Here's which Ragin' Cajuns best took advantage of UL's 2021 spring football

Tim Buckley
Lafayette Daily Advertiser

Thursday's spring game wrapped up 15 practices for the UL football team.

For some, including five new assistant coaches, the last two months were about getting accustomed to a different way of doing things. For some, it was about resting battered bodies.

And for many it was about getting noticed, making statements, and making favorable impressions before fall camp.

Here are some of the Cajuns who best took advantage of that opportunity:

Kris Moncrief, Jasper Williams grow

With usual starting Mike inside Lorenzo McCaskill recovering from shoulder surgery and usual starting inside ’backer Ferrod Gardner not hitting this spring, Kris Moncrief and Jasper Williams showed they’re ready for bigger roles.

“This spring has helped me tremendously,” Moncrief said after picking off Levi Lewis in the end zone, tackling running back Chris Smith for a loss and making four tackles Thursday.

“Kris Moncrief really emerged, really stepped up,” coach Billy Napier said afterward. “This spring he’s really taken off.”

One more year:Why UL nose tackle Tayland Humphrey decided to wait for NFL Draft

Defensive coordinator:How Cajuns assistant Patrick Toney grew wiser in 2020

Williams is a juco transfer who joined the Cajuns last summer. Unfamiliar with UL’s system, he played sparingly in eight games.

“I think Jasper Williams will have a chance to get some playing time,” new inside linebackers coach Galen Scott said.

“Both of those guys,” Napier added, “have gotten opportunities there to take reps with the first and second unit and really develop as players.”

Ragin' Cajuns linebacker Kris Moncrief picks off a pass during UL's spring game Thusdat at Cajun Field.

Offensive linemen impressive

Working mostly at left guard, and a bit at center, reserve offensive lineman Tyler Brown showed what he can do for the Cajuns, as did backup center Luke Junkunc.

New offensive line assistant Darnell Stapleton said Junkunc “did a great job this spring of doing the little things right.”

New offensive line coach Jeff Norris also said Carlos Rubio, who finished last season starting at left tackle, “really, really impressed me,” and that reserve Nathan Thomas, who’s worked at both tackle spots, “made tremendous strides.”

More:Why Cajuns offensive lineman Ken Marks is back for rare seventh season

Swap:Role of ULM transfer T.J. Fiailoa with rival Ragin' Cajuns still unclear for now

Kendall Wilkerson, Dalvin Hutchinson make cases

The Cajuns return starting defensive linemen Zi’Yon Hill, Tayland Humphrey and Andre Jones.

But Kendall Wilkerson, who played behind Jones last season, and Dalvin Hutchinson, one of Humphrey’s backups, both made cases for increased playing time, as did Mason Narcisse, Hill’s backup. Andre Landry, who also plays behind Jones, had a solid spring too.    

“(Wilkerson) has really been impressive,” defensive line coach Rory Segrest said.

“He had a little bit of a slow start the first couple days. I think he was ‘thinking’ some things. But now that he’s cut things loose, I really see a lot from him.

“Dalvin Hutchinson is another guy,” Segrest added. “He’s coming off an injury as well from last season with his knee, but the reps he has taken, he’s done a great job with his hands, playing with leverage.”

Segrest also said Narcisse, a freshman last season, “has a long way to go still, but he’s definitely making some progress.”

Orphey enters the fray

Freshman Emani Bailey, returnee T.J. Wishman (recovering from two wrist surgeries) and transfer Jacob Kibodi are vying to replace NFL Draft prospects Elijah Mitchell and Trey Ragas alongside top returnee Smith in UL’s three-man running backs rotation.

But another candidate, walk-on Michael Orphey Jr., emerged.

WATCH:What Elijah Mitchell's blazing 40-yard dash time means for his NFL draft stock

“Mike’s having a major spring. Mike’s running the ball tough,” Wisham said. “He’s showing his speed more. He’s more explosive.”

Orphey had 13 yards on four spring game carries.

Most impressive among the running backs Thursday, though, was Bailey, who made a convincing case for a spot in the rotation.

“There’s no question about that,” Napier said. “Emani has been a very steady, consistent player.”

Bailey had 46 yards, including a long of 11, on 13 rushes.

Transition:Playing QB for UL not as easy for Fields as throwing to Ja’Marr Chase

Next step:How the Cajuns can use 'the deep shot' to improve offense

Almendares shows well

Around the middle of last season Kenneth Almendares won the starting kicking job from Indiana graduate transfer Nate Snyder.

Almendares, who primarily handled kickoffs in 2019, had a solid spring that ended with him hitting a 51-yard goal as time expired to win it for his Vermilion team.

“Kenny is continually improving,” Napier said.

“(He) was a very raw, talented young man when he got here, but I think each year we’ve seen him refine his game. … So we like what we see out of Kenny. He continues to get better.”

But Snyder, who handled kickoffs all last season, hasn’t conceded the fight to handle field goals and PATs.

Almendares was 2-for-3 Thursday, also hitting from 28 yards but missing from 45. Snyder made a 30-yarder.

“Either of those guys can go in there and make the kicks,” new special teams coordinator Chris Couch said, “but right now Kenny is a little more consistent with the shorter field goals.

“But … if we need to kick a longer one Nate can go in there and bang it through there as well.”