September 23, 2009

Wave roster finally filled out

Coach Bob Toledo discusses his team's mentality three days before a big game

Grant Higgison talks about his defensive line depth.

As the weeks wear on through a college football season, normally the top of the depth chart begins to thin.

However, as Tulane enters it's third game on Saturday afternoon, the roster is stronger than it's been all season.

On Wednesday, coach Bob Toledo said tight end Cody Sparks and defensive tackle Oscar Ponce de Leon will each play against McNeese State, finally overcoming injuries suffered during fall camp.

Sparks, who hurt his kneecap a month ago, practiced in team drills for the first time Wednesday and hauled in a 30 yard pass from quarterback Joe Kemp, showing no trepidation. The catch brought a rousing ovation from offensive teammates.

Toledo said Sparks won't play often but will be used situationally, which likely means to expect Sparks arrival to come in passing situations.

As for Ponce de Leon, the senior defensive tackle has finally worked through a longstanding hamstring issue. He won't start either, but will be in the six or even seven man rotation in the interior line of the defense.

"We have a plan to play him," defensive line coach Grant Higgison said. "We are going to try and get him and to be fair to him, not throw him in to Army as his first game with the option and getting cut blocks. We are going to try and get him in the game this week."

Ponce is also joined by senior defensive tackle Reggie Scott who comes off a two-game suspension and suddenly Tulane's front-four is armed with experience, size and depth.

"Both of them will help us," Toledo said. "I don't know how many plays they can go, particularly Oscar because he's been hurt, but we can get a dozen or so plays out of him and 30 or 40 plays out of Reggie."

While the focus may be on their return to the field, there's also two new names to climb to the top of the depth chart.

Justin Adams and Chris Asumnu are wearing the sky-blue threads during practice and starting on Saturday, replacing Emmanuel Aluko and Cedric Wilson. The move was made after grading the individual performances against Tulsa and BYU.

It's a distinction Adams doesn't take lightly.

"I've worked for three years and I've gotten some playing time, I just haven't started. So this means a lot to me," Adams said. "I just need to be more consistent and I'm getting better, this kind of shows it."

With Adams and Asumnu in the starting lineup expect the tackle rotation to also include: Ponce de Leon, Scott, Aluko, Wilson and Shane Delery.

The sheer number of bodies getting into the game shows improvement on its own to Higgison, who believes the increased competition is making the unit stronger.

"I told our guys, where we were three years ago and where we are now is a totally different scenario because of the recruiting," Higgison said. "Now there's competition and the bottom line is if you're not going to compete we can go down the line and plug someone else in and go from there.

"I think a lot of things have changed from what we used to do here."

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