Ragin' Cajuns spring football: Five things to know
Five things to know about the UL football team as the Ragin’ Cajuns take part in spring practice, which got underway Tuesday and closes with their April 13 spring game at Cajun Field …
1. STING STILL THERE
As the Cajuns opened spring drills, they still were feeling the sting of their December losses to Tulane in the New Orleans Bowl and to Appalachian State in the Sun Belt Conference championship game.
“I think we have big chip on our shoulders to come in and to prove to this coaching staff and to ourselves that we’re capable of winning and putting up basketball numbers when our offense is on,” running back Raymond Calais Jr. said. “And our defense — we’ve just got to keep on building that chemistry and playing together.”
“There have been times we had a real good game plan and there have been times we didn’t. You know, teams had us,” quarterback Levi Lewis added. “But it all comes down to just executing and knowing what we’re supposed to do.”
UL finished 7-7 last season.
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2. D-LINE NEEDS DEPTH DEVELOPMENT
Youth will continue to play a big part on UL’s defensive line as it continues to try to build some depth there this spring, and that’s especially with the case with Z’Yon Hill (shoulder) and Bennie Higgins (wrist) both coming off surgeries.
“We need the second group, the second-tier players, in that position group, really, to make progress,” Napier said. “They’re gonna get a chance to take a lot of reps.”
That means the new few weeks are especially important for the likes of Andre Landry, Timaje Porter and Masry Mapieu — each of whom played as freshmen last season — and newcomer Shomari Hayes, who is coming off shoulder surgery.
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3. DILLON IS BACK
After missing all of last season following major hip surgery, outside linebacker/standup defensive end Joe Dillon is healthy and taking part in spring drills.
Dillon, a fourth-year junior, was a USA Today Freshman All-American when he had 12.5 tackles for loss including 7.0 sacks as a redshirt freshman in 2016.
His production dropped to 4.5 sacks over 11 games in 2017, when he finished the year hurt.
“He’s been full speed ahead in the offseason program,” Napier said.
“He’s going through the typical growing pains of being out of it. But he’s knocked the rust off, and you can see just in one day that he was a very productive player in the past and I think he can be a very productive player in the future.”
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4. SECONDARY CONCERNS
Napier also expects plenty of competition in his secondary “even though we have some guys coming back.”
“I think there are some young players who have ability and guys that will make progress,” he said. “Then some of those guys need to take the next step, whether that Eric Garror (or) Michael Jacquet.”
Garror and Jacquet were two of UL’s three primary corners last season and figure to be the same this season.
“(Cornerback) Kamar Greenhouse had a strong finish last year and has had a strong offseason so far,” Napier said, “and there are other young players out there.”
Other names to watch: safety Asjlin “A.J.” Washington, who played in four games and was redshirted last year; safeties Bralen Trahan, Percy Butler, Blair Brooks and Cameron Solomon; and SchDarren Archie, who is back after spending time at a junior college.
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5. QUARTERBACKS COMPETING
When the Cajuns opened spring drills Tuesday, each of the top seven quarterbacks on the roster — Lewis, last season’s backup; Quentin Gibson, who did not play while he was UL’s No. 3 last year; high school signee Clifford McDowell; juco-transfers Jaiave Magalei and Beau Kalbacher; and reserve returnees Jake Arceneaux and Wesley Blazek — took reps.
But Napier said that probably won’t last forever.
Lewis opened the spring as UL’s No. 1, but Napier also said “it’s going to be a competition.”
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“Levi is the leader in the clubhouse,” he said.
“Certainly he has the most experience, played a significant role on our team last year, was very, very effective. … If you go back and look, when he played we scored. That’s what we want the quarterback to do.
“But it’s a long way between now and the first game (Aug. 31 vs. Mississippi State in New Orleans),” he added. “We’re gonna let these guys compete. With the way we do practice, we get a chance to see a lot of throws and a lot of decisions. So we’ll continue to let those takes reps (and) adjust our plan each and every practice, according to how they perform.”
Magalei, incidentally, is non-contact as he recovers from major knee surgery.
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