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

Photo by BRAD KEMP/RaginCajuns.com -- 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 — For the first time since the 2013 New Orleans Bowl, Louisiana-Lafayette defensive back Simeon Thomas is eligible to play this weekend against New Mexico State.

But he’ll have to wait a little bit longer before he suits up again.

“We’re not planning on playing him,” coach Mark Hudspeth said Monday. “We’re planning on redshirting him so he’ll have two more years.”

Thomas sat out all of last season while dealing with academic eligibility issues and a suspension for a violation of team rules.

He was penciled in as a starter in the secondary during preseason camp, but he again was unable to participate because of what Hudspeth called “some eligibility concerns dating back to last season.”

The Cajuns recently learned he would be available for this week’s game against New Mexico State.

They had two options with Thomas: He could return to play the final three games of the regular season and a possible bowl game and then be eligible for one more season, or he could count this season as a redshirt year and have two more years of eligibility.

A few weeks ago, Hudspeth said he had talked with Thomas and let him know he thought it would be in Thomas’ best interests to pursue the long view rather than the immediate satisfaction of getting back on the field.

“To have him back for two years? Whew, you’re talking about feeling good about your secondary,” Hudspeth said.

The 6-foot-3 Thomas has been widely regarded as the Cajuns’ best cover corner, even drawing a comparison to former Thorpe Award winner Johnthan Banks from defensive coordinator Melvin Smith, who coached Banks at Mississippi State. That ability would’ve been particularly helpful this season since the team has played more man coverage in the secondary.

Without Thomas in the lineup, the Cajuns started out rough but have improved, even while being forced to shuffle their lineup multiple times because of injuries.

Considering the Cajuns’ current situation — they have to win two of their final three games to become bowl-eligible — was there any thought to bringing Thomas back into the fold this year? Not really, Hudspeth said.

“Here’s the thing: Where do you put him? Where do you play him?” he asked. “We might could play him at safety, but who do you put on the bench? Savion (Brown)? It’d be hard to take him off the field. Troy McCollum? It’d be hard to take him off the field.”

Hudspeth said he wasn’t saying that as a slight to Thomas’ ability, but the fact that he has missed so much time made the decision easier than it might have otherwise been.

“Here’s a guy who hasn’t played all year long who’s probably rusty as a barn nail, and you’ve got two guys that have been playing 70 snaps a game,” Hudspeth said. “I don’t know where he would fit right now. ...

“He will factor into our defense in a big way, but those other two kids have earned their stripes. Our secondary right now, on the corner positions, have really lived up to my expectations these last six weeks.”