Turner has chance to be 'a real special player' for Cajuns
Billy Napier wasn’t long on the job before he identified one of the UL defense’s likely top leaders in the season to come.
Corey Turner, who will be join Robert Hunt as UL's two player representatives at the Sun Belt Conference Football Media Days on Monday in New Orleans, wasn’t even fully healthy at the time.
Yet, it was only shortly after the first day of spring practice back in March, in fact, that the first-year Ragin’ Cajuns head coach was heaping plenty of praise on the senior-to-be safety.
“Corey is one of the most-impressive young men in general that we have within the program,” Napier, whose Cajuns more recently have been taking part in summer workouts, said at the time.
“Certainly he’s got some ability. A former high school running back, he’s got a physical skill set.”
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But that's not all that had Napier pinning so much so soon on Turner, who finished third on the team last season in both total tackles with 68 and tackles for loss with 6.0.
Rather, it largely had to do with a need for someone to lead — and Turner’s evident prospective ability to do just that.
New UL defensive coordinator Ron Roberts has cited others like defensive lineman LaDarrius Kidd and linebacker Jacques Boudreax for having similar potential to take command, but Turner is the one Cajun coaches seem to think can handle the most.
“More than anything,” Napier said, “what we need Corey to do is continue to be a great example for his teammates — have that great attitude and be a guy who communicates well on the back end and does the little things the right way.”
With fellow safety and top-tackler Tracy Walker having been selected by the Detroit Lions in the third round of the recent NFL Draft, Turner is well aware of the void as UL prepares for a 2018 season that opens with a Sept. 1 home game against Grambling.
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“It’s different,” he said with reference to Walker’s exit, “because a guy on the side of you who always (is) communicating with you back and forth (is gone).
“But I’ve got a guy like Koa Haynes and Deuce Wallace — those guys — who (are going) to play that role for me, coming to be my next Tracy Walker.”
A HARD HITTER
Juco-transfer Haynes emerged from spring drills No. 1 on the depth chart, former walk-on Wallace No. 2 and true-freshman-last-season Bralen Trahan No. 3 at the safety position vacated by Walker.
But none of them have as much on-the-field experience at UL as Turner, who can be moved around the secondary in certain packages beyond the base defense the Cajuns will use in their first season under Roberts.
Redshirted in 2014 out of now-shuttered Miller-McCoy Academy charter school in New Orleans, where as a senior he indeed ran for 18 touchdowns and more than 1,000 yards in addition to taking in six interceptions, Turner played a lot and stood out on special teams in 2015 and ’16.
He bounced around a bit in UL’s injury-besieged secondary last season, playing some at nickelback and taking over at free safety after Travis Crawford got hurt early in the season.
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But the hard-hitting Turner developed more and more throughout the year, recording 10 tackles late in September against UL Monroe and a career-high 13 total tackles including seven solo stops and his first-ever sack in a mid-November visit at Ole Miss.
And now he seems primed to take the next step.
“I think he can be a real special player in what we’re doing,” said Roberts, who left his post as head coach at FCS Southland Conference-member Southeastern Louisiana to become Napier’s defensive coordinator after first-pick Karl Scott quickly left to become Alabama’s defensive backs coach.
“There are places we can find him to really exploit his talents, and really put him out there for display,” Roberts added after just UL’s second day of spring practice.
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Yet, it wasn’t anything Turner did on the field as spring work opened that made such a favorable first impression on Napier and Roberts.
Rather, it’s evidently a combination of what they saw on film and what he showed in the offseason before spring work even got underway that really opened the eyes of new Cajun coaches.
“I think he’s got a chance to be a great player for us,” Roberts said, “and so I look forward to him — not just ability-wise, but from a leadership standpoint, the way he practices, the way he does things.
“He’s an example some of other guys need to follow. We’re trying to identify those guys … who are the guys that we need everybody to look like that, practice like that, act like that and be that … and he’s obviously one of ’em.
“He’s gonna be a pretty integral part,” Roberts added, “of what we do, and turning this thing, and winning some ballgames and winning a (Sun Belt Conference) championship.”
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It’s a challenge that Turner — who can’t be happy with three straight losing seasons under the fired Mark Hudspeth since 2015, including 5-7 last year — seemingly has welcomed with open arms.
He was saying all the right things in the spring, when the foundation was being laid for what Napier and the Cajuns want to do in the fall to come.
“I think we just need to continue doing what we’re doing,” Turner said then, “and going by what Coach Napier and the defensive staff (is) coaching us to do.
“We keep doing that moving forward, I think we’ll be better.
“Defensively, all the guys coming together — it’s like we know that chip is on our shoulder from last season,” he added. “We push each other every day to get better, and we know what we have to do get better and we will continue to work toward that.”
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