Mark Hudspeth had high acclaim for several members of his Louisiana-Lafayette football team after Wednesday’s opening scrimmage of preseason drills. And it wasn’t the group upon which he figured to heap praise.
Instead of the veterans and prominent returnees on the Ragin’ Cajuns squad, the ones he expected to do well in familiar scrimmage surroundings, it was a group of youngsters and first-time performers that caught his eye in a film review of the 110-play closed workout.
“We saw what we expected to see from the guys that have made plays before,” Hudspeth said Thursday, “but the thing we noticed is a lot of our younger kids made a lot of plays, some guys that we weren’t expecting to.”
True freshman receivers Keenan Barnes of Madison, Mississippi, and Gary Haynes of Manvel, Texas, and quarterback Dion Ray all had success in an offense that, from many accounts, made it to the end zone on a regular basis in the 2-1/2 hour session.
“Keenan had two big catches for touchdowns. ... He’s a guy that we think can be a go-to guy in the future, a big guy with strong hands that can run,” Hudspeth said of the 6-foot-3, 200-pounder. “It was exciting to see him. I thought Gary Haynes had a phenomenal evening, he made a bunch of big plays. He’s going to play this year, and Keenan’s going to play this year.”
Hudspeth, whose team opens Sept. 5 at Kentucky, also praised true freshman running back Jordan Wright of Pearl, Mississippi, and opened the door for a possible appearance as a “big” back.
“He started out a little slow, first college scrimmage, but he got better as the night went along,” Hudspeth said of the 5-11, 207-pounder. “He had a strong run late in the game. He’s that physical back that we’re lacking. He can be that type of back for us.”
Ray, a graduate of Helen Cox in New Orleans, enrolled in January and made an impact with the backup units, Hudspeth said.
“He really had an exciting night,” Hudspeth said. “He ran the ball effectively and made some big plays. He’s a 10.4 (-second) 100-meter guy that can fly, and that was pretty evident last night.
“I’m not saying that he’s moving into contention, he just showed us that he can be a future candidate for sure at the position.”
The quarterback slot is already crowded enough, with juniors Brooks Haack and Jalen Nixon and redshirt freshman Jordan Davis all continuing to see regular time with the No. 1 offense. That will likely change after the Cajuns’ second preseason scrimmage Tuesday, and maybe even earlier.
“We may be getting close to narrowing it down to two,” Hudspeth said. “When you go back and look, all three brought something to the table. The ones that didn’t execute as well, they had a dropped ball and that stopped his drive after he threw a good pass.
“Hopefully, after this next scrimmage, we’ll have to get it down to two, we may have it down to two before then. Only time will tell. We need a little more work and see who’s going to fit what we want to do.”
Each of the three had at least one touchdown pass in the closed session, despite defensive pressure that was successful against an injury-riddled offensive front.
“We have some guys that can rush the passer,” Hudspeth said. “Our defense did a really nice job of getting pressure. We have to do a better job of protection. We had to piece-meal the offensive line a little bit because of injuries, twos going with ones and ones going with twos; it wasn’t a cohesive unit all night long. We’ve got some guys up front that are going to be outstanding. ... I really feel good about our starting five, (but) we’ve got to develop some depth.”
The Cajuns had their first day off from practice Thursday since the opening of preseason camp last Wednesday, and will return to action with their second two-a-day session Friday before evening workouts Saturday and Sunday.