As training camp and the season draw near, we look at a UConn football opponent through the eyes of a beat writer who covers that team. Today the team is Tulane and the writer is Tammy Nunez of the New Orleans Times-Picayune. UConn plays at Tulane Oct. 11 at a time to be determined.
What expectations does the coaching staff have for the team this year?
Tulane coach Curtis Johnson is cautious about his expectations as the Green Wave are taking a huge step up in terms of their conference and non-conference lineup. Tulane opens the home season Sept. 6 in its new on-campus stadium against Georgia Tech. The schedule looks much tougher than last season and the staff certainly isn't going to be talking about how many games it will win heading into the new league. Privately, however, the hope is to return to a bowl game.
Who are the key players for this year's team?
Cornerback Lorenzo Doss is the team's big star. He's been a who's-who on preseason award watch lists and had seven interceptions last season. The junior leads a talented secondary that drove the defense last season. There is a lot of turnover on offense and Tulane will open fall camp with yet another quarterback battle.
What players are new to the team and expected to make an immediate impact?
Redshirt freshman quarterback Tanner Lee and redshirt freshman running back Sherman Badie are the two players expected to make an instant impact. Lee came out of spring practices tied with incumbent Devin Powell for the starting quarterback job. NFL Hall of Famer Joe Montana's son, Nick, was the starter last season but exited the spring third on the depth chart.
What are the team's strengths on offense?
Wide receiver and running back should be a strength for the Green Wave despite losing its stars from those groups last year to graduation. Justyn Shackleford is expected to be the go-to receiver this season replacing Ryan Grant, who was a fifth-round draft pick by Washington this spring. Badie and Josh Rounds are expected to be key running backs for the 2014 squad.
What are the team's strengths on defense?
In addition to Doss, safeties Sam Scofield and Darion Monroe are savvy defenders who help funnel the ball to Doss. Expect Jarrod Franklin to make waves in a hybrid linebacker/defensive back role.
What is key concern in 2014?
The offensive line has been a huge concern the past two seasons and there are continued questions about the talent and execution of the unit. For the second-straight season, the team's quarterback separated a shoulder in 2013 after getting brutally sacked and hit after quick throws. Montana lost three games to the injury in the middle of 2013 and Ryan Griffin (now a New Orleans Saints backup quarterback) also was sidelined by the same injury in 2012. The line will simply have to be better for Tulane to compete in its new league. It's basically the same faces this fall, but the staff is hoping the line gained experience and will take a leap forward in 2014.