The UL Ragin’ Cajuns are still very much in the rebuilding process in coach Billy Napier’s second season.
In no two positions is that more evident than wide receiver and defensive back.
Napier has already hinted several times during preseason camp that even unofficial depth charts may not mean much in those positions well into the regular season.
It wasn’t a far-fetched concept. There was good reason for it.
“I think it’s something that we’re evaluating every day (in the secondary),” Napier said. “I don’t know that’s going to change. I think you’ve got to narrow down to the certain number that you can prepare to practice for a game. We’ll get to that point. But our focus right now in the heat of the battle in training camp trying to equip as many players as possible at each position.”
That doesn’t mean there aren’t good guesses for several defensive backs headed for playing time such as Michael Jacquet at cornerback and Deuce Wallace and Bralen Trahan at safety. But the process has more layers than that.
“We kind of had that conversation at wide receiver yesterday,” Napier said Wednesday. “In any of these positions, no decisions have been made anywhere. It’s more like, in this amount of time — let’s say the first 20 days of training camp — how many guys can we get equipped to prepare that we would feel like, ‘OK, this guy could go out there and play, could have a role.’ ”
There’s never been any question about the potential or work ethic of UL senior wide receiver Ja’Marcus Bradley.
Eventually, a pecking order will emerge.
“Then once you start planning the week of a game, then you’ve got to narrow it down, each position,” Napier said. “Those reps in the game plan have got to go to that group.
“So that’s lots of competition between now and then. That’s where we’re at.”
The Ragin’ Cajuns are hoping redshirt junior linebacker Joe Dillon can return to his disruptive ways off the edge after missing all of last season with a hip injury.
One player whom Dillon affected even last season is sophomore defensive tackle Zi’Yon Hill.
“He didn’t host me, but he was the first one that ever talked to me (on my recruiting visit),” Hill said.
In Billy Napier’s first season calling plays at UL, his offense made progress.
To this day, when Hill gets a bit discouraged, it’s Dillon that gets him going again.
“I try to match his energy every day,” Hill said. “Even when I’m down and I don’t want to do this, he’s like the first person to pick me up and tell me, ‘Let’s attack this, let’s attack the day.’ I feel like he’s never lost a tad bit of energy at all.”
Encouraging start to camp
A year ago at this point, Napier didn’t experience many comfortable feelings after each practice.
So far, his comfort level has been much better in year two.
Injuries limited his playing time as a redshirt freshman a year ago, and he sat out the entire spring season.
“I’m impressed with the energy and the overall attitude,” Napier said. “We’ve been able to create some intensity and urgency and sustain it throughout so far. These are the difficult times. There’s nothing easy about it. Without struggle, there is no growth.
“Our big deal right now is to push ourselves, get out of our comfort zone, kick down those barriers and really go to another level. I really believe that this is the time of the year where you create a personality and an identity as a team and we’re doing that right now. It’s been very competitive, in particular with the first and second units.”
That process takes another big step Saturday when the Cajuns have their first intrasquad scrimmage of August camp.
“It is competitive at quite a few positions,” Napier said. “We’re trying to figure out who is ready to go.”
Gameday concert series named
The UL athletic department announced the lineup of bands scheduled for the Under the Oak Concert Series on home football dates.
Against Liberty on Sept. 7, it’ll be Lil’ Nate on RCAF Appreciation Day and Alumni Weekend. That home opener will also be a designated red-out day, when fans are encouraged to wear red.
On Sept. 14 against Texas Southern, the band will be Mike and the Rockets on family weekend. Family members of UL students will receive discounted prices for tickets.
The special Wednesday, Oct. 9 game will feature Wayne Toups as the Cajuns face Appalachian State on Faculty Appreciation Night.
They can laugh about it now.
On Nov. 2, it’ll be Chris Ardoin performing during UL’s annual homecoming activities.
When the Cajuns take on Troy on Nov. 23, the fans will asked to wear black, while plenty of cowboy hats will likely be seen near the oak tree to hear Dustin Sonnier sing.
The regular-season home finale Nov. 30 will feature Lafayette’s Bayou Boys on senior day at Cajun Field.