LAFAYETTE — Last season was a rough one for the Louisiana-Lafayette offensive line, but it may have set up the group for a much better showing this season.
In a news conference wrapping up spring practice Tuesday, the offensive line was the first position group coach Mark Hudspeth brought up.
“I think our offensive line will have a chance to be one of the best we’ve had in a while, maybe not just this year but in the next few years to come,” Hudspeth said.
Heading into this season, the projected first-team offensive line has four players with starting experience in right tackle Grant Horst, right guard Adrian Goodacre, center Eddie Gordon and left tackle D’Aquin Withrow.
The Cajuns are also high on redshirt freshman Robert Hunt, a massive prospect who developed nicely while playing left guard this spring. Everybody but Gordon has at least two years of eligibility remaining.
That group was forged in the fire of last season, when the Cajuns’ somewhat miraculous injury luck at the offensive line position finally ran out.
From 2011 to 2014, every Cajuns opening-day starting offensive line remained unchanged until the end of the season. But last year, the Cajuns were forced to use seven different starting offensive line combinations thanks to injuries to Mykhael Quave, Horst and Withrow.
The unit’s play suffered as it failed to build continuity. But the injuries allowed players like Withrow and Goodacre to get experience they might not otherwise had received.
But the most impressive player of the bunch might be the one who hasn’t played yet.
“(Hunt is) a kid who could become a four-year starter,” Hudspeth said. “Right now he’s 6-foot-6, 330 (pounds) and moves extremely well.”
Hudspeth was originally looking at Hunt as a tackle prospect, and Hudspeth said Tuesday that might still wind up being his natural position, but the redshirt freshman has flourished at guard this spring.
His athleticism has stood out to Hudspeth, who said Hunt is as athletic as Quave, another four-year starter, only bigger. As a junior in high school, Hunt averaged 18.9 points and 11 rebounds per game on his basketball team.
“He’s so athletic, but he’s big enough and strong enough at the point of attack,” Hudspeth said. “As we got going and tried him at guard, he really improved. He was our most improved offensive lineman.
“He’s a kid that big, that strong that can move.”
Hunt was part of a 2015 signing class that featured five offensive linemen, all of whom were straight out of high school and many of whom now fill the second-team offensive line.
“Ken Marks, (Kevin) Dotson, we’ve got a lot of young kids that are really big, athletic,” Hudspeth said. “We’ve got more depth on that offensive line than we’ve had — quality depth — since we’ve been here. Just some young guys that have got to develop a little bit.”
Hudspeth expects his full squad to be healthy enough to participate in summer workouts when they begin June 1.
That includes 6-5 wide receiver Jared Johnson, who missed all of last season with a knee injury and hasn’t gotten back to full speed yet.
“He’ll need that summer of working with the quarterbacks to be ready to go,” Hudspeth said. “He ended up being a really good red-zone threat for us two years ago, so hopefully we can get him back and get him rolling.”
This spring couldn’t provide anything close to a full evaluation of what the Cajuns will look like in 2016, because their entire signing class has yet to arrive.
Included in that group are five junior college defenders who are expected to contribute immediately in some fashion. When asked which of the players that aren’t yet on his roster might have the biggest impact, Hudspeth went with a pass rusher.
“Jarvis Jeffries, the defensive end from Mississippi Delta,” Hudspeth said. “He’s a guy that can give us some immediate pass rush. He’s tall, long, can run. I see him coming in and helping us early, as well as probably the rest of the defensive linemen.
“Any time you’re signing a junior college player, you’re signing those guys to help you right away. You’re not bringing in those guys to develop those guys like freshmen. We’re hoping all those guys are going to have impacts.”