Saints assistant Curtis Johnson seeing former Tulane recruits up close trying to make it in NFL
METAIRIE — Curtis Johnson’s job is the Saints’ wide receivers coach. His side gig, at least early in preseason, is getting an up-close look at his former Tulane players trying to make it in the NFL.
Last Thursday, Johnson – who served as Tulane’s head coach from 2012-15 – had a front-row seat as his former Green Wave quarterback, Jacksonville rookie Tanner Lee, tried to rally the Jaguars to a late victory over his employer.
“It was fun to see his parents,” said Johnson, who begins his second season back with the Saints, where he first served as an assistant from 2006-11. “I really didn’t get a chance to talk to (Lee).”
Lee, a sixth-round pick in April’s NFL Draft, led the Jaguars to the New Orleans 35 in the final minute, but the Saints reserve defenders sacked the former Jesuit quarterback five times in the fourth quarter and forced a fumble that set up the go-ahead score.
“Tanner’s just unfortunate; it looks like he’s getting hit so much,” Johnson said. “He left Tulane, we got him hit. He went to Nebraska, they got him hit. Now, all of a sudden, he gets to Jacksonville with the backups.
“Tanner can really throw the ball. He has a good spiral, good placement. I think he’s going to be a good player for them.”
After facing Lee last week, the Saints will see another of Johnson’s former Tulane players this week – rookie free agent running back Sherman Badie. The John Curtis Christian graduate is trying to stick with the Arizona Cardinals, who visit the Mercedes-Benz Superdome Friday night.
“Sherman was always a good guy,” Johnson said of Badie, who played 12 snaps in the Cardinals’ preseason opener against the Los Angeles Chargers. “I haven’t heard from him, but I know he’s trying to get acclimated.”
The Saints could see another of Johnson’s former players in Week 1 – quarterback Ryan Griffin. The former New Orleans backup is now in Tampa Bay. With Jameis Winston suspended for the first three games, it’s expected that Ryan Fitzpatrick will be under center for the Bucs, but Griffin had a huge preseason opener, completing 20 of 26 passes in the second half, including a game-winning touchdown.
Johnson also has sent running backs Orleans Darkwa and Robert Kelley to the NFL.
Hearing from his former players is something Johnson appreciates.
“It’s very rewarding to have Lorenzo Doss call,” said Johnson of the former Green Wave cornerback, who signed in the offseason with the Carolina Panthers after two years in Denver. “My wife and I were on vacation. He called me to thank me.”
Of course, if Doss sticks in Carolina, Johnson will get a very up-close look, as his receivers will be trying to beat him in one-on-one matchups.
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Lenny has been involved in college athletics since the early 1980s, when he began working Tulane University sporting events while still attending Archbishop Rummel High School. He continued that relationship as a student at Loyola University, where he graduated in 1987. For the next 11 years, Vangilder worked in the sports information offices at Southwestern Louisiana (now UL-Lafayette) and Tulane;…