LAFAYETTE — Last fall was the Christian Ringo and Justin “Juice” Hamilton show, and it stopped frequently in opposing backfields near you.
But seasons change and successful shows move on to bigger stages.
Things will look different along the Louisiana-Lafayette defensive line this year, but the hope is that an increase in usable quantity will make up for a loss in quality.
“Not one guy has just been that dominant guy, but all six that we’re rotating are all pretty dang good,” coach Mark Hudspeth said. “We’ve got enough depth to where we can roll guys (in) and have guys that are going to play hard every snap.”
What remains to be seen, for the most part, is how that six-man rotation fares when the snaps become live, especially without Ringo and Hamilton to serve as disrupters and allow others to make plays.
At this point, that rotation will include senior Chris Prater, juniors Jacoby Briscoe, Remaine Douglas and Karmichael Dunbar, sophomore Taboris Lee and redshirt freshman Ladarrius Kidd.
All together, that group has combined to start 12 games, more than 50 fewer than Ringo and Hamilton combined for in their careers. None, to this point, have flashed the game-changing ability of the two departed stars.
“It’s not one guy where we can say, ‘That’s Ringo.’ He stood out,” Hudspeth said. “Justin Hamilton stood out. Right now, they’re doing it by committee.”
But anonymity has its perks.
Ringo and Hamilton, while dominant for stretches, were also forced to endure a heavy workload as the Cajuns lacked the depth behind them.
By using the by-committee approach — at least until one group establishes itself as the clear-cut top unit — the Cajuns are virtually guaranteed to have fresh legs in the game along the defensive line.
As far as the big plays go, they figure they’ll come as long as they do their job.
“Now that they’re gone, somebody else has to step up,” Douglas said. “There (are) plays to be made, and somebody’s going to make them.”
Douglas and Lee figure to feature prominently in the rotation, but both are still making up some ground after using the spring to recover from injuries.
Douglas missed the final six games of the season with a knee injury, and Lee required offseason shoulder surgery.
Lee, who played in all 13 games as a true freshman last season, said it took some time to regain the feel he’d developed by the end of last season.
“I hadn’t practiced since the bowl game in December,” Lee said. “The first time putting pads back on, I was rusty. I had to get my foot work and my hand placements right, just re-teaching myself the speed of my game and how it was when I left.
“But after camp, with all these practices, I’m pretty much back where I left off this December. I’ve still got a lot more improvement left of course, but I feel like my fundamentals are getting back.”
Lee said there’s a noticeable difference this year without Ringo and Hamilton around. The practice reps are spread more evenly, with each member getting a chance to work with the first and second-team defenses.
“Everybody’s getting a lot of reps,” Lee said. “I feel like we don’t have a starting lineup.”
It’s a team unit, Lee said, and it’ll have to be to replace the production Ringo and Hamilton took with them when they graduated.
“Everybody is doing their job and getting better because we know we have some big shoes to fill,” Lee said.