Five critical issues to follow during Cajun football camp
For UL football coach Mark Hudspeth, the search for answers begins when preseason camp opens Sunday.
Some, like starting and backup quarterback, are much more known than others. But there are plenty of big, critical question marks.
“Offensively, at the running back position, we lost Elijah McGuire. Who’s gonna be the guy?” Hudspeth said while in New Orleans for the Sun Belt Conference’s annual Media Day last Monday.
“We lost two starting inside linebackers in Otha Peters and Tre’maine Lightfoot. Who’s gonna be the guy(s) there?
“So we’ve got to answer some questions,” Hudspeth added, “but we’ve got five weeks to work that out.”
With that in mind, here are five key things to keep an eye on between now and when the Ragin’ Cajuns face Southeastern Louisiana on Sept. 2 at Cajun Field:
1. THE RUNNING BACKS
Darius Hoggins and Jordan Wright both played minor reserve roles last season behind New York Jets draft choice McGuire.
So did return man Raymond Calais Jr., who didn’t finish his true-freshman season because of a shoulder injury.
Trey Ragas, coming off a 2016 foot, didn’t play as a true freshman.
Then there’s true freshman Elijah Mitchell, who may play as a true freshman if he outshines some of the rest during camp.
For now, however, Hudspeth simply isn’t sure which of the running backs will get the most 2017 touches, or if the workload will be shared evenly.
“Probably by-committee,” Hudspeth said, “but I think it will work itself out during camp — who brings the most to the table.
“So I think it’s going to be who just really starts to show they may be a step ahead, or can pick up the system — they can not only run, but can they pass protect? There’s a lot of things we’ve got to let shake out during five weeks of camp.”
2. BACKUP QB SITUATION
The Cajuns have a quarterback plan, but will a healthy camp for all allow it to play out?
Fourth-year junior Jordan Davis is penciled in as a first-year starter.
But what about behind him?
Hudspeth already has newcomer Andre Nunez, a Californian from Iowa Western Community College, tapped as his No. 2.
“Oh, he (Nunez) is the guy, the backup,” Hudspeth said. “And I’d love to find him a role, because he’s really a talented player.”
Run-first Dion Ray will be the No. 3. He’ll again be used in Wildcat situations, and as a punt-team shield.
3. AT CENTER
Cole Prudhomme is a third-year sophomore from Eunice High who appeared in one 2016 game. Kordell Brewster is a juco-transfer from California’s Chaffey College.
One of them seems bound to be UL’s starting center this season. Camp will tell which one.
“We really are high on both of them,” Hudspeth said.
“Cole Prudhomme is almost to the point where if he’s not the center he might be the guard. He has really been impressive, so we’re anxious to see if that translates into pads.”
UL returns both of its 2016 starting guards, Kevin Dotson and Robert Hunt, but Hudspeth suggested there could be some competition in camp.
4. ON THE CORNERS
Hudspeth wants at least a solid three-man rotation for his two corner spots.
But usual starter Christian Goodlett was a senior last season, and for academic reasons Simeon Thomas — a frequent 2016 starter — is suspended for the season’s first two games.
So UL moved both Damar’ren Mitchell and Levarious Varnado — its starter and backup, respectively, at outside linebacker/nickelback last year — back to corner. It also signed juco-transfer DJ Miller, who played in five games for Tennessee in 2015.
“We’re hoping he’s gonna be really good,” Hudspeth said of Miller.
It’s possible that Mitchell, Varnado and Miller will open in the three-man rotation. Troy McCollum, who had a few starts last year, and Kamar Greenhouse, who played on special teams in 2016, also could seem time if they show well in camp.
But what about Thomas? That question will linger beyond camp.
“Anything we get out of him is a bonus,” Hudspeth said.
5. THE INSIDE LINEBACKERS
Lightfoot and Peters were UL’s top two tacklers last season; identifying who can pick up their lost production might be the Cajuns’ most-important task in August.
The top returnee, and leading contender to start at the Mike, is senior T.J. Posey.
But there are several other candidates for the two vacant positions.
“He’s the lead guy, because … he’s played a lot,” Hudspeth said of Posey. “He’s a leader. He’s a guy I trust. So he would be of the guys that’s got an upper hand at this point.”
Alonzo Brown and Jacques Boudreaux have limited experience, and Tanner Holmes was redshirted as a 2016 freshman.
“We like them all,” Hudspeth said, “but they’re just young.”
So a couple juco-transfers — Ferrod Gardner, who redshirted as a preferred walk-on at Missouri in 2015, and Brayden Bailey — could play key roles.
“(Gardner has) a chance to come in and be a special player for us. … We think both of them have a chance to compete for starting jobs,” Hudspeth said.
So many possibilities. So little certainty.
“It’s just like the running back situation. … We’ve got, like, seven linebackers,” Hudspeth said, “and five weeks to figure it out.”