When looking at Kevin Fouquier and Chris Hill standing side-by-side, it’s hard to come to grips with the fact that the position attached to both their names is “middle linebacker.”
Fouquier, called “Foo” by University of Louisiana at Lafayette coaches and teammates who don’t want to chance mispronouncing his surname, is a Clydesdale.
Listed at 6-foot-4, he’s a noticeable presence on the field.
Meanwhile, the 5-foot-11 Hill looks somewhat out of place lining up in the middle, like he’s a defensive back who has been assigned to fake an interior blitz every play.
But there’s more than meets the eye for both players. And as juxtaposed as they may seem together, they’ve seized their spots manning the interior of the Cajuns defense as the starting middle linebackers.
It’s the way their different skill sets work together that has given them the early lead on what has arguably been the Cajuns’ most heated camp battle.
Fouquier, for all his imposing size, is the brains of the outfit. He’s the son of a defensive coordinator and a former high school quarterback.
“The game comes pretty easily and naturally to (Fouquier),” UL-Lafayette coach Mark Hudspeth said. “He can get people lined up. He understands the schemes. He can take charge. He’s got that type of personality.”
Hill is the muscle. Defensive coordinator James Willis said Hill is “the strongest guy on the team pound-for-pound,” which works nicely with his wheels.
“Chris has just got that speed that we want on the field,” Hudspeth said. “He made a lot of plays last year from the outside position. We moved him inside, where he’s probably a little bit undersized. But he makes up for it by being very fast, very explosive, very strong.
“I think they’re a pretty good combination.”
Hill took advantage of his speed to make plays in space on the outside last year. But coaches realized they were actually limiting Hill’s impact on the rest of the field. By shifting Hill to the inside, the Cajuns improved their team speed on defense.
“The thing about having him outside is you cut off half the field for him,” Willis said. “You put him closer to the ball in the middle, he can go left to right and make plays.”
It’s been an adjustment for Hill, who admitted that he preferred playing on the outside where it’s not as congested. But Fouquier seemed to think his muscular physique was a match for the inside.
“If you look at Chris off the hoof, he’s a little meathead,” Fouquier said. “His ears have muscles. He handles his own in there using his quickness to get off blocks and run sideline-to-sideline.”
Outside of dealing with 300-pound offensive guards in practice, the transition from outside linebacker to inside linebacker has been an easy one for Hill. There are still times when he’s not sure of his assignment, but when that happens, he can always check with the guy next door.
“I picked up on the inside way faster than I did with the outside. But if it wasn’t for Foo, I probably wouldn’t even get lined up the right way half the time,” Hill said.
Fouquier’s intelligence is a weapon the coaches plan on using this season.
Willis, a former NFL linebacker, said the great linebackers from his playing days were usually guys who at some point played with the ball in their hands. It allows them to understand the game on a higher level, knowing where every player should be on the field. With that knowledge comes a trait that Willis hoped he would see from his sophomore middle linebacker.
“He’s stubborn in a way, and that’s a great quality to have at that position, because the guy who makes all the calls has to feel like he’s in control,” Willis said. “That’s what I like about him: He dictates, he understands and he commands.”
It hasn’t always been that way for Fouquier, whose head was spinning at this time last season as he tried to grasp Willis’ defensive playbook.
He knew he’d have to be able to recite that thing from memory if he ever planned to being in the starting lineup.
“Last camp that’s all you heard, was (coach Willis) yelling at me,” Fouquier said. “I didn’t know the defense, couldn’t get people lined up. This offseason, I really focused on getting into my playbook and getting ready to be that guy.”