Wave Opens Football Season Saturday vs. Bulldogs

Tulane University head football coach Chris Scelfo held his first weekly press conference of the 2004 season on Tuesday afternoon at the Hall of Fame Room of Tulane's Wilson Center. The Green Wave opens its season on Saturday, traveling to Mississippi State to play the Bulldogs at 5 p.m. on national television (ESPN2)

NEW ORLEANS, La. – Tulane University head football coach Chris Scelfo held his first weekly press conference of the 2004 season on Tuesday afternoon at the Hall of Fame Room of Tulane's Wilson Center. The Green Wave opens its season on Saturday, traveling to Mississippi State to play the Bulldogs at 5 p.m. on national television (ESPN2).

"Thank you all for being here today. This has been a very good camp for us, from the standpoint of working our way into condition and fighting through the things that we had to fight through – hitting the wall and fighting through it.

"We have an offensive line that is seasoned and we expect them to play that way. We have some receivers that have been in some big games before and have proven themselves to be dependable. Defensively, I think our secondary is as deep and talented as it has been since I have been here and we have four corners and three safeties that have played a lot of football for us; we feel really good about that position. Linebackers, we have some experience there. Wesley Heath is coming back in great condition after sitting out last year [due to injury]; he is a senior and his hard work has shown. Anthony Cannon, Blake Baker, and Antonio Mason, those three guys have played a lot of football for us and I feel very good about them. Up front on the defensive line, we have taken some hits there, Michael Roberts not being cleared [injury], Alvin Johnson on academic probation and last week Bamm Mateen deciding to not play. We have had to inject some freshmen in to the equation along with Billy Harrison, who is a sophomore and played a lot for us last year, and also Craig Morris. These are the guys that have played some and the incoming freshman are talented, but physically maybe not where we need them to be to date, but we will get them there.

"I feel very good about our kicking game from the standpoint that in key areas we have guys that can cover, return, and have done these things before. Our punter [Chris Beckman] is coming off an outstanding year last year and we expect the same things this year. Our snapper, Lane Macaluso, has been as dependable as anyone on our football team, and our kicker, Barrett Pepper, I think is coming out of camp this year with more confidence then he had last year. His kickoffs have shown that, which is going to be critical for us, his extra points and field goals have been consistent. I think for us to have a chance this year and be successful we must excel in the special teams area. There is so much hidden yardage in that group, we are going to need every yard we can get out of them; also from our coverage unit we are going to need to stop teams from getting more than ten yards."

Can you talk about the progress of quarterback Lester Ricard?
Despite [the team] missing a day of [outdoor] practice yesterday because of weather, I think he is progressing to the point where it is time to get out there and see what is going to go on when the band is playing and the lights are on and that is the last unknown factor from him.

Have you talked to Lester about what is expected of him?
All spring and all summer, all camp, all the quarterbacks have been made aware of what we need them to do to be successful, and it really is simple from the standpoint that we don't need them to win the game for us. We need them to balance the offensive team, we need them to be dependable and tough, and make the right calls. We cannot force balls and we need to take care of the ball on offense, and if we do that we will be successful.

Do you think Lester is going to be the starter?
We are going to evaluate that position like we do every other position, I have noticed him having more awareness on the field of everything going on, by exactly what group he is going with and all those things. Again, I don't think it will change from here to Saturday, but we have two more days of practice and he has to perform.

Are you going to play two quarterbacks?
If Lester finishes the week like I expect him to and in the game he plays the way he is capable of playing, I don't see any reason to play two quarterbacks.

Do you have a backup quarterbacks at this point?
I don't, Richard [Irvin] and Nick [Cannon] both missed practice time last week. Richard had blisters on his throwing hand and Nick's elbow was bothering him, so we will probably make that decision on Friday.

Do you feel that whatever quarterback plays, that he will feel comfortable with a veteran offense line?
It does make us feel a little bit better from the stand point that we have been talking to them all spring and summer, that being we don't need them throwing for the crowd, I don't need him rushing his decision making or panicking out there. We just want him to play within himself, he doesn't need to try to be J.P. Losman or Patrick Ramsey, just play within himself and the offensive players will rally around him.

Have you ever met Sylvester Croom?
I have met him a couple of times.

Because Sylvester is the first African American coach in the SEC, what do you think about all the hype?
I really believe that whatever Sylvester Croom does whether it is in the SEC or the NFL, he is not only a good coach, he is a great person. He has surrounded himself with great coaches, which makes the head coach. He has learned from some of the brightest and best in the country. I know everyone is making a big deal about this and I guess it should be from one standpoint, but I don't think that when Sylvester walks out there on Saturday he is going to be thinking about all the things that have been said about him. He wants to win Saturday. He is deserving in what he has received given his background and what I know about him.

Have you talked to [former quarterback] J.P. Losman since the injury [broken leg in Bills camp], and how is he doing?
I have talked to him just about every night, and he is doing better with every day that passes. I told him that I don't mean to sound selfish but I am glad that this happened this year rather than last year, and I don't think he took to that comment very well.

Is it hard to prepare for a team when you don't know that much about the coaching staff?
It is, because of the different backgrounds and experiences of all of them. Their offensive line coach at one time was at A&M, Virginia Tech, East Carolina. Their offensive coordinator has been at Alabama and Tennessee. The head coach comes out of all kinds of different settings. So from an offensive standpoint it is very hard and we are going to have to be ready to make a lot of adjustments through the course of the game. Defensively, the defensive coordinator was the head coach at Citadel and was at Alabama and Clemson. With all those factors we are going to need to be prepared for changes throughout the game.

What is different about your preparation for Mississippi State from this year to last year?
Personnel-wise, we have looked at whatever we could get our hands on. I think it will all come down to field position and taking care of the football and probably how our kids react at the start of the game.

How do you think you stack up against their personnel?
They outweigh us physically; they are a lot bigger then us. Their defensive front, their front seven, is just about all intact, and they are very talented. Size-wise they are bigger than us, on the offensive line they have us by about 50 pounds per man across the board. They are going to block us but we have to do is to not stay blocked, that is what I have been preaching to them. It is not embarrassing to get blocked but it is embarrassing to stay blocked. If they get a hold of us and we can't get away from them it is going to be a long night.

How is the leadership on the team?
That was a concern of mine going into camp, and still is until we have some time. When pressure time comes about is what we need to wait for. Off the field and in the locker room, I think the leadership has been good. How they react is where we are unsure about standout leaders at this point. Every year this is a question mark until you get into the season and will be critical for us.

Are you behind in the defensive line due to the losses you have had?
Yes. But I think that if this group we have sticks with it and improves every day we will be ok. They can run and are tough but they are not physically there yet.

Are you going to use the hurry-up offense?
Yes, it will depend on the situation out there. But we will not wait until one second on the clock.

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