LAFAYETTE — The Louisiana-Lafayette football team started its youth movement in the secondary early, but there will still be plenty of new faces next season.
The Ragin’ Cajuns will need to replace three players who played significant roles on their defense, two of which ended the season as starters.
They jump-started that process midway through the season when they started two freshmen at safety — a position where they had two seniors to start the season. But they’re losing a lot of big plays to graduation this year.
The storybook season for a secondary that was 75 percent seniors never really panned out the way coach Mark Hudspeth was envisioning.
The only one of the group to keep his starting spot was Corey Trim, who started each of the Cajuns’ 13 games and turned in team-leading totals in tackles (79) and interceptions (two).
Trim was hit or miss sometimes, though. He would make a big play on a batted ball, then get beaten for a big gain by biting on a double move. The Cajuns will miss his playmaking skills but might find it more palatable with someone who isn’t as aggressive on the perimeter.
Senior cornerback Sean Thomas was benched midseason in favor of freshman Travis Crawford after some blown coverages and a problem with missed tackles. To his credit, Thomas never complained about the benching and seemed to respond by playing better after his starting job was taken away. The coaches responded by keeping him in the game for long stretches.
The biggest mystery among the departing players is Trevence Patt. The preseason All-Sun Belt pick did not have a good season playing between cornerback and safety. He dealt with injury and dealt with constantly shuffling at his position.
You have to wonder whether he might have been able to return to his previous level of play if he were given a chance to get healthy or stick with one position. Patt provided many good plays for the Cajuns in his career, but they won’t miss the version who suited up this season.
Don’t forget: The Cajuns also won’t have defensive backs coach Tim Rebowe, who accepted the head coaching job at Nicholls State.
Who’s coming back?
It all starts with the safeties.
Crawford and Tracy Walker, both freshmen, saw significant action in the latter half of the season, and Hudspeth thinks he has a couple of good ones lined up for the future.
They both made young mistakes at times but also flashed their brilliance. Walker had the Cajuns’ only multiple interception game this season when he hauled in two against Texas State, and Crawford showed a consistent ability to bring down ball-carriers.
The Cajuns have a couple of options at cornerback, but they need some players to improve this offseason. Sophomore Dominick Jones was the starter opposite Trim to start the year but was burned often and relegated to the bench. Junior Antoinne Adkins was pushed out of his job in the nickel defense and didn’t play in five of the Cajuns’ final six games.
Junior Jevante Watson earned a starting cornerback job and drew praise from Hudspeth, then promptly lost it. Sophomore Troy McCollum played sparingly but produced when he was on the field.
Concern level: Low to moderate
The Cajuns have zero concern about their safeties, but their cornerbacks could use a little help before the season arrives.
It doesn’t matter whether that help comes in the form of recruiting or improvement for the current players, but something has to happen.