Tulane set a program record with its third consecutive bowl trip last season. With 15 returning starters, coach Willie Fritz aims to guide the Green Wave to bigger and better things in 2021. Quarterback Michael Pratt is a rising star, and the offense has two standout running backs in Cameron Carroll and Tyjae Spears to lean on. Replacing Cameron Sample and Patrick Johnson up front is a tough assignment for new defensive coordinator Chris Hampton. However, the linebackers rank among the best in the American Athletic Conference, and a couple of transfers could shore up a secondary that allowed too many big plays in ’20. With Tulsa, Houston and Cincinnati all coming to New Orleans, Fritz’s team can play a key role in shaping the AAC title picture this fall.
Previewing Tulane's Offense for 2021
After guiding the fourth- and second-highest scoring teams in school history in his two years as offensive coordinator, Will Hall left in December to become the head coach at Southern Miss. His replacement, former college roommate Chip Long, arrived with the credentials to build on that success. Long, a finalist for the Broyles Award as the nation's top assistant coach when he was offensive coordinator at Notre Dame in 2018, inherits promising quarterback Michael Pratt, who led all true freshmen with 20 touchdown passes in 2020.
At best, the receivers were inconsistent, but the top four are back, including wideouts Jha'Quan Jackson and Duece Watts, who each caught 31 passes and combined for 14 touchdown receptions. Long's offenses feature the tight ends, and he has a good one in Tyrick James (18 catches, 202 yards).
A key question is whether or not explosive running back Tyjae Spears can get back to full strength after a season-ending ACL tear last September. If so, he will form quite the 1-2 punch with physical runner Cameron Carroll (741 yards, 12 touchdowns).
The offensive line, a long-time concern, could be the Green Wave's best in several years. Four-year starting guard Corey Dublin and All-AAC candidate center Sincere Haynesworth headline a group that returns seven players with two or more starts in 2020.
Previewing Tulane's Defense for 2021
Jack Curtis, head coach Willie Fritz's coordinator for seven years (including two with Georgia Southern), lost his job in large part because the defense was abysmal in favorable third-and-long and fourth-down situations. Fritz is turning to former DBs coach Chris Hampton, who was on the staff from 2016-19 before going to Duke for a season.
Hampton will have to make do without bookends Patrick Johnson, Tulane's all-time sacks leader, and Cameron Sample (52 tackles, six sacks), whom Pro Football Focus rated the most valuable defensive lineman in college football for 2020. Freshman Angelo Anderson performed well in the bowl game, but there figures to be a drop-off. Memphis transfer Joseph Dorceus will join the team in time for fall practice and should provide a boost up front. The playmaking linebackers are the unit's strength, with Dorian Williams (98 tackles, 16.5 for a loss), Nick Anderson (88 tackles, 10.5 for a loss), Marvin Moody (72 tackles) and Kevin Henry (48 tackles) rotating at two spots.
The secondary needs an infusion of confidence. The return of cornerback Jaylon Monroe and the addition of transfers Derrion Rakestraw (a starter at safety for Colorado) and Lance Robinson (a reserve cornerback at Kansas State) should help.
Previewing Tulane's Specialists for 2021
Placekicker Merek Glover (40-of-54 on career field goals) and punter Ryan Wright (45.2-yard average in 2020) are solid, but Glover needs to show more range (his career long is 44 yards), and Wright needs to display better consistency. Jackson is the primary punt and kickoff returner after the dangerous Amare Jones transferred to Georgia Southern.
Tulane has won 20 games over the past three seasons under Fritz, representing tremendous improvement but not reaching the level of conference contender. If Pratt makes the typical improvement as a sophomore and Spears is healthy, the offense may be ready, but it is hard to forecast a jump to contender status with the loss of Johnson and Sample on the defensive line.
National Ranking: 65
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(Michael Pratt photo courtesy of tulanegreenwave.com)