Tuesday morning, Tulane players saw something on the practice field they hadn't seen for nearly two months – Ryan Griffin behind center with the first unit, Orleans Darkwa lined up behind him.
And that was enough to have Green Wave coach Curtis Johnson upbeat as his team prepares to play host to SMU Saturday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
"Ryan Griffin took most of the snaps," Johnson said of Tuesday's practice. Asked if he would start against the Mustangs, Johnson replied, "I don't see why he shouldn't."
Griffin started the first two games but left in the first half of the Sept. 8 loss to Tulsa with a shoulder injury. In his absence, true freshman Devin Powell started against Ole Miss. When Powell injured a toe late in the Ole Miss game, fifth-year senior D.J. Ponder, barely a month removed from playing independent league baseball, started the last two games.
"Everything was being taught all over again," Johnson said of the time since Griffin was injured. "It was like night and day. Now we've finally got a guy (healthy) who knows the offense. It makes me feel more comfortable."
For Griffin, it was his longest absence from the field in his Tulane career. Since becoming the starter midway through his redshirt freshman season in 2009, he had only missed one game because of injury prior to the last month.
Darkwa sustained a high ankle sprain on Aug. 16, barely a week into preseason camp, and did not return until two Saturdays ago against Louisiana-Monroe. He had seven carries against the Warhawks and nine in Saturday's loss at Louisiana-Lafayette, but Johnson expects the Nashville native's workload to increase this week – perhaps 15 carries or more.
Injuries are one of the reasons why Tulane is the only team in the country that has not scored 20 points in a game yet in 2012. The Green Wave ranks last of 120 teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision in rushing offense, total offense and scoring offense.
While the injury news is better on the offensive side, starting linebacker Zach Davis may miss the SMU game after spraining an ankle against ULL. Davis leads the Green Wave with 37 tackles. If Davis can't go, Darryl Farley would move from weak side linebacker to start in the middle, with Dominique Robertson getting the start in Farley's old spot.
The 0-5 start has left many Tulane fans distraught, so much so that Tulane athletic director Rick Dickson sent an open letter to Tulane fans prior to the ULL game.
"If you don't want to be patient with me, that's fine," Johnson said. "But be patient with these kids."
Kickoff on Saturday is scheduled for just after noon.
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