Tulane managed just three wins a year ago, so any chance the Green Wave get to practice and get better has to be taken seriously.
That's why this year's spring practices are so important for coach Bob Toledo, especially considering he's entering his fourth season with just a 9-27 record to show for it.
But Toledo enters the spring with optimism that the Green Wave -- while not set at very many positions -- has more talent and depth than in recent seasons.
"We have finally got some quality depth, and now with the freshmen coming in, that's even going to compound it for spring," Toledo told the Times-Picayune. "So we're starting to develop better quality depth, is what I'm trying to say. There's going to be a lot of competition this spring and in the fall, too. The guys that don't show us anything in the spring, in the fall those freshmen will move in."
So it's do-or-die time for the returning players who want to earn a starting spot for the 2010 season.
Seven starters from the 2009 season's final game -- eight if you count punter/kicker Ross Thevenot -- were seniors, leaving a number of spots open. Throw in the fact the team didn't do well last year and could use upgrades all over the field, and the spring sessions become even more important to the team's development.
Ryan Griffin seems to have the quarterback position under wraps, but even he needs to show something in the spring to hold off any challengers to his starting spot.
And the wide receiver and running back positions are wide open after last year's biggest playmakers, Jeremy Williams and Andre Anderson, have moved on.
Toledo is excited about the team as they try to evolve for 2010.
"There's a lot of enthusiasm, a lot of excitement," Toledo said. "The attitude is really good, and I'm pleased with that. I thought there was a lot of carryover. We're tweaking some things, as they say. We've added some things to the offense and defense. We've taken some things away depending on our personnel."
And hopefully the spring will shed some light on what personnel will be in the lineup come fall.NOTES, QUOTES
SPRING OBJECTIVES: The Green Wave have a number of areas that need answers, but the biggest uncertainty is likely at linebacker, with graduation and position changes making it hard to figure out a starting unit.
Tulane recruited six linebackers, but with Travis Burks and David Kirksey having graduated and Shakiel Smith (free safety) and Austen Jacks (defensive end) likely moving to other positions, there isn't a lot of depth. Darryl Farley is a returnee at the position, and Duke transfer Trent Mackey is being looked at as a potential starter.
Finding some receivers is also going to be a spring-long process. Senior-to-be Casey Robottom is the only returning receiver to record 100 or more yards receiving a year ago, and his practice is going to be limited due to a separated shoulder suffered in the offseason.
D.J. Banks, Ryan Grant and Devin Figaro are among those battling to start opposite Robottom, although the most intriguing player at the position is probably junior Joe Kemp, who played eight games at quarterback last season but asked about playing receiver with Ryan Griffin looking like the QB starter this year.
With Andre Anderson -- who had 1,116 of the team's 1,264 rushing yards a year ago -- gone, the battle for carries is going to be intense. Payten Jason was looking good last season before tearing a patellar tendon in October. Jason isn't expected to be able to practice at least until the fall, giving Steven Barnett, J.T. McDonald and Albert Williams a chance to get some reps before freshmen Jamar Thomas and Orleans Darkwa come in in August.
BUILDING BLOCKS: We'll really find out about Ryan Griffin as a quarterback now that the team has lost two of its biggest playmakers from 2009 -- RB Andre Anderson and WR Jeremy Williams. Griffin looked good at times once he took over the starting spot under center, but he'll have less experienced players to throw and hand the ball off to in 2010.
The offensive line should help, though, with only one starter lost from last year's unit. L.J. Abrams and Harris Howard will likely battle it out to take over Nick Landry's right tackle position, but the rest of the line is intact.
Defensively, the Green Wave were solid a year ago, and they bring back seven starters from last year. The defensive line and linebacking corps took the biggest hits, leaving the defensive secondary as the strength of the stop troops in 2010.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "If you look at our team, there is probably more competition this spring than there has ever been." -- Tulane coach Bob Toledo told the Times-Picayune.STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
2010 OUTLOOK: The Green Wave have some improving to do, but coach Bob Toledo is excited about the potential of his team. Tulane will have a number of new players but that doesn't mean there will be a major drop-off in talent level. Toledo doesn't see anyone's starting spot as set in stone, so the competition for playing time could bring out the best in the young squad. Offensively, there should be more balance rather than relying on one running back and one receiver to do the majority of the work. And the defense should be quicker and deeper than it has been in the past, which can only help the Green Wave as they try to dig out of the doldrums.
LB Trent Mackey -- Originally from Louisiana, Mackey spent his freshman year with the Blue Devils in 2008 before transferring to Tulane following some off-the-field issues. Mackey is quick to the ball and has had a year of practice to soak up the Green Wave system before finally making his on-field debut in 2010.
RB Orleans Darkwa -- The 5-11, 200-pound freshman will be on campus in August and ready to try to earn some carries in his freshman season. Darkwa rushed for 2,243 yards and 24 touchdowns at The Ensworth School in Nashville, Tenn., and is considered a prime candidate to be part of the rotation at tailback in 2010.
PK Cairo Santos -- An outstanding athlete who saw time at wide receiver, kicker and punter in high school, Santos was brought in specifically to replace graduated senior Ross Thevenot next year. Santos connected on 19 of 23 field goals and 99 of 100 PATs in his final two years at St. Joseph's Academy in St. Augustine, Fla.
--Tulane lost defensive assistant coach Greg Jackson in early March when Jackson resigned from his position to take a job as an assistant at Wisconsin. Jackson had spent three seasons at Tulane, coaching safeties, linebackers and the kickoff team during his time with the Green Wave.
--WR Casey Robottom could have clinched his spot as the No. 1 receiver on the team but he suffered a separated shoulder in the offseason and will be limited to mostly non-contact drills during spring practice.
Previous Report: 04/28/2010