De Leon, Holland make impact at Green Wave practice

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 26, 2008

NEW ORLEANS – The start of the school year is just two days away and the season-opening contest at Alabama looms just two weeks down the road, but the atmosphere around the Tulane University football team was simply to continue getting better as the Green Wave wrapped up the second-to-last day of preseason practice with a 24-period session Monday afternoon at the Westfeldt Practice Facility.

 Monday’s practice was interrupted midway through by a couple of lightning strikes near Tulane’s uptown campus. Following a 30-minute break, the team went back to work with a vast array of drills with a large emphasis on special teams. In addition, there was a familiar face in a new place Monday afternoon as redshirt-sophomore offensive lineman Oscar Ponce de Leon was moved back to defensive tackle.

 Ponce de Leon played defensive tackle exclusively as a freshman in 2006 before being moved to the offensive side of the ball during spring practice in 2007. He redshirted the 2007 season and was battling for a spot up front throughout the spring and preseason drills, but head coach Bob Toledo and his staff felt Ponce de Leon would be better served suiting up in the middle of the defense.

 “We’ve got a group of linemen offensively,” Toledo said. “We’re looking for the top five guys, we’re looking for the sixth guy, the seventh guy and so on. We just didn’t feel he was in that top seven. But when you look at our defensive line, the tackle position is kind of a concern.

 “(Ponce de Leon is) the one guy who has played the position. He can take up space. He’s strong, he’s in better shape and he’s running better than he did as a freshman. So we just felt he was the logical guy to put over there.”

 While Ponce de Leon was reacclimated to collapsing the pocket and chasing the ball-carrier, sophomore defensive back Devin Holland was making his presence felt both on special teams and on defense. A 2007 Conference USA All-Freshman Team honoree, Holland was flying around the field in seven-on-sevens and full-team drills. While the team was going “thud” – making contact and wrapping up but not bringing ball-carriers to the ground – Holland made several plays in coverage and in blitz opportunities.

 His biggest hit of the day, however, came in special teams drills. Toledo had the team simulate kick-return alleys and had select members of the coverage unit practice getting off a pair of blocks and then wrapping up the return man. After a few of his teammates drew the ire of the coaching staff either for lack of effort of poor execution, Holland took matters into his own hands by shedding his initial blocker before hammering scout-team member Drew Villar, who was simulating a wedge block with a padded shield. Villar crumpled to the ground following Holland’s hit and the return man did not stand a chance.

 “That’s exactly what I’m looking for,” Toledo said of Holland’s special teams performance.

“There are some guys that didn’t do very well. I just told them in our meeting that I wasn’t really pleased with that drill because our effort wasn’t very good. We had two kickoffs run back for touchdowns last year and we lost to UAB by six points and would have won the game if that hadn’t happened. They have to understand the importance of special teams and the only way for them to understand it is for me to stay on top of them, some leadership to take charge, the coaches need to coach it hard and then to practice it hard.”

The offense was not without its share of highlight plays on Monday as senior wideout Michael Batiste made a nice adjustment on a Joe Kemp pass for a nifty 40-yard touchdown reception in seven-on-sevens and sophomore receiver Casey Robottom made a few people miss on a short pass to the flat that turned into a long-gainer in third-down drills. The catch of the day, however, came in team drills when sophomore Alan Mitchell made a one-handed catch of a Kemp offering down the left sideline despite tight coverage from Alex Wacha.

The Green Wave return to action on Tuesday, Aug. 26, when they hold the final practice of Camp Toledo 2008 beginning at 3:25 p.m. From there, the Tulane team will begin its usual practice routine as classes begin around campus on Wednesday. Tulane opens the 2008 season on Sept. 6, when it travels to Tuscaloosa, Ala., for a showdown with Alabama and the Green Wave open the home portion of their schedule on Saturday, Sept. 13, when Tulane plays host to Conference USA opponent East Carolina in the Louisiana Superdome.

Season tickets for the 2008 Tulane football season are now on sale through the Tulane Athletics Ticket Office. For more information on 2008 Tulane football tickets or tickets to any future Green Wave home athletic event, contact the Ticket Office at (504) 861-WAVE.