4 things learned as the Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns football team turn its attention to Texas

Tim Buckley
Lafayette Daily Advertiser

The UL football team has closed its preseason camp and turned attention to its opener at Texas.

Here’s what we learned over the past week:

Billy Napier likes Michael Jefferson's 'unique traits'

The Ragin’ Cajuns have been trying to determine which receivers in a crowded room are true contenders for depth-chart spots beyond their top six.

One intriguing candidate who’s emerged: Michael Jefferson, a tough, physical transfer who had 49 catches at Alabama State in 2019 and 24 in five games last year.

“M.J.’s got unique traits, right? … The guy is 6-3½. He’s 195 pounds. He really can stretch the field vertically,” coach Billy Napier said. “I do think he needs to continue to develop, much like every player on our team.”

Jefferson and former Oklahoma triple-jumper Golden Eke are among those who could become the deep-ball threat UL largely lacked last season.

“We’ve got a lot of guys that can run right now,” Napier said, reeling off a long list that included those two, TCU transfer John Stephens Jr. and returnees Peter LeBlanc and Jalen Williams. “It’s going to be a battle to be on the bus.”

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UL Ragin' Cajuns linebacker depth

Coach Billy Napier, shown at the start of preseason camp on Aug. 6, likes the direction transfer receiver Michael Jefferson (8) is headed.

 UL has been building much-needed inside linebacker depth behind the rotation regulars, starter Lorenzo McCaskill and backup Kris Moncrief at the Mike and starter Ferrod Gardner and backup Jourdan Quibodeaux at the Will.

That’s critical, especially remembering how McCaskill was slowed in the latter half of last season by a shoulder injury prompting offseason surgery. Moreover, seventh-year senior Gardner is playing his final season after taking advantage of his extra year of COVID-19 eligibility.

“Getting Ferrod back was big,” Napier said. “Then certainly we’ve added young players in that room.”

Juco transfer Jasper Williams, a Will ’backer who played mostly on special teams last year, was injured early in camp but could eventually work into the rotation. And K.C. Ossai – a freshman from Conroe, Texas – has turned heads with his speed.

“Besides the rotation we had last year,” McCaskill said, “I think those are young guys coming in and they’re working hard, especially (Ossai).”

Moncrief and Quibodeaux both would have a season of eligibility remaining in 2022 if they chose to use it. So would McCaskill, but it’s tough to tell what he’ll do as he tries to balance graduating with pursuing a potential pro career.

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Tight end hands

Louisiana freshman tight end Neal Johnson celebrates after scoring a touchdown against Coastal Carolina pass rush Thursday night at Brooks Stadium in Conway.

Ever since former San Diego Charger Ladarius Green had 51 catches in his 2011 senior season, UL tight ends have done much more blocking than pass-catching.

Cajuns playing the position had just 25 combined receptions last season, including 13 by Neal Johnson, six by Johnny Lumpkin and two each for Hunter Bergeron and Pearse Migl.

Now that camp’s closed, though, this is apparent: It may not reach Green-like levels, but those numbers could rise in 2021.

“I feel like there has been more variety for us to get the ball in the pass game – like, new plays and stuff,” Bergeron said. “I see us being able to be a bigger part this year than the past … and still have the same role in the blocking game.”

Johnson arguably has the best hands among the bunch. 

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Kenneth Almendares in better shape

Kicker Kenneth Almendares as The Louisiana Ragin Cajuns take on Troy.  Saturday, Nov. 23, 2019.

Napier has been pleased with what he’s seen lately from kicker Kenneth Almendares, who won the job from Nate Snyder last season and kept it throughout camp.

“Kenny’s had a great offseason. … Got himself in better shape, better condition, and so far so good,” he said.

Snyder beat Georgia Southern with a 53-yard field goal last season, then lost the job because of short-range consistency issues. But with him still around to handle kickoffs and perhaps long field goals, and Almendares evidently still consistent, UL’s kicking game seems sound.