Editor’s note: This is the ninth story in a 10-part series looking at the storylines to watch as the Louisiana-Lafayette football team approaches its Wednesday report date for preseason practice.
LAFAYETTE — Four new defensive coaches will try to blend new and experienced parts to reshape a Louisiana-Lafayette defense that in 2014 was at times solid and at other times atrocious.
That’s about all we can say for sure about the defense for the Cajuns this season, which is being shrouded in as much secrecy as coach Mark Hudspeth can muster in advance of the season opener against Kentucky on Sept. 5.
The only thing Hudspeth has said about what sort of changes his new coaching staff may bring about is that his new defense will be “multiple” — a mostly meaningless term that means the defense will, indeed, be a 21st-century unit that can do a little of this and a little of that.
But will the Cajuns’ standard alignment be a 3-4 look or the 4-3 with a standup end they used with some success at the end of last season? Will the pressure come mostly from the defensive front, or are there some exotic blitz packages? Will the cornerbacks be up on the receivers or back where they can react?
Those things we won’t know for sure until Sept. 5 arrives — except, possibly, for the last question.
“We’re going to force the issue,” co-defensive coordinator Melvin Smith said to a gathering of high school coaches in late July. “We’re not going to be a defense that sits back. I know who I am. I want to build a brand that reflects who I am and who (Hudspeth) is.”
After the Cajuns gave up 23 plays of 40 or more yards last season, one of the worst totals among Football Bowl Subdivision schools, fans and players alike are probably ready to get a little more up close and personal. On paper, it looks as though the Cajuns might have the players to do just that.
After a strong spring, cornerback Simeon Thomas looks poised to lock down one starting position. Smith sounded pleased with what Thomas brought to the table during spring practice and, at 6-foot-3, Thomas brings impressive size.
Opposite Thomas, the Cajuns will be able to take their pick between returning players Jevante Watson and Troy McCollum and a highly touted group of newcomers, including Jeryl Brazil, Savion Brown, Christian Goodlett and Kamar Greenhouse.
Combine the expected improvement from the cornerbacks and sophomores Tracy Walker and Travis Crawford at safety, both of whom played well as freshmen, with Smith and fellow co-defensive coordinator Charlie Harbison’s expertise with defensive backs, and it’s easy to project the pass defense being tougher in 2015.
The defensive front remains a mystery, though. Last season, the Cajuns improved dramatically on defense after switching to a four-man front, so it’s reasonable to assume this year’s defense would at least incorporate that element.
After missing the first few games of the season while waiting to be cleared academically, then working his way back into playing shape, Darzil Washington blossomed as an edge rusher toward the end of the season. He should return to that role in 2015, though his job likely will be made harder without Christian Ringo and Justin Hamilton to push the pocket from the interior.
Dominique Tovell and Tremaine Lightfoot both returned after solid 2014 seasons, and they’ll likely be joined by Arkansas transfer Otha Peters to form a solid linebacker corps.
The pieces are there; how they’re used is still to be determined.