Editor’s note: This is the sixth story in a 10-part series looking at the storylines to watch as the Louisiana-Lafayette football team approach its Aug. 5 report date for preseason practice.
LAFAYETTE — Last season, various Louisiana-Lafayette players took turns being the playmaker du jour.
There was the consistent excellence of Sun Belt Player of the Year Elijah McGuire, to be sure, and wide receiver Jamal Robinson was on his way to a prolific season before it was cut short by injuries.
But outside of those two, it depended on the game.
Slot receiver Al Riles played a vital role in the Ragin’ Cajuns’ squeaker over Georgia State, snagging a career-high eight passes for 80 yards.
Jared Johnson used his 6-foot-5 frame to his advantage against New Mexico State, soaring high to snare two fade-route touchdowns.
James Butler turned in back-to-back 90-plus-yard receiving games to start November — but only topped 60 one other time.
Will it be more of the same this season, or will someone step into a role as a consistent playmaker behind Robinson and McGuire?
Junior receiver Devin Scott would be a good player to start with. He has been somewhat of a one-trick pony in his first two seasons on campus, attempting to use his blazing speed to connect on home runs deep downfield. It has resulted in five career catches for 116 yards, three of which went longer than 20 yards.
While that downfield speed still will be Scott’s main weapon, he has appeared to refine his game this offseason while developing a solid working relationship with quarterback Brooks Haack.
With Robinson still recovering from injury during spring practice, Scott was often on the receiving end of Haack’s passes while the first-team offense went to work. The strong-armed Haack heaved several bombs in Scott’s direction, but he also connected with him on short and intermediate routes.
If Scott develops into a viable and more complete No. 2 receiver opposite Robinson, the Cajuns’ air game could take flight — especially considering what they have coming back in the slot position.
Riles and Gabe Fuselier were still learning on the job last season. Riles was making the switch back to receiver after spending the 2013 season as a defender; Fuselier was a true freshman adapting to the college game.
Both return this season with an added year of seasoning, and one or both could develop into a consistent weapon for whichever player wins the quarterback battle in preseason practice.
Could this be the year things click for Johnson as well? While his career average of 10.1 yards per catch indicates he probably won’t ever be a downfield threat, his immense size and reach has proved he’s a weapon near the goal line.
Don’t forget, the playmaker tag applies on the defensive side as well. Christian Ringo changed the complexion of a couple of games as a disrupter on the interior of the defensive line last season. Ringo is gone, but it appears linebacker Darzil Washington could take his place as one of the league’s premier pass rushers.
Washington has by all accounts had an outstanding spring and summer. He showed off his playmaking ability in the spring game by scooping a fumble and returning it 60 yards for a score, and he’s looking to build on a solid debut campaign when he racked up five sacks in the final eight games.
He spent the first few weeks of last season clearing an eligibility hurdle but, with a full offseason to work with the Cajuns’ new coaches, Washington should be a feared rusher off the edge.