Tulsa gets fall football practice underway with a morning session on Thursday. While coaches work newcomers into the mix, they expect to see continued progress from a strong group of returning players.
"I've been really pleased with everything I'm hearing from our guys," said Tulsa head coach Bill Blankenship in a recent interview with WNML. "They've got that look in their eye, and they've fought through the heat. We're ready to roll."
As the Golden Hurricane advanced through the 2011 season, their defense made big strides. Blankenship expects that to continue in 2012 under defensive coordinator Brent Guy.
"I think we're going to be better on defense as a whole," Blankenship described. "We lose our top tackler at middle linebacker, but we're going to have essentially four starters back in the back end on defense. We had one of our corners (John Flanders) that didn't play last year, but he'd been a two-year starter before. I feel real good about our depth there.
"Three of the four guys are back up front, so defensively, I really think we've got a chance to make a difference. Brent Guy has done a great job coordinating our staff. They started making some noise in Conference USA in the mid to late season, and I think we're going to have a much stronger defense this year."
On offense, Tulsa returns most of its production at the skill positions, including the two-headed rushing attack of running backs Trey Watts and Ja'Terian Douglas. Coach Blankenship expects big things from a deep group of backs and receivers.
"Offensively, I like the fact that we've got a much deeper set of skill players," he said. "We have our two running backs back. Both those guys went over 850 yards last year. We've got all of our receivers back, minus one who was our fourth or fifth statistically. So we've got a lot of talent."
The biggest question mark is at quarterback, with the Hurricane replacing G.J. Kinne, who just had a short stint with the New York Jets. All eyes were on Nebraska transfer Cody Green in the spring, and he responded by winning the starting QB spot.
"We've got to replace a three-year starter at quarterback, but I feel like we've got the right guy there," Blankenship described. "Cody had a fantastic spring. He sat out last year after transferring from Nebraska. He's a guy that played 17 games there. He started a few and came in in relief in a few.
"One of the things for me, the thing that separated him from Kalen Henderson in the spring was not just performance -- it was also how he handled himself. He handles himself like a guy that had been in games before. He's got poise. He's got a great football IQ, really understands defenses and understands where to attack. I think he's got a real good grasp of what we're doing on offense. I like what he brings to the table, and besides that, he's 6-3, 245."
The countdown to Tulsa's season opener at Iowa State is underway.