LAFAYETTE — Like a discriminating shopper, first-year University of Louisiana at Lafayette football coach Mark Hudspeth is still closely examining the merchandise available at quarterback.
Hudspeth said he likes what he’s seen in his quarterbacks since the start of training camp. However, Hudspeth is still uncertain about declaring a starter for the Sept. 3 season opener at Oklahoma State.
“It’s still wide open,” Hudspeth said following Saturday’s morning practice, the first in pads since fall drills started Thursday.
Senior Chris Masson, who has started much of the past two seasons, and junior Blaine Gautier are getting all of the snaps with the first unit, while also alternating with the second team, Hudspeth said.
Also in the mix is senior Brad McGuire, an athlete who can play quarterback, H-back and on special teams. Hudspeth said he finds McGuire’s versatility intriguing.
“Both (Masson and Gautier) threw the ball well (on Saturday),” Hudspeth said. “Blaine is obviously a player who can move the sticks with his legs. He had a nice quarterback draw, but Chris is as sound as can be. We are also going to have a little package for (McGuire) too.”
Gautier, a former Luther High School star, passed for 550 yards and ran for 280 after starting three games when Masson was hurt last year.
“It’s back and forth when it comes to working with the first unit. Chris will start off and I’ll do second team,” Gautier said after Saturday’s practice. “Then we switch out and I’ll do a little first team and he will be with the second.
“Right now I think we’re just seeing who (Hudspeth) wants to go with. It’s everybody and everyone, no names are being called as the first-string quarterback as of now, but (the coaches) are keeping it honest with us.”
Masson has thrown for 4,320 yards and 22 touchdowns at ULL, but said he’s not upset by Hudspeth’s plan to prolong the quarterback battle.
“I wouldn’t have it any other way. I think competition brings out the best,” Masson said. “The best quarterback is the one who wins and the guy who’s right behind him is just as good. I think it’s really a good situation with the quarterback position right now.”
Both players also agree the speed of ULL’s offense is a reflection of the high-energy approach former Mississippi state assistant Hudspeth has brought to the program in the first nine months.
“It’s definitely more up-tempo stuff. We are doing things real fast with a lot of speed, seeing a lot of people going in and out and we’re going quite a bit under center,” Gautier said.
Masson said the Cajuns are becoming accustomed to the faster pace.
“The coaches will be yelling in my call and the offensive line is there yelling for me to slow down so they can make their calls,” Masson said. “We’re still signaling (plays) from the sideline, but the terminology is more simplified, so it’s quicker.
“We want to relay to the line to make the calls as soon as possible and then run the play.”
Masson and Gautier said they expect the accelerated pace to have a significant effect on the running game, which averaged barely over 100 yards last season.
Hudspeth said the Cajuns will continue to run a spread offense. “With so many teams running (the spread), there is not a lot of scheme difference. It’s tempo that makes the difference,” Hudspeth said.
First day in pads
The Cajuns only wore shoulder pads Saturday, but Hudspeth said he still considered the practice a good indicator for identifying which players will make impacts when full contact begins.
“Overall the first day was a good day, especially with blocking. You see who can block, or get off blocks and who’s not afraid to put their faces into their man or who is physical,” he said.
Bates draws praise
Hudspeth said one of the most noticeable individual improvements is offensive tackle Leonardo Bates, a 6-foot-5, 296-pound junior.
“I think he has improved enough to become one of the best offensive linemen in the (Sun Belt) conference once the season is over,” Hudspeth said. “He’s a young guy who has changed his body in the offseason with weight training,” he said.
A lot of bull
Sophomore running back Aaron Spikes said the players began Saturday’s session with a bull-in-the-ring exercise, which features two players blocking one-on-one until one of them is driven into the ground or out of a circle formed by teammates.
ULL is scheduled to practice 8:30 a.m. Sunday and Monday. Another practice is scheduled Tuesday afternoon before the coaches and team meet with the media at noon Wednesday at media day.
With the exception of the first 20 minutes, Hudspeth has closed all practices to the public and media this season.