UL-Lafayette's Elijah McGuire lands on Doak Walker Award watch list _lowres

Advocate staff photo by HILARY SCHEINUK -- Louisiana-Lafayette running back Elijah McGuire

LAFAYETTE — The University of Louisiana at Lafayette football team is losing a couple of skilled offensive playmakers, but an added year of experience for the Cajuns’ returning players should more than make up for what their aren’t getting back.

That last line is especially true if Jamal Robinson is among the returners, but that’s currently a big if.

The key for the Cajuns in this department is development of their young players, because they have plenty of guys who have shown flashes of big play ability.

Oh, and the Cajuns happen to have a player who will be the reigning Sun Belt Player of the Year.

Who’s gone?

The Cajuns lose a trio of solid skill players in running back Alonzo Harris, wide receiver James Butler and tight end Larry Pettis.

Harris’ production will be the most difficult of all to replicate. It’s simply not easy to find a back who could consistently be counted on for 800 yards and 10 or more touchdowns.

In the Cajuns’ rush-heavy attack, the 240-pound Harris was the yin to Elijah McGuire’s yang, and Harris’ absence could diminish some of McGuire’s big play ability.

Butler was a safety blanket for quarterback Terrance Broadway down the stretch and finished with a career high in yardage (470) his senior season. Butler was reliable, but the Cajuns should be able to match his production.

The same thing goes for Pettis, at least in the passing game, where his 20 catches for 150 yards shouldn’t be hard to match.

But the challenge will come in replacing Pettis’ overall impact. Pettis was solid in just about every facet.

Who’s coming back?

McGuire is coming back, and that makes just about everything OK for the Cajuns.

While McGuire’s yards per carry should take a dip next year, he’ll likely see an increase in his work load to make up for Harris’ departure. There is no more timeshare in the Cajuns backfield.

But the most important players might be the ones that haven’t reached stardom yet. The Cajuns need to see big development out of one of their young receivers, especially for one of Jared Johnson, C.J. Bates or Devin Scott to become consistent enough to take Butler’s position on the outside.

The Cajuns can wait another year before they count on Gabe Fuselier — who played his best football during the stretch run of his true freshman year, which is encouraging. They can do that because Al Riles (34 catches, 354 yards) should step up as the top slot guy next year.

The tight end position should be in some capable if unexciting hands. Nick Byrne and Evan Tatford showed they could play as blockers at this level. Neither got much of a chance to show off as a pass catcher.

Robinson is the wild card. If he comes back, this group will be outstanding. If not, there could be growing pains.

Concern: Low-moderate

Getting an opportunity to get the ball to McGuire more can’t hurt, but the offense needs to find out which other players are going to step up to take some heat off McGuire. Consider this at moderate until word comes back on Jamal Robinson’s appeal.