Do it live: Spring practices prepare football for consistency in 2017
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In the words of football legend John Madden, “Usually the team that scores the most points wins the game.” Tulane football, however, is not often the team scoring the most points.
With the spring football game on Saturday at Benson Field at Yulman Stadium, the Green Wave will try to show the strides it has made in the off-season. Offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Doug Ruse will be at the helm of the offense.
“We kind of went through some growing pains here year one at Tulane, and it took us a while to really learn our personnel and what we could do and what we’d struggle to do, and of course you’ve got to recruit guys that would fit your goal of what the offense is to become,” Ruse said. “I would think this year … we’re going to make strides in our ability to throw the ball.”
Ruse has worked with head coach Willie Fritz for quite some time. While they have had multiple changes in location, the core of Fritz and Ruse’s teams has remained the same: a spread-option offense.
“This will be year six going on along with Coach Fritz at three different stops, but there hasn’t really been any change of philosophy offensively from Sam Houston to Georgia Southern to Tulane,” Ruse said. “At all three of those places, we’ve kind of tweaked the scheme just to take advantage of our personnel.”
The spread-option is a shotgun-based variation of the triple-option offense that has been prevalent in college football for decades.
A standard option offense uses multiple methods of moving the ball down field, with the quarterback reading the defense and choosing to either hand the ball off to a running back or keep it themselves. A triple option adds a second running back or slot receiver, which the quarterback will hand off or pitch to, based on his read of the defensive end.
As a result, a spread-option team needs a quarterback that can read defenses before the snap and defensive linemen during the play. The quarterback needs to be a “dual-threat,” meaning they have the talent and intelligence to throw the ball downfield effectively as well as the physicality to run the ball.
The addition of junior Jonathan Banks, formerly a quarterback for Kansas State, might solve Tulane’s need for a true dual-threat quarterback. Spring practice has been an important time for the potential starter to get acclimated to a new offense.
“I told Jonathan Banks … ‘Buddy, we’re going to challenge you and make you process a ton of things before the ball is snapped,'” Ruse said.
Despite the addition of Banks, the growth of quarterbacks with those still on the roster from last season has made the decision for a full-time starter more difficult.
“When one of those guys separates himself from the others, Coach Fritz will make that public and we’ll name the starter,” Ruse said. “The sooner the better, but like I said, you never know and it kind of happens when it happens.”
When asked about naming a starter for running back, one of the other key positions in a spread-option offense, Ruse expressed his belief that the position has a lot of talent the coaching staff is excited about, but one player has stood out through spring practice.
“I’d say right now, through spring ball, [senior running back] Dontrell Hilliard … he’s had a great spring. He’s also been a consistent player. He’s definitely assumed more of a leadership role, which we needed,” Ruse said. “Right now, he’s separated himself.”
During the course of spring practices, other players at wide receiver have made strides to separate themselves in the eyes of the coaches, and their efforts have not gone unnoticed by Ruse.
“[Junior wide receiver] Jabril Clewis, I think he’s been a great addition for us,” Ruse said. “He’s still got a long way to go, as he should, being a transfer. He’s only been in our program for 13 practices, but every day he’ll do something to remind you why we recruited him in the first place.”
Redshirt junior wide receiver Terren Encalade has also been one of the best performers of the spring, but Ruse believes that it is not necessarily talent that sets these players apart but consistency.
“I wouldn’t say that any of these guys are the MVPs of the spring, I’m just talking about guys who have been consistently performing at a high level every day,” Ruse said.
Consistency is an attribute the coaches have begun to value the most, and they will keep their focus there going into the future after the 2016 season.
“This sounds very, very basic, but it’s how you win,” Ruse said. “You’ve got to be consistent in your effort and your physicality and your focus every day. … We’ve got to carry that work ethic and that focus right into summer and right into fall camp. If we do that, I know we’ve made great strides offensively, and I’m looking forward to getting out there and doing it live.”