Cajuns linebacker Boudreaux ready for the next step in 'last go-round'

Tim Buckley
Lafayette Daily Advertiser
UL linebacker Jacques Bourdreaux practices with the Cajuns at their training camp last week. Last season, Boudreaux finished with 93 total tackles, 41 of which were solo stops, but he said he is hoping for even more this year.

Before the 2018 season started, Ragin’ Cajuns linebacker Jacques Boudreaux knew there were questions.

Lots of questions.

UL had just made a coaching change.

It had a new head coach, former Arizona State and Clemson offensive coordinator Billy Napier. It had a new defensive coordinator, ex-Southeastern Louisiana head coach Ron Roberts. And it had a new way of doing things.

“A lot of people … were having questions about us,” Boudreaux said back in the spring.

“‘What are we gonna do? What are we gonna look like on defense?’ ’Cause, you know, the year before last, we weren’t that great on defense, we had a lot of question marks. We lost a lot of guys.

“But with this new staff,” Boudreaux added, “I think a lot of guys bought in, and myself, I bought in as well.”

Soon, there were more answers than queries.

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UL wound up going 7-7, winning the Sun Belt Conference’s West Division and making it to the Cure Bowl in Orlando, where it lost to Tulane.

The Cajun defense was better, and Boudreaux — UL’s Mike inside linebacker, and its top tackler in 2018 — was smack-dab in the middle of the resurrection.

“The first thing I appreciate about Jacques is his consistency,” Napier said during spring practice. “I mean, there’s no question about his urgency, his intensity.

“Very intentional about his work each and every day. He’s got discipline. He’s a great communicator. And he’s productive. He makes tons of tackles. Has a knack for finding the ball.

“I think Jacques had a good offseason,” Napier added. “He’s bigger. He’s gained some mass. I think he’s … settled in there at Mike.”

For that, Boudreaux gives much credit to Roberts, also UL’s inside linebackers coach.

“I think Coach Roberts has helped … not only me, but the defense as a whole and the people that come with the defense,” said Boudreaux, a product of Holy Cross High in New Orleans.

Part of what Boudreaux has learned from Roberts had more to do with how he goes about his business than the X's and O's of it.

“You know, a leader is a guy that can help take other people where they think they can’t go themselves,” he said. “That is something Coach Roberts has stressed to me and stressed to the whole defense, and that is something he’s repeatedly told.

UL's Jacques Boudreaux (59) kneels on the field during halftime as the Ragin' Cajuns play their annual Spring football game in April. Boudreaux took a big leap last year after appearing in all 12 games as a sophomore in 2017.

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“That’s really the thing that sticks to my mind when he talks about leadership.”

But understanding how things are done on the field, and the intricacies of Roberts’ defensive scheme, certainly help, too.

For that, Boudreaux spent much more time last year watching tape than he previously had.

“Playing alongside guys like Ferrod (Garnder), Justin Middleton, Lorenzo (McCaskill),” he said, “I think it just made my job a whole lot easier, to be able to flow and just be able to feel the game, just to go out there and play.

“But, obviously, really, it starts with that new coaching staff really got us in a mental mindset of really studying film.”

What’s showing is always mapped out, and it’s typically something different than the previous session.

First down, second down.

Red zone, gold zone.

“With intense film study, it allows me to play at a faster rate,” Boudreaux said. “And I thank them for … teaching me how to do that.”

So much study adds layers to Boudreaux’s game that simply weren’t there when he was fresh out of high school, and prompts what is now a focus on refinement.

"It’s really just the little things,” he said.

“Little things like using my hands better on offensive linemen. Staying back, just keeping my depth so I can rock out and go back over the top of plays …

“It’s really not big, big things,” Boudreaux added. “It’s just little things that really can improve my game to make me that much better, or make the linebacker room that much better.”

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'Always room for improvement'

Proof of the payoff is in the numbers.

Boudreaux finished with 93 total tackles, 41 of them solo stops.

He went into the season hoping for 100, though, so that left him yearning for even more this year.

“If anything,” Boudreaux said, “there’s always room for improvement.

“The second I think that I’m too good at what I’m doing is the second I regress as a player, and obviously as a player you never want to do that.

“So I think I can always go do things better,” he added, “and obviously that’s what this year’s for.”

This year.

UL linebacker Jacques Bourdreaux practices with the Cajuns at their training camp last week. Last season, Boudreaux finished with 93 total tackles, 41 of which were solo stops, but he said he is hoping for even more this year.

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It’s his fourth, and last, after playing in 10 of UL’s final 11 games, mostly on special teams, as a true freshman in 2016.

After appearing in all 12 games as a sophomore in 2017, and starting seven of them, finishing with 58 total tackles, Boudreaux really did take a big leap forward last year.

In UL’s Sun Belt West-clinching victory at UL Monroe in the final game of the regular season — a win that punched the Cajuns’ ticket the SBC championship game, where they lost at Appalachian State — Boudreaux showed strong with an 11-tackle outing.

Now he’s ready for the next step, and as Napier sees it, the quarterback of the front seven on UL’s defense — the one barking signals, as Boudreaux does — is poised for just that.

“I think a big thing in Year 2 (is) not only is the staff at all levels doing their job better,” he said, “but the players have a verbiage and a language that they speak.

“Now they’ve become fluent. Now they know not only their concept, but what the offense is doing. They’re able to play faster, anticipate.”

There’s less confusion, and more confidence.

“For us,” Boudreaux said earlier this month, thinking back to the seasons throughout his Cajun career, “the talent was never a problem.

“We always have talent. It was just whether or not we jelled together, and we were a good, cohesive unit as a team. … This coaching staff has obviously preached that toward us, and I think that’s something we’ll develop more.”

The result?

“As a whole defense,” Boudreaux said, “I think we’re really coming along good and we’re gonna be something special to see this year.”

For that to happen, though, the Cajuns are banking a lot on Boudreaux.

Middleton was a senior last season, and both Gardner and McCaskill have been working at the Will inside linebacker spot.

Depth behind Boudreaux is a bit inexperienced, with Kinder High-product Jordan Cordova, a true freshman last season, bouncing between the Mike and the Will, and reserve inside ’backer Jourdan Quibodeaux, who came to UL as a walk-on from Acadiana High, having played mostly on special teams as a redshirt freshman in 2018.

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Boudreaux, though, welcomes whatever is thrown at him with open arms, even if it’s way more snaps than ideal.

About that, there’s no question at all.

“I hope to be on the field a lot, obviously,” he said. “This my last run. It’s my last go-round.

“I want to do anything I can to help this team be successful, and at the end of the day if that’s what it takes … then I’ll do what I have to do.”

Based on what he’s seen since camp opened, Napier seems confident Boudreaux can handle the load.

“Very impressed with Jacques,” he said last week.

“Jacques always has been very impressive, makes tons of tackles. But I think he’s taken another step forward, just in terms of football IQ. I think his communication, his understanding of where he fits in gap control, his understanding of where he fits in from a protection standpoint (is improved).

"Jacques has a no-nonsense, business-like approach that, as coaches, I think we all respect,” Napier added. “I think he’s in position to have one heck of a year.”