight end will be athletic 6-2, 234-pound sophomore Sydie London and 6-6, 250-pound junior Matt Marfisi. London started three games in 2012, and Marfisi eight, but the pair combined to catch just 14 passes for 58 yards.
Watch Out For .... Grant to continue making big plays, despite the presence of a new battery mate. The senior tends to make life easier on quarterbacks, with the routes he runs and the catches he makes. Plus, he'll get enough cover from his teammates to discourage double-teams from opposing secondaries.
Strength: Depth. Wide receiver is unquestionably the deepest and most talent-rich position on the entire Tulane roster entering 2013. Not only is Grant one of the top performers in Conference USA, but Shackleford, Rush and Van Hooser could all step and assume more prominent roles if needed.
Weakness: Tight end. Yeah, the Green Wave would love to get the tight ends more involved with the offense, but is London or Marfisi capable of bringing that quest to fruition? Neither player distinguished himself a year ago, when Tulane harbored its best quarterback in a number of seasons.
Outlook: With Orleans Darkwa at running back, and Grant spearheading an underrated corps of receivers, Tulane is in great shape at the skill positions. The offense will house one of Conference USA's best ensembles on the outside, a collection of veteran playmakers capable of challenging defenses both vertically and horizontally.
There is no shortage of familiar faces up front at Tulane. There is no shortage of concerns either. The Green Wave needs to block significantly better a year after ranking 101st nationally in sacks allowed and 119th in rushing. The steadiest member of the unit is 6-4, 302-pound senior RG Rio Mares, who started all but one game at the position last year.
Duking it out at left guard will be 6-5, 313-pound redshirt freshman Nathan Shienle and 6-6, 300-pound junior Adam Skidmore, the incumbent who started all 12 games at the position last year.
Going toe-to-toe at the pivot are 6-5, 290-pound senior Mike Henry and 6-3, 300-pound senior Zach Morgan. A former starting guard, Morgan is the favorite now that he's back after missing all of 2012 to injury. Henry filled in a year ago at center, but will need to improve in order to win this job.
Taking the lead at left tackle is 6-5, 282-pound sophomore Todd Jacquet. A backup and letterwinner a year ago, he brings good size, ample upside and athleticism to a critical spot along the offensive line.
Last year's starting left tackle, 6-8, 311-pound Sean Donnelly has been shifted to right tackle, a position the staff feels will better fit his skill set. The junior had issues protecting the blindside in 2012, creating an opening on the opposite side for Jacquet.
Watch Out For .... the arrival of hotshot recruit Kenneth Santa Marina. The 6-7, 330-pounder, who can play multiple positions, could have signed with a more prominent program, opting instead to remain close to home. He's big, physical and nasty at the point of contact. In other words, Santa Marina is exactly what the Green Wave needs these days.
Strength: Experience. Hey, the line hasn't performed well in recent years, but at least the huddle will be flush with veterans. Pending the battles at left guard and at center, it's possible that the Green Wave could be starting five upperclassmen in the trenches this year.
Weakness: Winning at the point of attack. Too often, Tulane got blown off the ball last year, the underlying reason why the quarterbacks got routinely harassed, and the ground game averaged less than two yards a carry. It's rudimentary analysis, but the O-line simply has to do a better job of holding its blocks and springing the playmakers this year.
Outlook: Tulane is capable of moving the ball this fall, but only if this unit raises the level of its play … significantly. The O-line is arguably the most important group on the roster, holding the key that could really unlock the potential of the backs and receivers. Unfortunately, it's a marginal collection of players, which is unlikely to produce an All-Conference USA performer.
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