LAFAYETTE — It’s the end of an era on the Louisiana-Lafayette defensive front.
Somehow, the Cajuns will have to figure out how to replace two of the cornerstones of their program, as well as a couple of highly productive linebackers on the second level of the defense.
This might be the biggest challenge facing the Cajuns next season, because when their team was going right, it usually coincided with outstanding play from the defensive front seven.
Christian Ringo, Justin Hamilton, Jake Molbert, Boris Anyama, and Trae Johnson have all played their final games for the Cajuns. Included in that number are reserves Marvin Martin, Christian Sager and Marcus Jackson.
The losses of Ringo and Hamilton will hurt the worst. The Cajuns could always count on consistent effort from their two defensive anchors.
Ringo enjoyed a generational type of senior season, where he set a school record for single-season sacks (11.5) and also roped a career high 20.5 tackles for loss.
Hamilton wasn’t as prolific, but he wasn’t that type of player. He held his gap like he was supposed to and was a beast at the point of attack.
On the back end, Molbert, Anyama and Johnson were all big contributors on what turned out to be a heavily rotated linebackers corps.
Molbert and Anyama traded places on the field regularly in the final half of the season working as a rusher off the edge. Both turned in a solid finish, combining to record 11 tackles for loss in the Cajuns’ final seven games.
After injuries forced him into the lineup early, Johnson played well in the first few games, leading the Cajuns in tackles for much of the early portion of the season.
That’s five players who will be gone who played a significant amount of football on the defensive front seven. Do the math.
Who’s coming back?
The cupboard isn’t completely bare, but they’re going to find out quickly whether some young guys can play. It was a similar situation four years ago when Ringo and Hamilton were thrown to the wolves right away.
On the defensive line, the Cajuns have some pieces. Taboris Lee, a rising sophomore, reminds a couple coaches on the staff of a young Ringo.
Lee was effective in the defensive line rotation this year, which is saying something because the defensive line is one of the hardest positions to contribute right away.
The Cajuns should also be able to move this year’s pleasant surprise, Jacoby Briscoe, inside where he belongs. Briscoe was used a bit out of position as an end, but he showed flashes of great ability.
The question mark is rising senior Marquis White. He’s got great size and was pegged as a starter in the preseason, but he didn’t see the field much this year.
Remaine Douglas missed the final six games. Rising senior Chris Prater has been a career backup but showed some flashes this year. Ken Edwards redshirted this year, but he has optimal size, and a year of development could really help.
The second level is a little bit clearer. The Cajuns could conceivably have four starters return next season, with one of them being all-conference player Dominique Tovell.
Middle linebacker should be manned by some combination of T.J. Posey, Tre’maine Lightfoot and Arkansas transfer Otha Peters. Posey has the ability but looked lost at times as a true freshman. He’ll be a good one with time. Peters has already proven himself.
The Cajuns should also benefit from the return of Darzil Washington and T.J. Posey on the outside. Washington showed bursts of elite pass-rushing ability, while Posey served as a hybrid between a safety and a linebacker.
Concern: Moderate to high
The Cajuns should be fine at linebacker, but their defense as a whole could suffer from a possible drop in defensive line play.