Quarterback In Flux As Tulane Holds First Practice

Tulane's preseason football practice sessions began with an airhorn at 6:35 a.m. Tuesday morning, when the Green Wave took the field for the first of 23 practices prior to the opener in Starkville, Miss. against an old rival, the Mississippi State Bulldogs

Tulane's preseason football practice sessions began with an airhorn at 6:35 a.m. Tuesday morning, when the Green Wave took the field for the first of 23 practices prior to the opener in Starkville, Miss. against an old rival, the Mississippi State Bulldogs.

According to news reports, 101 players reported to the Green Wave camp Monday. That figure does not include senior wide receiver Tristan Smith, 6-0 188, who will redshirt to concentrate on academics in an attempt to regain his eligibility for the 2005 season.

Tulane appears to be at the maximum of 85 scholarship players with the addition of true freshman offensive tackle Troy Kropog, 6-5 285, and the return of redshirt junior offensive lineman Kass Kemper, 6-4 280.

Kropog, an alum of Metairie (La.) Archbishop Rummell High School, had verbally committed to the Green Wave last January and had agreed to 'grayshirt' i.e., delay his enrollment until January, 2005. However, Kropog was invited to report for preseason camp and enroll in August, 2004 instead.

Kemper, a product of Baton Rouge (La) Catholic High School, has been hampered by a series of surgeries required to correct a foot problem.

Preseason practices are expected by some to clarify who will replace NFL draft picks J.P. Losman at quarterback and Mewelde Moore at running back. Coming out of spring practice the starters were the senior returning player at each respective position: redshirt sophomore Nick Cannon, 6-3 212, at quarterback and junior Jovon Jackson, 5-11 206, at running back. However, both have yet to display the levels of consistency of their respective predecessors.

Some observers have indicated that there is not a great deal of separation between the four contenders for the quarterback position and that unless one of the contenders demonstrates consistency in the mental side of the quarterback position, the situation could become a merry-go-ground of revolving quarterbacks which could last into the season.

The other three contenders for Losman's old job are redshirt sophomore Lester Ricard, 6-5 225, a transfer from LSU; redshirt freshman Richard Irvin, 6-2 195, a product of the same Southern California-based Air 7 quarterback development program as J.P. Losman; and true freshman Scott Elliott, 6-1 172.

Cannon and Ricard closely resemble the Losman profile physically, in that they're athletic and bigger than the average quarterback, and both have outstanding arms. Hoever, Cannon's career has been hampered by a series of knee and ankle injuries that may have reduced his mobility. Cannon has an edge on Ricard in that he has been in this sytem for two full years - two preseason camps, two seasons and two springs - Ricard on the other hand did not join the Tulane football; team until the beginning of school last year and has logged roughly half of the time that Cannon has in the complex Green Wave offense.

Then again, Cannon has missed many practice reps in his career because of injuries.

Ricard has publically expressed a confiodent belief that he will win the starting quarterback job.

Richard Irvin committed to the Green Wave in December, 2002 and enrolled the following January. He's served two springs, one preseason camp and one season in the Wave's 4-wide-spread-no huddle-shotgun-style offense.

And like Losman, Irvin's described as cocky by some. However, some observers describe him as impressive, even though he's physically much less capable than either Cannon or Ricard. The key to Irvin's chances to be the starter lie in his background, as opposed to his arm or his athleticism.

Irvin has been coached at a very high level for a very long time by a very successful and very expensive private quarterback guru (former NFL journeyman QB Steve Clarkson, who has had more than 20 of his proteges win starting quarterback positions in college and had at least four taken in the NFL draft. Most recently, Clarkson tutored Pittsburg Steeler rookie QB Ben Rothlisberger in his pre-draft workouts.) This is an advantage that has paid off handsomely for a couple of dozen other quarterback aspirants in the past 10-12 years. Is it enough to give Irvin a better grasp of the complex system that Frank Scelfo has elaborated that the other contenders?

Physical superiority does not assure a quarterback at the 1A level that he's going to win the starting job. The starting QB job at Tulane in 2004 will without doubt go to the contender who executes the spread offense best.

Scott Elliott ran an offense similiar to Tulane's for two seasons prior to his senior year at Bay City High School in Bay City, Texas. Elliott's success in the spread offense in high school - he led his team to the 4A state championship game in 2001 and 2003 and threw for 6,289 yards and 55 touchdowns against 32 interceptions - coupled with the success that University of Houston quarterback Kevin Kolb had as a true freshman for the Cougars last season, has some thinking that Elliott has a legitimate chance at the starting QB job.

And Elliott might well have, even if he doesn't establish himself as the starter in preseason. Because if none of the other quarterbacks are able to execute the offense with consistency and put points on the board in the early going, chances are eventually that Elliott will get his chances, too.

It all starts at quarterback. And the Tulane football season officially started today.

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