Cajuns' Michael Jacquet III growing into roles as defensive back, team leader

Tim Buckley
Lafayette Daily Advertiser
Michael Jacquet III has put a lot of work into his new position on defense, and it showed Saturday, as he got significant playing time against Mississippi State.

After a season-opening loss to Mississippi State on Saturday, Michael Jacquet III faced reporters.

As he spoke about the Ragin’ Cajun defense, he sounded a lot like the team leader UL was hoping the fifth-year senior would become this year — confident, candid and to-the-point.

“In my opinion it’s a completely different defense,” Jacquet said after the 38-28 loss at the Superdome in New Orleans. “We have a different mindset. A different focus. Everybody knows their role.

“Everybody knows what to expect from Coach Roberts (UL’s second-year defensive coordinator), as well as he knows what to expect from us.

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“Everything we did (Saturday), that’s something we that we could have been doing,” Jacquet added. “But we weren’t technique-sound last year.”

Now, Jacquet suggests, the Cajuns are.

The ability to break things down like that shows another step in the development of Jacquet, a key piece for a UL secondary that makes its Cajun Field season debut Saturday night against Liberty.

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He was a quarterback at Beaumont Central High in Texas. He spent his first three seasons, including one with a redshirt, as a receiver at UL. And now he is in his second year as a Cajun cornerback.

Small changes lead to big improvement

Coming out of last season, the Cajuns had high hopes that Jacquet would show this season the NFL-caliber form UL coaches believe he has in him.

“I think Mike is one of the guys that has an opportunity to make the biggest jump, in my opinion,” Cajuns head coach Billpy Napier said in the spring.

“Last year was very much a learning experience. You know, he was kind out there learning on the fly.”

And there was a lot to learn.

“I didn’t feel like I was actually a corner until Week 9, Week 10 into the season,” Jacquet said after preseason camp opened in August. “I felt like I just playing off of athleticism, and being a football player, the first couple weeks.

“Now … I just continue to work on the small things, because if you work to get the small things it will end up being one big product.”

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Consistency — something Napier has suggested Jacquet lacked last season — is the hopeful and necessary byproduct.

Jacquet feels like he knows how to achieve that.

“I’m not trying to focus on multiple things at one time. … Just work(ing) on little things to be able to bring it all together,” he said.

Jacquet took the first step in that regard while spending spring drills working with ex-UL defensive back LaMar Morgan, a former Vanderbilt graduate assistant who is in his first season as the Cajuns’ cornerbacks coach after having spent 2018 coaching safeties at Houston, 2016 and ’17 coaching defensive backs at UL Monroe and 2014 and ’15 coaching DBs at Western Carolina.

“One thing that stands out for me is LaMar has done an exceptional job with him,” Napier said.

“I think he’s already improved from a technical standpoint. But Mike is a big-picture guy. Quarterback background, offensive background as a receiver. That (cornerback) was a new role to him.

“So as he becomes more comfortable with the techniques and fundamentals, seeing things from a defensive perspective, I think his play-making ability will improve,” Napier added. “He has size, he has length, he has speed, he has ball skills, he has instincts.”

Now he just has to bring it all out each time out.

Morgan thinks Jacquet is quite capable, especially since he’s so new to the position.

“He has an advantage on guys. You get kids that play the position for so long, and they get bad habits,” Morgan said. “He doesn’t have as many bad habits. … He has an open book a little bit.”

It’s all about developing the defensive potential in the ex-QB and ex-receiver.

“That’s something he told me he wanted to work on,” Morgan said.

There’s something else too.

It starts with being more of a leader.

“Mike just has to continue to (make) sure that everybody does things the right way around here,” Morgan said.

“We’ll lean a lot on Mike this year,” Napier added. “We need him to do things the right way — be a great example, be a quality leader on our team.”

Why Napier likes putting offensive players on defense

For Napier and UL’s defensive coaches, moving Jacquet from receiver to cornerback seemed like the natural thing shortly after he and the new staff arrived at UL to replace the fired Mark Hudspeth following the 2017 season.

During his time from 2012-16 as receivers coach at Alabama, he saw others make the move.

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“We would flip guys on a pretty consistent basis, whether that’s secondary to receiver or receiver to secondary,” Napier said.

“My experience, the better defensive backs we had an Alabama all were out of an offensive background in high school — whether that was quarterback, running back, receiver, two-way players.

“And sometimes maybe the guys that struggled were just defensive players,” Napier added. “And I think that put a little bit of a limit on how good they can be.”

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For Jacquet, however, the only limitation now seems to be the time he has to spend in college learning how to properly play the position.

“He looks like one of the (players) I had at the last school I was at,” Morgan said.

That DB: ex-Houston cornerback Isaiah Johnson, who was drafted by Oakland and now is on the Raiders’ IR list.

Johnson also had limited experience at corner.

“They’re very similar guys,” Morgan said.

“Everybody wants a long corner that can run, and that’s smart. He has advantages, that he played on the other side of the ball.”

For Jacquet, who is comfortable in zone coverage but did have to learn press technique, the move seemed natural.

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That’s the case even though he never played on defense on high school, and even though didn’t make the move to corner until midway through spring drills in 2018.

“Actually, (the transition) was earlier than I thought,” he said. “I thought there would be way more technique to it.

“There’s obviously a lot of technique to corner, but once you’re a football player you’re a football player. An athlete is always an athlete.

“It’s just taking the time in the offseason,” he added, “to actually put the work in to do what you need to do to become a player at that position.”

Then there’s the physical part.

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“Receivers, they’re pretty boys. They really don’t want to get their face dirty,” Jacquet said. “Then I previously played quarterback, so I really didn’t know anything about … physical contact.

“So moving over to the defensive side of the ball, I didn’t really know what to expect. I was really banged up after a couple games (last season), because it was taking a physical toll on me. But throughout the season my body adjusted pretty well to it.”

'If you ain’t thinking NFL, then what are you thinking about?'

As Morgan sees it, developing his leadership skills is lagniappe of sorts for Jacquet in his final season at UL.

The main course is turning him into the best corner he can be.

“There’s a lot of things he told me he wants to better at,” Morgan said. “But you can’t coach 6-(foot)-2. You can’t coach the length he has.”

So now it’s all about converting the potential into reality for Jacquet, whose pro aspirations are no secret.

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“If you ain’t thinking NFL,” he said, “then what are you thinking about? If you’re not striving to be the best, then what is your purpose of playing?”

With that in mind, Jacquet has one final season to prove his point.

He got off to a good start against the Bulldogs, making five tackles including a sack and stripping Mississippi State quarterback Tommy Stevens for a fumble teammate Chauncey Manac recovered.

UL linebackers Chauncey Manac (17) and Ferrod Gardner (7) dive for the football after Michael Jacquet stripped it from Mississippi State quarterback Tommy Stevens during Saturday's game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans.

Jacquet did all that despite not starting.

He had been dealing with a turf toe issue late in preseason camp, so fellow senior Kamar Greenhouse got the start instead opposite of sophomore Eric Garror.

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Asjlin Washington and Daijuane Dorsey got some reps at corner too.

But Jacquet played extensively, and afterward he spoke like someone who really does want to help lead UL’s defense to bigger and better things in 2019 than it was able to accomplish during a 7-7 season in 2018 that ended with a Cure Bowl loss to Tulane.

“We’re a force to be reckoned with,” Jacquet said.

“We made a lot of mistakes out there. We’re going to clean up the minus-things that we messed up on,” he added, “and we’re going to put it all together.”