The Ragin’ Cajuns open camp under a revamped defensive staff _lowres

Photo by BRAD KEMP/ -- Louisisna-Lafayette defensive coordinator Melvin Smith watches as defensive back Simeon Thomas goes through drills during the first day of preseason camp Aug. 6.

LAFAYETTE — Now that UL-Lafayette has moved to a smaller focus, zeroing in on Kentucky and Saturday’s season opener, some things have become clearer for the Ragin’ Cajuns’ defense.

Cajuns coach Mark Hudspeth said the learning period the defense experienced under first-year coordinator Melvin Smith has now transitioned into a cleaner performance.

“It looks like we are minimizing mistakes, and that comes with being more comfortable with what we are doing,” Hudspeth said. “Now that we have got into the game plan part, it’s not the big picture of knowing everything. It’s just knowing the game plan. Sometimes you reduce a little bit and you are probably able to cut down on mistakes.”

Quarterbacks Brooks Haack and Jalen Nixon were on target in the later stages of practice Tuesday, as Nixon found tight end Nick Byrne on a long completion before Haack hooked up with Al Riles on a deep ball and then a dumpoff on a shorter route.

For freshmen receivers such as Keenan Barnes and Gary Haynes, Hudspeth said he’s looking for cleaner routes, but he knows there is a chance for a few crossed wires.

“They are going to play fast and they are going to make some mistakes,” Hudspeth said. “They are probably going to run a wrong route or two. Hopefully not. But they are going to play hard and have a lot of fun doing it.”

First day on the job

Freshman kicker Stevie Artigue, a Lafayette High alumnus, will start for the Cajuns against Kentucky. He will handle both kickoff and placekicking duties. Senior Carlos Alvarez had a hip flexor issue that limited his practice time early this week.

“Carlos will be fine to kick on Saturday ... he will travel and be available,” Hudspeth said. “But because of the lack of practice, Stevie will get the start at both.”

Freshman Dylan Scheurich has also been recovering from a hip flexor issue.

“It won’t take him long to get caught up,” Hudspeth said. “He’s just not back at 100 percent yet. But I see him in a couple of weeks being back into the picture of kicking at practice, and we will see how he does.”

One-dimensional view?

Smith stated at the outset of preseason camp: “I do not have the patience to allow someone (an opponent) to run the ball.”

Translation: Stop the run first, then worry about everything else.

That desire has not been lost upon the Cajuns linebacking corps.

“Our focus is to stop the run and make (Kentucky) one-dimensional,” linebacker Kevin Fouquier said. “Then we can execute our plays.”

That said, Kentucky quarterback Patrick Towles can be effective with his arm. He threw for 2,718 yards and 14 touchdowns last season.

A fresh start

Senior guard Mykhael Quave said he has a much more sturdy base and a better energy level coming out of the rigors of fall camp compared to previous seasons.

“It’s like night and day,” Quave said. “My legs have never felt this good and my body has never felt this good in a season opener. I feel more explosive and physically, I am feeling great.”