Parties involved: Ja’Marcus Bradley, Jarrod Jackson, Jamal Bell, Calif Gossett, Brian Smith Jr., Jalen Williams.
The scoop: The wide receiving corps struggled to get separation and make big plays in the Cure Bowl loss to Tulane in December. Other than Ja’Marcus Bradley, there is little statistical production carrying over from last season. Team leader Jarrod Jackson was the third-leading wide receiver from a year ago with 19 catches. In the spring game, however, such promising candidates as Gossett, Bell and Smith Jr. displayed the potential to take big steps forward this season. Williams could also provide some help with signs of being healthier coming into fall camp.
Best bet: It’s far too early of course, but the easiest prediction is Bradley will take an even bigger step forward this season after 608 yards and 10 scores a year ago. Next, Jackson will take full advantage of his first chance as a full-time starter and enjoy his breakthrough campaign. Gossett seems to have the size to emerge as the No. 3 option. A talented freshman class may create noise as well.
Parties involved: Chauncey Manac, Joe Dillon, Jacques Boudreaux, Ferrod Gardner, Lorenzo McCaskill, Jordan Cordova.
The Scoop: A year ago entering camp, there didn’t seem to be enough viable names to even fill out a Division I linebacking depth chart for first-year head coach Billy Napier. In one year’s time, there’s suddenly enough talent to have talented reserves. Manac, a transfer from Georgia, showed enough in his first season with UL last year to have coaches excited about his potential. Dillon returns after missing all of last season with an injury. That duo alone should provide more pressure than the Cajuns’ defense is used to applying on opposing quarterbacks. Inside, McCaskill’s raw skills, Gardner’s versatility and Boudreaux’s consistency should provide enough depth to where there won’t be a huge drop-off.
Best bet: Dillon returns to his previous role as an elite Sun Belt pass rusher, while Manac provides the back-end of a 1-2 punch that allows UL’s defense to create more turnovers. Inside, Boudreaux’s experience and Gardner’s maturity should give the defense the leadership it needs in the middle.
Parties involved: Deuce Wallace, Bralen Trahan, Percy Butler, Cameron Solomon, Ja’len Johnson, Schdarren Archie, Blair Brooks, Brenndan Johnson.
The Scoop: The bottom line is there’s much far more play-making ability in this unit than a year ago. For starters, Wallace is even healthier and more experienced as the leader of the defense. Trahan finally got healthy and his feet wet as a playmaker last season. Meanwhile, young performers like Butler, Brooks and Archie are more versatile and seasoned. August will also be a time to see if graduate transfer Brenndan Johnson from Texas-San Antonio can make an impact on the secondary.
Our prediction: Expect fewer mistakes in the back of the defense this season. One, there’s more playmaking ability and experience and two, the increased talent at cornerback should take more pressure off the safeties behind them.
Parties involved: Jai’Ave Magalei, Chandler Fields, Clifton McDowell, Brayden Hawkins.
The scoop: From day one, Billy Napier has been an advocate of a modified two-quarterback system. On paper, he’s got very little experience in which to pull that off this fall. But in the spring, Magalei showed his strong right arm and true freshman McDowell certainly executed to the point where the game didn’t see too fast for him either. During the summer, transfer Hawkins joined the group on campus and true freshman Fields began his college career. Hawkins, who has been at UTEP and Maryland during his career going to a juco in Mississippi, may not even be available pending an NCAA waiver request.
Our prediction: The Cajuns won’t be ready to institute Napier’s modified two-quarterback system from the get-go due to a lack of experience behind starter Levi Lewis. August should dictate, though, if there’s a viable candidate to do so before the start of Sun Belt play at Georgia Southern on Sept. 28.