How Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns linebacker Kris Moncrief made the most of his spring
When COVID-19 cut the Ragin' Cajuns' 2020 spring football practice short, Kris Moncrief paid a particularly hefty price.
Lost practice opportunities made his transition from outside linebacker to inside linebacker tougher for the junior.
But when starting middle linebacker Lorenzo McCaskill spent this spring recovering from shoulder surgery, Moncrief was the beneficiary.
“For him,” coach Billy Napier said, “it’s been a huge offseason.”
That was evident during UL’s spring game.
Moncrief intercepted starting quarterback Levi Lewis in the end zone. He threw No. 1 running back Chris Smith for a loss. He had four total tackles, leaving a lingering sense of satisfaction.
“I grew tremendously from last year to this year – like, big-time,” said Moncrief, a cousin of NFL veteran Donte Moncrief, a former Ole Miss receiver now with the Houston Texans.
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Moncrief experienced 'growing pains'
With starting Will linebacker Ferrod Gardner also withheld from contact this spring, Moncrief and fellow reserves Jourdan Quibodeaux and Jasper Williams thrived.
“It’s a learning curve, of course, coming from outside to inside,” said Galen Scott, UL’s first-year inside linebackers coach. “But I thought (Moncrief) handled it really, really well. … He’s comfortable with seeing things.”
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That wasn’t always the case last season, when McCaskill and Gardner got most of the snaps.
“Kris is in a new position,” Napier said then, “and I think there are some growing pains that come with that.”
But Napier likes how Moncrief is developing.
The Mississippi high school product from Raleigh played 14 games as a freshman in 2018, including a six-tackle effort at Alabama.
Relying largely on instinct, he spent much of that time at inside linebacker.
Then Moncrief, a standout high school running back, moved outside in 2019. He trimmed down, improved his speed and finished with 40 tackles – nine for loss – while starting at Jack linebacker.
Before the 2020 season, however, Napier envisioned using Moncrief inside, where UL needed depth, and outside in third-down situations. He no longer was needed full-time on the outside, where Tyler Guidry emerged opposite Chauncey Manac.
“In our blueprint of defense … you have lots of versatility at linebacker,” Napier said.
“Not only do you have pass-rush players in the outside ’backer room, and the D-line room, but in a perfect world we would recruit and develop some players in the inside ’backer room that also could play on the edge.”
Extra reps 'a blessing'
As preseason camp progressed, Moncrief realized returning inside would require some heavy lifting.
He acknowledged that “at first I had a little bit of trouble transferring back.” Even after the season, Moncrief said his play wasn’t “up to par.”
But teammates pushed him, boosting his defensive play-calling confidence.
“He mostly knows it,” McCaskill said. “But I help him here and there whenever he needs it. … He’s getting it. It’s not a big struggle.”
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With McCaskill and Gardner playing well, and Quibodeaux a reliable reserve, Moncrief tried to maximize every opportunity.
He had 25 tackles, including three in an opening win at Iowa State, and forced a fumble against UL Monroe. After a productive spring the goal now is to pick up where he left off and start prep for UL’s Sept. 4 opener at Texas.
“It’s a blessing,” Moncrief said, “just being able to get those reps and just be out there every day, just having fun.
“Most people would be like, ‘That’s too many. But I loved it. I will continue to take as many reps as I can, because I know in the end it’s going to help me and my teammates.”