Five injured Cajuns out; key UL personnel recovering
NEW ORLEANS — Tight-lipped throughout most of the summer, new UL coach Billy Napier delivered a treasure trove of items — confirming some news reported earlier this offseason, and breaking some as well — during the Sun Belt Conference’s football Media Day on Monday at the Superdome.
Chief among them is the identity of several Ragin’ Cajuns expected to be out for most or all of the 2018 season, including kicker Stevie Artigue, tight end Chase Rogers and defensive end Joe Dillon.
All three are would-be starters.
Two reserve defensive linemen — Darryl Johnson with a career-ending foot injury, and Terrence Jones with a season-ending knee injury — also are out for the year.
More:Four from Cajuns coach Billy Napier on Sun Belt Media Day
DILLON'S SURGERY 'VERY AGGRESSIVE'
Napier said Dillon, whom he called “probably the best returning defensive player we had,” is “out for the season.”
“He had a very aggressive surgery," Napier said, adding that “the surgery worked.”
Dillon, a USA Today Freshman All-American, after making 7.0 sacks as a freshman All-American in 2016, had a team-high 4.5 sacks last year. But he was hampered during the season by a lingering hip injury, and was out for Napier’s first session of spring practices as coach of the Cajuns.
Napier, whose Cajuns report for preseason camp Aug. 2, revealed that Dillion had offseason surgery to address osteonecrosis.
Also known as avascular necrosis, the condition amounts to bone weakening — and eventual bone death — due to a lack of blood supply. It’s the same medical matter famed NFL and MLB athlete Bo Jackson dealt with in the early 1990s, ultimately ending his football career.
Napier, however, suggested Dillon will play again — he’ll take a medical redshirt and have two seasons remaining in 2019 — and said that “right now his hip bone is growing back.”
Related:Freshman All-American Dillon gets challenged
THE ROGERS SITUATION
Earlier this offseason, Napier left the door open for a possible return by Rogers, saying he would be “re-evaluated at the beginning of the fall.”
But now Napier says Rogers, as expected, indeed is “out for the year” due to a lingering foot injury that cost him the final four games of his true freshman season in 2017.
Rogers initially had surgery to repair a broken “fifth metatarsal” — the lone bone connected to the foot’s little toe.
But in offseason workouts, Napier said, “he rebroke it.”
Although the first surgery involved screw insertion, a second one subsequent to the re-break involved a bone graft.
“We did the best thing for this situation,” Napier said.
“We did a little different approach in terms of surgery. I think everything has gone well. But he’s got a redshirt year, so we’ll redshirt him and he’ll have three years to play.”
More:Cajuns coach Napier convinced Rogers to not leave UL
PLAN WITHOUT ARTIGUE
As for Artigue, who recently underwent reconstructive ACL surgery, Napier this week left ever-so-slightly ajar the possibility that he perhaps can play late this season.
But that chance seems quite slim for the Lafayette High product, a 2017 Lou Groza Award watch list member who was 10-for-14 on field goal attempts last season.
“He may have some outside hope,” Napier said.
This season was to have been Artigue’s fourth and final year as a Cajun.
Asked about the possibility Artigue will sit out all of 2018 and return in 2019, Napier said “that’s a bridge we’ll cross down the road.”
With Artigue out, senior walk-on Calvin Linden — 0-for-1 on field goals and 5-of-7 on PATS last season, when he appeared in four games and kicked off in three of them — currently is UL’s No. 1.
Napier said Linden “had a good spring” and “showed some promise.”
“I like the look in his eye. I think he can do it,” the Cajuns coach said. “He’s really responded well.”
But Napier also said two walk-ons will be added to the roster to compete with Linden for the starting job.
One is believed to be a high school product, and the other is known to be a former backup from a Power 5 program who’ll join UL for one year as a graduate transfer.
NCAA rules prohibit Napier from identifying either one until later in the offseason.
Related:Two key Cajuns' status uncertain for 2018 football season
JOHNSON DONE; JONES OUT
Napier said Johnson is done due to a fused foot bone and multiple bone spurs that proved problematic this spring and summer.
“He’s a guy who basically is done playing football — but he’s still on the team; he’s still getting his degree,” Napier said.
A product of Morgan City High who originally signed in 2014, Johnson played one game as a Cajun — against Arkansas State in 2016 — and was a member of UL’s scout team last year.
Jones, a walk-on who was UL’s scout team special teams MVP in 2015, is out with a ACL tear.
He played eight games in 2016, six as a reserve last year and was listed as a backup defensive end/outside linebacker coming out of spring camp this year.
Related:It's all about trust for a once-divided UL football team
RAGAS, MITCHELL, MALONE UPDATES
►Napier said Trey Ragas, who sat out UL’s spring game with a knee injury, has been working out at “full speed” this summer.
Ragas was UL’s starting running back and leading rusher with 813 yards and nine touchdowns as a redshirt freshman last season.
►Reserve running back Jordan Wright also is back to "full speed" after missing time in the spring with a back injury, Napier said.
Wright played in nine games last season.
►Napier said running back Elijah Mitchell has made “great progress” and is “back in team activities,” but is “not quite 100 percent cut loose” due to a Lisfranc foot fracture requiring surgical repair.
The Erath High product ran for 257 yards and four touchdowns in five games before getting hurt last year.
Napier said Mitchell will play this year, but it remains to be seen if he’ll be ready for UL’s Sept. 1 season-opener against Grambling.
►Napier said receiver Ryheem Malone, who sustained a knee injury early in spring practice, will be “full speed” at training camp but “he’ll be non-contact for a while, just to prevent extra weight on that knee.”
“But he’s made great progress… I’m pleased with where he’s at. His rehab went well,” Napier said.
Malone, a transfer from SMU, had 44 catches for a UL-high 676 yards and four TDs last season.
Related:UL lands sought-after local product in Erath offensive tackle Jax Harrington