Napier's Cajuns open spring practice 'a little banged up'
Billy Napier will step onto the field for a practice for the first time as head coach of the Ragin’ Cajuns when the UL football team opens spring ball Tuesday.
When he does, Napier — hired in December — will have a shorthanded crew due to the impact of injuries and surgeries stemming from the 2017 season.
In fact, Napier said Monday that the format of UL’s April 21 Cox Sports Televised-spring game at Cajun Field will be dependent in part on how many healthy bodies he has available.
And that’s before spring ball even started.
“We’re shorthanded scholarship-wise,” said Napier, who inherited a group that falls far short of the maximum-allowed 85 even after National Signing Day in February.
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“But we’re also a little bit banged up, so I think the combination of those two things — and where we’re at headed into that last week — will decide the structure of the game.
“But certainly … we’ll make it a situation where there will be great competition,” he added, “and it will be a chance for our players to be able to showcase themselves in a game-type setting.”
Among those not ready for the start of spring drills is reserve running back Elijah Mitchell, who backed up Trey Ragas until getting injured last season.
But the sophomore-to-be from Erath High is fully expected to be ready for the start of the 2018 season, according to Napier.
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UL opens Sept. 1 against Grambling at home, then plays its first road game Sept. 15 at Mississippi State.
Mitchell — who had four touchdowns and averaged 51.4 yards per game over five games on his first 42 carries as a Cajun — underwent foot surgery last October, after getting hurt in a win at Idaho.
“Elijah will begin working back with the team,” Napier said. “He’ll be a little bit limited, which was kind of what we expected. But certainly he’s making progress.
“He’s right on schedule, and he’s doing well. Certainly we expect him to get to the point where he can do limited work this spring.”
At least UL’s quarterbacks are healthy, even if it remains quite uncertain which one will emerge as the No. 1.
Napier also reiterated Monday that his QBs will the start the spring with a clean slate, and that Jordan Davis, Andre Nunez, Levi Lewis and Kadon Harrison “will split up the reps, and at some point, as we see maybe a little separation here and there, we may tweak that.”
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Davis, Nunez and Lewis all made multiple starts last season under former Cajuns coach Mark Hudspeth, while Harrison was redshirted as a freshman.
Wildcat Dion Ray also will take reps at quarterback, Napier said Monday.
Napier said his Cajuns need to continue to develop their “identity” as a team.
“We’ve been doing a lot of the offseason-type conditioning activities,” he said Monday. “Some are better at those than the others.
“Now we get to find out who can take and apply those things to the football field.”
Napier said wants to use his 15 spring practices not only introduce “concepts” but also to continue to develop “the intangibles we want our team to play with.”
“Really, that’s the been the focus,” he said.
“I think we, with this group in particular, and the situation we’ve inherited, we want to focus on what we can do — not only as a coaching staff and an organization, but really each individual playing — maximizing each opportunity they’ve got going forward.”
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Beyond quarterback, Napier suggested he especially looks forward to position battles at tight end — where juco-transfer Johnny Lumpkin, returnees Matt Barnes and Carlos Robinson and redshirt freshman Andre Landry will vie for attention while Chase Rogers continues to rehab the surgically repaired foot he broke last season — and cornerback.
“We’ve got a secondary where it’s really a situation where we’re getting a pulse on what they can do,” Napier said. “Some guys maybe will dual train, which will be a positive for us.”
The Cajuns do, however, lose starting safety Tracy Walker, who took part in the recent NFL Draft Combine.
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