Coach Willie Fritz has the Tulane football program moving in the right direction in the AAC, and anything short of a bowl bid in his third year will be a disappointment. Tulane came an inch shy in 2017, finishing 5-7 when a replay official upheld a call that Jonathan Banks was tackled short of the goal line on the last play at SMU.
Previewing Tulane Football's Offense for 2018
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Look for a productive offense that finally meets coach Willie Fritz's expectations after a pair of frustrating building years. Along the way, the notion of his relying on a one-dimensional, ground-bound approach will become a relic of the past. Dual-threat quarterback Jonathan Banks threw for 565 yards in the final two games of 2017, leading an upset of Houston and a near-upset of SMU. Banks picked up where he left off in the spring. It helps tremendously that he is playing in the same system for the first time after one-year stints at Kansas State and two junior colleges.
Another plus is his rapport with returning wide receivers Terren Encalade (39 catches, 730 yards), Darnell Mooney (34, 599) and Jabril Clewis.
The running game, which averaged 231.5 yards, should be fine despite the loss of 1,000-yard rusher Dontrell Hilliard. Converted quarterback Darius Bradwell, whom Louisville recruited hard as a running back, is faster than his 6'1", 235-pound frame would suggest. He learned on the job last year but still averaged 6.2 yards on 66 attempts. Speedy Texas Tech transfer Corey Dauphine is a nice complement to Bradwell, and sophomore Stephon Huderson enjoyed a strong spring.
Tulane's biggest concerns are replacing center Junior Diaz, who left for Florida Atlantic as a grad transfer, and keeping Banks healthy. Every other starter on the line returns, but the Wave will be in a world of hurt if Banks gets injured. Top backups Johnathan Brantley and Khalil McClain transferred after the season. The line added help over the summer, as South Alabama graduate transfer Noah Fisher committed to Tulane. Fisher was a second-team All-Sun Belt selection last year.
Previewing Tulane Football's Defense for 2018
A group that finished in the middle of the pack statistically will have an altered philosophy after losing five of its top nine tacklers and moving two others to new positions. The key departure is first-team All-AAC cornerback Parry Nickerson, who tied for the fastest 40 time at the NFL Combine by any defensive back. The Wave want more speed in the lineup, having been burned for big plays too often a year ago.
Natural cornerback P.J. Hall moved to strong safety in the spring, putting a third one-on-one cover guy on the field and relegating Chase Kuerschen to reserve linebacker. Roderic Teamer, a big hitter, switched to free safety. Donnie Lewis, a third-year starter, has the skills to replace Nickerson but needs to be better with the ball in the air.
Linebacker Zachery Harris and tackle Cameron Sample are the top playmakers up front along with end Robert Kennedy, who missed the first seven games last year with a knee injury. True freshman Jeffery Johnson, a one-time Alabama and Florida State recruit who enrolled for the spring, is the likely starter at nose guard.
Previewing Tulane Football's Specialists for 2018
Fritz has shored up the coverage units, but the kicking game remains a work in progress. Walk-on Merek Glover made 8-of-9 field goals, but his longest was 37 yards. His job is not secure. Freshman punter Ryan Wright will challenge incumbent Zach Block, who averaged 39.2 yards in 2017.
Banks is the catalyst. If he improves as expected, the offense will be much more formidable after scoring 21 or fewer points six times last season and finishing near the bottom of the league in third-down conversions. The defense will benefit by not having to be on the field as much.