Napier after scrimmage: Lewis has 'firmed up' hold on No. 1 QB job
UL coach Billy Napier liked how likely starting quarterback Levi Lewis looked in the Ragin’ Cajuns’ first scrimmage of the spring Thursday, when the battle to be Lewis’ backup also saw a couple contenders take a big step forward.
The Cajuns held a closed 136-play scrimmage.
“I’m pleased with the progress of our football team,” Napier said afterward. “We’ve still got some holes to plug; we’ve still got water leaking in a few places. But we’re a better football team.”
The No. 1 QB spot does not appear to be one of those leaky places.
“I was really impressed with Levi throughout,” Napier said of Lewis, the backup to senior starter Andre Nunez last season.
“I think he’s getting more and more comfortable in the system. He’s processing really quickly. And I think Levi is the type of quarterback where you need to adapt as a coach. You’ve got to evolve and play to his strengths, and we did that, for the most part, (Thursday).”
Lewis’ passing — accuracy, and decision-making — was quite improved Thursday compared to last year, according to Napier.
“There’s no question that he’s ready to lead,” Napier said, “and there’s no doubt that he’s the leader in the clubhouse, and has really firmed up that spot so far eight (practices) in.”
Napier suggested California juco-transfer signee Jai’ave Magalei, a Washington high school product, and Texas high school signee Clifton McDowell both stood out among the No. 2 candidates.
“Jai’ave has been really impressive to me, for a guy who just got here a month ago,” he said of Magalei, who is no-contact as he remains about two-and-a-half months out from being fully recovered from major knee surgery. “The ball really jumps out of his hand … (and) he processes well.
“Clifton McDowell is another kid who … did some really good things when we took the coaches off the field (and) put him out there. Moved the team, made some throws.”
Napier said the Cajuns were good on third down and the red zone, but that UL’s No. 1 defense also looked good.
Depth at defensive line, receiver and cornerback all remain areas of need.
Napier also said kicker Stevie Artigue hit a 50-yard field goal during a two-minute period, and there were no new injuries Thursday.
The Cajuns have six more practices before their spring game, which is scheduled for April 13 at Cajun Field. They’ll scrimmage once more before the spring game.
The Cajuns return their top two kickoff men from last season, running back Raymond Calais Jr., who handled the most on kickoffs, and receiver Ja’Marcus Bradley, who fielded kickoffs and punts.
But with two of the only three Cajuns who fielded punts last season having finished their senior seasons — receivers Ryheem Malone, their top returner, and Earnest Patterson were the other two — the search has been on this spring for new punt returners.
And they’re looking at other potential kickoff returners beyond Calais and Bradley, too.
Among the candidates, according to special teams coordinator Matt Powledge: running backs Chris Smith and Elijah Mitchell, cornerback Eric Garro and receiver Jamal Bell.
Powledge said a few incoming freshman could audition for the jobs as well, including defensive back Amir McDaniel and receiver Brandon Legendre.
“We definitely have the athletes on this football team (who) with the ball in their hands … can do some special things,” Powledge said, “so we’ll make sure we get it in the right guys’ hands.”
The Cajuns worked on punt returns Thursday, according to Napier, and the battle for a No. 1 there is likely to continue right up until the start of the season.
Slot receiver Kalem Reddix tweeted Wednesday that his recruitment “is open” and that he will be “finishing” his sophomore season of “JUCO football.”
He’s now back at East Mississippi Community College, according to Napier on Thursday.
The Cajuns added Reddix as a preferred walk-on in December. He was off the team in January, then welcomed back prior to the start of spring practice. But on Thursday, Napier said, "Reddix, you know, basically has been removed from our roster, you know ..."
On Thursday, Reddix told The Daily Advertiser via direct Twitter message, "I wasn’t removed !! ... I decided to leave UL on my own 3 times." Reddix declined to explain why.
Announced as part of UL’s signing class on National Signing Day in February, but actually a preferred walk-on, West Monroe High outside linebacker Andrew Gleason no longer plans to be a Cajun.
He instead has accepted a scholarship offer from Louisiana Tech, Napier said Thursday.
Gleason is the recruit who once said his offer from UL was a “dream offer.”