Bookend tackles: Noah Fisher, Joey Claybrook leading Tulane surge
Tulane graduate transfer Noah Fisher did not start for a three-game stretch in the middle of the year.
On the other side of the offensive line, redshirt freshman right tackle Joey Claybrook barely played in the first seven games.
The way they have performed in the past two weeks, the bookend tackles may never leave the field in November.
With Corey Dauphine and Darius Bradwell running wild, the Green Wave (4-5, 3-2 American Athletic Conference) piled up 677 yards on the ground while reviving its season in victories at Tulsa and South Florida. Quarterback Justin McMillan played a pivotal role, too, adding 130 rushing yards and three touchdowns after taking over from Jonathan Banks.
Tulane’s surge also coincided with Fisher’s and Claybrook’s insertion at tackle. Both of them will start against East Carolina (2-6, 0-5) on Saturday as the Wave seeks its third win in a row.
Fisher, a second-team All-Sun Belt selection in 2017 at South Alabama, struggled to play through an ankle injury he sustained in preseason camp. He lost his starting job to Tyler Johnson before Tulane faced Ohio State and sat out the Cincinnati game entirely two weeks later to let his injury heal.
Finally healthy, he is playing through any defensive lineman or linebacker who gets in his way.
On a 21-yard touchdown run in the second quarter at South Florida, he pinned a linebacker as Dauphine raced right by him to the end zone.
On Bradwell’s 73-yard score in the third quarter, he pulled and shielded the only defensive lineman with a chance to make a play, leaving a gaping hole.
“He’s a big guy (Fisher is listed at 6-foot-5, 325 pounds),” coach Willie Fritz said. “Unfortunately he got hurt, but he’s as healthy as he’s been for us and does an excellent job with run blocking. He’s also smart. He knows how to get to the next level and sees things happening before they actually occur.”
Fisher exhibited all of those skills in the first week of preseason drills, looking like a huge summer pickup as Tulane searched for a more physical presence up front. After rolling his right ankle and missing practice time, he was not the same player when he returned.
“I’ve always had ankle problems, and it just kept getting worse and worse,” he said. “I needed to just stop and get healthy so I can play my role on the team.”
Tulane had an open date following the Cincinnati game, giving him almost three weeks of rest. He returned to the starting lineup against Tulsa and made an immediate impact, helping the Wave rush for 312 yards in a season-saving comeback win.
When Dauphine sprinted 51 yards to the Tulsa 1, Fisher knocked a defensive end out of the way with one emphatic shove.
“When he first got here, I remember having to go against him and I’m like, this is a little bit different right here,” sophomore outside linebacker Patrick Johnson said. “When he hurt his ankle, he wasn’t quite as fast as he was, but now that he’s healed up, he’s a dangerous player to go against. He’s physical.”
Claybrook, from Starkville, Mississippi, was anything but physical when he arrived last fall. He weighed 275 pounds on his 6-foot-6 frame and knew he needed a redshirt year to get bigger and stronger.
Up to 285 pounds this year, he backed up Keyshawn McLeod for the first seven games before getting his shot on Tulane’s fourth offensive series against Tulsa.
He has played every meaningful down since then, drawing a rave review from Fritz for his performance against the Golden Hurricane and backing it up versus South Florida.
“He’s assignment sound,” Fritz said. “We wanted to give him a chance. Sometimes it’s sitting right in front of your face and you don’t realize it.”
Claybrook excels as a pulling tackle, and he clearly has pulled his weight in the last two games, earning his first career start against South Florida after blocking two players on McMillan’s go-ahead 39-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter at Tulsa.
He credited offensive line coach/running game coordinator Alex Atkins for his rapid development.
“Coming out of high school I didn’t have much technique at all and he’s helped me so much with that,” Claybrook said. “I like the energy that he has every day. He’s really honest to get better every single day and he really helps us with each mistake.”
Atkins praised Claybrook’s preparation, saying he handled his assignments in limited opportunities earlier in the year, giving the coaches confidence in him.
Still, he surprised his teammates with his fast maturation.
“Joey’s a baby,” senior guard Dominique Briggs said. “We weren’t expecting Joey to do all that, but I know he’s worked hard. During the offseason me and Joey put in the extra work together after practice. He’s really taken the initiative to step up in that role.”
Tulane and Louisiana-Lafayette have agreed to a two-game home-and-home series down the road, the Cajuns announced Wednesday. The Wave will play at Cajun Stadium on Sept. 21, 2004, and the Cajuns will play at Yulman Stadium on Sept. 4. 2027. Tulane’s last trip to Lafayette was in 2012. The Wave beat the Cajuns in four overtimes at Yulman Stadium in 2016. … Fritz said defensive end Cameron Sample did not practice Wednesday but still has not been ruled out for Saturday’s game.