Green Wave Defensive Line

End is a different story, Harris is solidly ensconced on one side but Harrison (started 5 games, playing in 11 overall), had a disappointing 2004 season after a freshman campaign in 2003 in which he started the last seven games of the year and was selected to the Conference USA All-Freshman Team

The Tulane depth chart might not be the field of landmines that it became during the injury plague that began during the 2002 season and virtually ruined the 2003 season, but there's still a degree of unsettlement in key units that's not completely surprising, as a succession of promising recruiting classes are slowly increasing the number of individual positions where players of equal or near equal ability and game experience are involved in competition for starting positions.

The three units where there are competitions to be settled as to which player will eventually become the starter at various positions are the defensive line, wide receiver and the defensive secondary. One could perhaps add running back to that list, with the return of senior Jovon Jackson from an injury that virtually ended his season, but Jackson seems to have fallen permanently behind sophomore Matt Forte.

There are different issues concerning other units - the fear of injury to starting quarterback Lester Ricard haunts the quarterback position, linebacker is paper thin behind a solid-to-excellent starting threesome, and the offensive line has been decimated by injuries.

But the prevailing feeling among people in close proximity to the football program is that this is the season they've been pointing to and that a run towards the conference championship game and a bowl berth could be the outcome - IF - A BIG IF! - the injury plague is truly over and players take care of their business, both conditioning-wise and school wise. The key will be the coaching staff's success in keeping all the key players on campus this summer.

We'll look at the defensive side of the ball first, the defensive line tonight and proceed unit by unit before moving to the offense and starting over. This is not a conventional depth chart, but rather an overview of each unit on the team.

Let's look at the defensive front first.

Defensive line
The defensive line, the anchor of every defensive unit, was the Rock of Gibraltar of Tulane's defensive renaissance in 2002 which that led the Green Wave to an 8-5 season and a Hawaii Bowl victory over the Rainbow Warriors of the University of Hawaii.

Injuries began to mount that season as Lonnie Crayton and Brandon Rottmeyer were lost to career ending injuries and fifth year senior Chris Washington was lost at mid-season after suffering a torn ACL. Four other seniors used up their eligibility in 2002 and two other contributors, underclassmen defensive ends Jay Ashton and Chris Williams, ran into academic eligibility problems that prevented their ever returning to the football field.

The 2003 season also saw the premature loss of defensive ends Dan Nevil and Michael Roberts, and tackle Bamm Matten to career ending injuries. Deep breath. Also in 2003, redshirt freshman defensive end Michael Purcell missed half the season after suffering a knee injury. Enough? Well the effects lingered, and in 2004 Tulane was still recovering from losses suffered during the unprecedented rash of injuries and ended up starting three freshmen: tackle Avery Williams (11 starts), end Antonio Harris (11 starts), and tackle Frank Morton (11 games). Additionally, true freshman Ryan Johnson played in two early season games, starting one, but has since the the team and school.

The depth chart for the Louisville game that ended the 2004 season looked like this:
DE 57 Antonio Harris 6-2, 261, Fr...98 Michael Purcell 6-1, 262, So.-R
DT 93 Taurean Brown 6-6, 280, So.-R...99 Frank Morton 6-2, 300, Fr.
DT 56 Avery Williams 6-0, 300, Fr...96 Tremell Jack 6-3, 281, So.
DE 42 Billy Harrison 6-4, 240, So...91 Craig Morris 6-2, 252, So.

As of the beginning of spring practice, the published depth chart read this way:
DE 57 Antonio Harris 6-2, 271, So...91 Craig Morris 6-2, 240, Jr. AND 98 Michael Purcell 6-1, 275, Jr.-R
DT 93 Taurean Brown 6-6, 280, Jr.-R...90 Alvin Johnson 6-3, 300, So.-R...54 Taylor Bertin 6-2, 255, Jr.-R
DT 56 Avery Williams 6-0, 282, So...99 Frank Morton 6-2, 303, So...96 Tremell Jack 6-3, 291, Jr.
DE 42 Billy Harrison 6-4, 243, Jr...97 Julian Shives-Sams 6-2, 266, Fr.-R...53 Reggie Scott 6-3, 252, Fr.-R

Michael Roberts, a starter at defense end before succumbing to an injury near the mid point of the 2003 season, is still a possibility to return. The big news at defensive tackle is the return of Alvin Johnson. As spring training wore on Johnson may have displaced Avery Williams as the starter at one tackle spot. The plan at tackle seems, at least for now, to start Taurean Brown and Alvin Johnson together.

End is a different story, Harris is solidly ensconced on one side but Harrison (started 5 games, playing in 11 overall), had a disappointing 2004 season after a freshman campaign in 2003 in which he started the last seven games of the year and was selected to the Conference USA All-Freshman Team and was an Honorable Mention All-Louisiana honoree. During his true freshman season Billy led all Tulane defensive linemen and all Conference USA defensive freshmen in tackles with 65. Harrison was Tulane's most productive defensive lineman, leading the Wave in tackles for loss with 7.5 and tieing for the team lead in sacks (3) and leading the team with 11 quarterback pressures. A sophomore slump in 2004 brought Harrison down to 16 tackles and one half tackle for a loss, in 11 games (started 5).

As a true freshman Antonio Harris played at the 2003 Harrison level, if not beyond, and was named third team All-Conference USA after recoording 35 tackles, 7 tackles for losses and 3 sacks. Harris was the only freshman defensive player named to any of the All-Conference USA squads.

Taurean Brown started 9 games (played in all 11) as a sophomore and totalled 26 tackles, 2.5 tackles for losses and 2 sacks. Brown also recorded an interception and three pass breakups. But Brown's stats also sufered in 2004 as compared to the preceeding season.

As a redshirt freshman in 2003 Brown played in all 12 games, making 42 tackles, 6.5 tackles for losses and 2 sacks. Brown added 6 quarterback hurries.

With the return of Alvin Johnson, Avery Williams status as a starter is in doubt, but Williams played a yeoman's rolefor the Green Wave defense in 2004 (in which he started all 11 games), totalling 30 tackles, 5 tackles for losses and 3-and-a-half sacks.

As a true freshman in 2003, Johnson played in all 12 games (started 2 games) and totalled 39 tackles, 4 tackles for losses and a sack, adding 6 pass breakups and 8 quarterback hurries.

Frank Morton played in all 12 games as a true freshman for the Green Wave in 2004, making 19 tackles and receiving credit for half-a-sack and a pass breakup.

In his injury-plagued career Michael Roberts played in 20 games, starting 7, in 2002 and 2003. Roberts career totals include 52 tackles, 6 tackles for losses, and 2 sacks.

Mike Purcell is one of those stories that you can't leave alone. The blocky kid from Dripping Springs, Texas, has overcome a series of knee surgeries and remains a contributor. In the season-and-a-half that he's been healthy, Purcell has played in 17 games (started 4), totalled 61 tackles, 12 tackles for losses, 2 quarterback hurries and one and-a-half sacks. He's nether the most talented nor the quickest but he gets after it and makes plays on bad knees.

Craig Morris benefitted the most as far as palying time goes from Billy Harrison's sophomore slump. In his career, Morris has played in 23 games (started 6, all in 2004), recorded 31 tackles, 5.5 tackles for losses and a sack. Add 4 pass breakups and a QB hurry to Morris' main stat categories. Craig Morris made 6 straight starts in 2004 befor yielding to Harrison for the final two games. That's called not being able to handle prosperity.

Tremell Jack has become a solid reserve. The Jeanerette product played in six games in 2003, making 6 tackles. Jack played in all 11 in 2004 and upped hi numbers to 15 tackles, 3 tackles for losses, 2 sacks, and 2 pass breakups.

Julian Shives-Sams and Reggie Scott both played briefly in the ealy part of the 2004 season and wound up redshirting, Shives-Sams saw action in the first three games before succumbing to injury, while Scott played only in the opener against Mississippi State. Shives-Sams totalled 3 tackles, received credit for 0.5 tackles for losses and added a sack. Scott recorded no statistics in his brief playing stint.

Shives-Sams is expected to challange for one of the starting end positions while Scott should be in a fight for playing time as a reserve.

Two walkon defensive ends, veteran Taylor Bertin and newbie William Fairburn, a 6-4 249 junior from Mandeville High School, help buoy the d'line. A fan favorite, Bertin saw some game time last season against Army and Navy.

What the d'line needs is for Harrison to play back to his form of 2003,for Taurean Brown to play consistently every snap, for Freeway Johnson and Antonio Harris to become the big time players they're expected to become; for Michael Roberts to be medically cleared to return to football; for Avery Wiliams, Frank Morton, Tremell Jack, Michael Purcell and Craig Morris to make steady contributions off the bench.

Barring injury, the Tulane d'line could be back at the 2002 level of play and that's a harbinger of hope for the 2005 Green Wave.

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