Backfield in Motion

Fourth of July weekend has come and gone and football season is drawing near. For Tulane to improve upon last season's 4-8 record, some relatively young and inexperienced players will have to take on expanded roles that they have not yet had to fill on the collegiate level.

In the backfield, Coach Toledo stressed more efficient play at the quarterback position and the need to find a replacement for Matt Forte this spring.

Sophomore, Kevin Moore (6-5, 213) pulled away from the competition in the quarterback derby this spring, consistently making the correct reads and making strong accurate throws. Moore gained valuable playing experience last season rotating with starter Anthony Scelfo (5-10, 189, Jr.). As a redshirt freshman, Moore completed 30 of 54 pass attempts (55.6 percent) for 432 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. His pass efficiency rating of 134.98 was 10 points higher than Scelfo's.

Scelfo was expected to battle Moore for the starting job this fall, but the Major League Baseball draft may have eliminated Scelfo from the race. Scelfo was picked by the Tampa Bay Rays in the eighth round and it's doubtful if he will pass up on a chance to play professional baseball. Scelfo started 8 of the last 9 games last season and completed 111 of 205 pass attempts (54.1 percent) for 1,396 yards and 6 touchdowns with 7 interceptions. Scelfo was much more dangerous than Moore on the ground, rushing for 171 yards and one touchdown on 57 carries (3.0 yards per carry).

Moore's primary backup appears to be redshirt freshman Joe Kemp (6-4, 210). Kemp had the usual growing pains most young quarterbacks experience during spring practice. He missed the occasional read, but also showed a penchant for the big play, passing up fifth-year senior Scott Elliott (6-2, 214) on the depth chart. Kemp actually turned in his best performance of the spring in the spring game, completing 5 of 8 pass attempts for 58 yards and the only touchdown of the afternoon. More importantly, he did not commit any turnovers.

Rounding out the depth chart is Elliott and true freshmen Ryan Griffin (6-4, 211) of Chaminade College Prep in Westlake Village, California, and D.J. Ponder (6-2, 185) of Catholic HS in Baton Rouge. Elliott, the starter at the beginning of the 2007 campaign, seemed to regress last season, completing 42 of 88 pass attempts (47.7 percent) for 507 yards and two touchdowns with 5 interceptions. Griffin may have a chance to earn playing time, but it is difficult for any true freshman quarterback to fully digest a playbook in the fall. Griffin did pass for 5,495 yards and 53 touchdowns with only 14 interceptions during his final two years of high school. D.J. Ponder is an intriguing prospect with limited playing time at quarterback in high school. Ponder played wide receiver at Catholic and backed up Rice signee Ryan Lewis. However, Ponder has above-average athletic ability for the quarterback position and has a very strong arm, as illustrated by his 14-0 record as a pitcher for the Bears this spring. Ponder, who was named Class 5A all-state in baseball, seems destined for a redshirt season.

The good news, Coach Bob Toledo seems to have found a starting running back this spring. The bad news, it is unrealistic to expect Andre Anderson (6-0, 210, Jr.) to equal Matt Forte's 2007 performance this season. Forte leaves as Tulane's second all-time rusher. The second round pick of the Chicago Bears rushed for 2,127 yards his senior year, the 7th highest total in NCAA history.

Anderson's experience is very limited, seeing action in 15 career games without any starts. Anderson had an outstanding spring, carrying the load on the ground and showing improved hands in the passing game. Anderson is the clear-cut choice to replace Forte entering the fall. As a sophomore, Anderson appeared in 9 games, rushing for 91 yards and one touchdown on 14 carries (6.5 yards per carry). He also made his only career reception for 25 yards last season. In the spring game he was outstanding, rushing for 136 yards and one touchdown on 19 carries. In the second half, he had 86 yards rushing on only seven carries.

Anderson's primary backup will be redshirt freshman J.T. McDonald (5-9, 215). McDonald, who rushed for 2,569 yards and 25 touchdowns during his final two prep seasons, was a pleasant surprise this spring. McDonald's emergence was especially vital given the suspension of fellow redshirt freshman Andre Agers (5-9, 186) one week into spring practice. Agers was thought to have the edge for the number two spot behind Anderson entering the spring.

If Agers does not return, that would open the door for playing time for 2008 signees Nathan Austin (6-1, 206) and Albert Williams (5-11, 190). Austin would probably be the best bet to see action this fall since Williams had knee surgery in November, although Williams said he would be ready by August. Austin rushed for 1,478 yards and 13 touchdowns in his final two years at Barbe HS in Lake Charles. As a junior, Albert Williams rushed for 1,336 yards and 16 touchdowns on 152 carries (8.8 yards per carry) at Beaumont-West Brook. As a senior, he had 82 carries for 458 yards (5.6 yards per carry) and 2 touchdowns in 5 games prior to injuring his knee. Coach Toledo has also said sophomore fullback Jordan Stephany (6-0, 243) could also see time at tailback.

At fullback, Stephany has a slight edge over fellow sophomore Cody Blackwelder (6-2, 225). Last season, Stephany played in 9 games with one start as a true freshman. Stephany, a strong lead blocker, rushed for 11 yards on 5 carries. He also had 3 receptions for 29 yards, averaging 9.7 yards per reception. Blackwelder also had a very good spring. As a true freshman, Blackwelder had 8 yards on 2 carries in 9 games with two starts. He also had one reception for 6 yards. Tulane's third fullback Jeremy McKinney (6-0, 207, Jr.) was actually the starter at the beginning of 2007. McKinney's value is as a receiver out of the backfield where he had 7 receptions for 45 yards and one touchdown last season. Tulane also adds freshman Kasey Stelly (6-1, 231) from Lafayette-St. Thomas More, although it seems like Stelly will have an uphill battle to earn playing time this fall.

Sunday we'll take a look at wide receivers and tight ends.

Recruiting Update:

Coach Bob Toledo has received a flurry of commitments the past few days from a trio of solid prospects: wide receiver Wilson Van Hooser (5-11, 176) of Trinity Presbyterian School in Mongomery, Alabama; linebacker Cody Ledford (6-0, 215) of North Florida Christian in Tallahassee, Florida; and offensive lineman Zach Morgan (6-2, 290) of Sam Houston in Moss Bluff, Louisiana.

Van Hooser became Coach Toledo's first commitment of the recruiting class of 2009. Van Hooser had 43 receptions for 749 yards (17.4 yards per reception) and 10 touchdowns for the 8-4 Class 4A program in 2007. As a junior, Van Hooser was named Class 4A Honorable Mention All-State by the Montgomery Advertiser, 1st Team All-Metro, and Class 1A-4A Montgomery-Metro Wide Receiver of the Year. Van Hooser tested extremely well at the NATS combine in Prattville, Alabama, running a 4.48 in the 40, a 4.11 short shuttle, a 7.13 3-cone, had a 10-6 standing broad jump, and benched 9 reps with 185 pounds. He also reports that he had an outstanding 41.5" vertical jump at Troy State's camp. Van Hooser is academically qualified with a 3.2 grade point average.

As a junior, Ledford recorded 184 tackles, 25 tackles for loss, 7 sacks, 2 interceptions, and 2 forced fumbles to help North Florida Christina to a 12-2 record and a trip to the Class 1A state championship game. Ledford tested very well at the Scout combine in Jacksonville, running a 4.69 in the 40, a 4.32 short shuttle, a 7.25 3-cone, had a 34.0" vertical jump, and 9-3 standing broad jump. He reportedly benches 275 pounds, squats 450 pounds, and power cleans 300 pounds. In addition to Tulane, Ledford had offers from Vanderbilt, UAB, Northern Illinois, and Central Michigan. He is academically qualified with a 1060 on the SAT.

The Times-Picayune reported that Morgan committed to the Green Wave Tuesday. As a junior, Morgan was named Class 4A 2nd Team All-State by the Louisiana Football Coaches' Association, Class 4A Honorable Mention All-State by the Associated Press, and All-District 4-4A. He reportedly benches 320 pounds, squats 460 pounds, and has a 21" vertical jump. Morgan is academically qualified with a 4.0 grade point average and chose Tulane over Army, Northwestern State, and McNeese State.

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