Tulane opens preseason football practice with lofty expectations, questions at key positions

Aug 2, 2023 Updated Aug 2, 2023
Reigning American Athletic Conference champion Tulane conducted its first preseason football practice in sweltering conditions Wednesday morning but had no visible cramping issues.
The Green Wave, a hot favorite to repeat its title run of a year ago, hopes to play through the high expectations as well as it did the heat.
“It’s a new year, it’s a new team, and it’s a new season,” senior quarterback Michael Pratt said. “The intensity was amazing today. We have to continue to stay the course and handle things the same way we’ve been handling them. I don’t think there’s anything that me personally or anyone else is going to do a lot different.”
Eighth-year coach Willie Fritz certainly is not changing. In his mind, Tulane’s 12-2 record and ninth-place finish in The Associated Press poll are as irrelevant now as the 2-10 record in 2021 was last August — a point he stressed in the first team meeting Tuesday.
“I put that on the board,” he said. “You don’t carry 2022 into 2023, and we didn’t carry 2021 into 2022. This is its own season. I really have the same approach every single day, every single week, every single year.”
Tulane’s ability to duplicate or surpass its breakthrough season could hinge on the results of its two biggest position battles at running back and safety. It will be virtually impossible for anyone to match Tyjae Spears’ eye-popping 1,269 yards rushing on 151 carries (8.4 yards per carry average) from the last eight games in 2022, but six of Fritz’s seven Tulane teams have averaged more than 200 yards per game on the ground. The opportunity to replace him is there for redshirt sophomores Shaadie Clayton-Johnson and Iverson Celestine, freshman Arnold Barnes, redshirt freshman Makhi Hughes, graduate transfer Shedro Louis (Liberty) and freshman Trey Cornist.
Pratt sees no clear favorite.
“That’s a huge question mark,” he said. “Everybody obviously wants to know, but I can’t even say. I think we have a phenomenal running back room. It’s really going to be week by week and whoever’s the hot hand.”
The front-runners are Clayton-Johnson, a Warren Easton product who had a 100-yard game against Tulsa; Celestine, a key contributor in the upset of Kansas State last season; and Barnes, a 225-pounder from Booker T. Washington who exhibited good speed and power after enrolling early for spring drills.
The battle could last into September.
“We are going to play a lot of backs, and some guys are going to separate themselves,” Fritz said. “You can’t play five guys all the time. Someone’s going to be the bell cow. It probably will take a few weeks for us to figure out who that is.”
The competition at safety is nearly as wide open, dwarfing any other questions on defense. Tulane lost starters Larry Brooks and Lummie Young. Andre Sam, a potential starter who transferred from Marshall in January, left for Miami after spring drills to follow former defensive coordinator Lance Guidry, who coached him with the Thundering Herd before a brief stint with the Wave this past winter.
The holdovers are Bailey Despanie and DJ Douglas, who worked with the first team for much of spring practice, and Darius Swanson, a transfer from Division II Nebraska-Kearney who rose to the top of the depth chart at the end of the spring. Despanie started once last season. Neither Swanson nor Douglas have started an FBS game.
Kam Pedescleaux, a three-year starter at UL, arrived this summer along with Tahir Annoor, a second-team All-Southern Conference selection in 2021 at Wofford.
“Just like running back, we are going to have to have some guys step up at safety,” Fritz said. “We expect (Pedescleaux) to be a great player for us this season.”
Despite losing leading tacklers and co-captains Dorian Williams and Nick Anderson at linebacker, the Wave should be in good shape with Jesus Machado, Corey Platt and Tyler Grubbs in a three-player rotation. Machado (40 tackles in 2022) and Platt (25 stops) fared well when they spelled Williams and Anderson last season, usually going in together. Grubbs had 96 tackles in 2020 for Louisiana Tech, 97 in 2021 and was on pace for similar numbers when he broke a collarbone last season.
While every team has questions to start the season, Pratt believes Tulane will find the answers.
“We know what we can accomplish,” he said. “We’re a different team, but a lot of guys have really stepped up.”

Latest Player Notes

If that really was Drake Maye’s last game in Chapel Hill, it provided a fitting full-circle ending

UPDATED NOVEMBER 13, 2023 2:49 PMHere was Drake Maye in the middle of it all late Saturday night, in the middle of the kind ...

Shedeur Sanders closing in on CU Buffs single-season records through pain of all the sacks and hits

PUBLISHED November 13, 2023 at 12:38 p.m. | UPDATED: November 13, 2023 at 12:40 p.m.BOULDER — Shedeur Sanders is closing ...

Tenth Anniversary of Kick Six: Inside video, "Official" look at Historic Iron Bowl Shocker

Published Nov. 13, 2023, 6:00 a.m.By Creg Stephenson See and hear history behind Kick Six (excuse the ads, but this is ...

Goodman: Jimbo Fisher is out and Nick Saban wins again

Updated: Nov. 13, 2023, 10:00 a.m.|By Joseph GoodmanJimbo Fisher is out at Texas A&M, which goes to show that even when a ...

Huard on Huskies: Why a win over No. 10 Oregon St would be huge

The No. 5 UW Huskies’ quest to make the College Football Playoff went through the two-time defending Pac-12 champions on ...

USC’s loss to Oregon exposes clear flaws in program-building up front

EUGENE, Ore. — In January, Lincoln Riley was on the sidelines at SoFi for the College Football Playoff championship game, ...

Two years after winning school-record 12 games, Brady Hoke out as Aztecs football coach

Brady Hoke is out as San Diego State’s football coach.SDSU released a statement Monday morning saying that Hoke is retiring, ...

Oregon’s Bo Nix named Pac-12 offensive player of the week for third time in 2023

Oregon’s Bo Nix earned his third weekly honor from the Pac-12.Nix, who went 23 of 31 for a season-high 412 yards with four ...

Oregon Ducks’ head coach Dan Lanning mentioned as a leading candidate for Texas A&M job

Oregon Ducks head coach Dan Lanning has been mentioned as a leading candidate to replace Jimbo Fisher as coach of the Texas ...

After ‘tough day,’ Boise State AD searches for a football coach; defensive analyst promoted

Boise State athletic director Jeramiah Dickey was on the job for less than a week the last time he began a search for a football ...
See More Player Notes