Tulane completes 1st spring practice under new head coach

NEW ORLEANS — The Curtis Johnson era officially kicked off Wednesday morning as the Tulane football team opened the 2012 spring slate with an intense but spirited two-hour practice at the Westfeldt Practice Facility.

It was a day of firsts, not only for Johnson, but for the Green Wave players. Every member of the team donned helmets with athletic tape on the front that featured their respective last names written with a felt-tip marker so the coaching staff could identify their players.

On the other side of the ball, the team got a heavy dose of things to come and the expectation level of the coaches. There was no walking at any point on the field. The Green Wave hustled on and off the field and through every drill. The early walk-though and warm up portion of practice looked more like a run-through, so the players were loose and going full speed from the outset.

For Johnson, it was his first day of patrolling the field as the Green Wave skipper. During his previous stints at both college and professional levels, he had been a position coach, but on Wednesday, he oversaw each position and spent the majority of the time watching drills, taking notes and encouraging his new team, which showed no lasting effects from the Mardi Gras season that concluded less than 24 hours ago.

“Today was not bad at all,” Johnson said in a university release. “We talk a lot about tempo and that’s what we did. We practice with a lot of tempo today. We still have a little ways to go, but the tempo was good. The guys came out, and they knew what to do and we were able to get through the drills quickly. I think you have to be demanding of the team every day, and I believe the players want that. They want to win in the worst way, and if we can continue to practice with the tempo we had to today, I think we’ll be okay.”

“In regards to starting practice the day after Mardi Gras, the players looked pretty good, so I guess they didn’t go out and party too much,” Johnson said. “We want to make sure these guys are in class and focused on football. I am sure some of them took in the parades, but everyone looked good today.”

Several players have made position changes since Johnson took over the reins of the Green Wave, including Derrick Strozier from cornerback to running back, Brandon LeBeau from receiver to safety, Brock Sanders from tight end to defensive end and Jamar Thomas from running back to receiver.

Among the players back on the field on Wednesday were receiver Ryan Grant, a 2011 Biletnikoff Award candidate who scored a touchdown against Southeastern Louisiana in the opener but was injured and missed the remainder of the season, along with fellow receiver Marc Edwards, who was sidelined last season with a knee injury suffered in training camp, and Renaldo Thomas, a cornerback who played in four games and had an interception against UAB, but also was lost for the year due to an injury.

Quarterback Ryan Griffin, who has started the last two and half years for the Wave, looked sharp on the first day and thought the team had a very good first day.

“Today was a very fast tempo practice for us, but I thought we had good energy and we competed very well” Griffin said. “We practiced like the Saints, so hopefully we will play like them at some point. There were some mental mistakes, but those are to be expected on the first day and with a new offense.”

Tulane returns 57 letterwinners, including 18 starters (seven on offense, eight on defense and three on special teams) and features 14 redshirt players and 11 squad members for the spring.

The Green Wave returns to the practice field Friday at 8:20 a.m. for the second of 15 spring practices. All practices will take place at the Westfeldt Practice Facility behind the James W. Wilson Jr. Center on Ben Weiner Drive and are open to the public.

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