Coming off a historic 10-1 season that ended with a No. 15 ranking in the Associated Press poll, the top priority for UL’s coaching staff is curbing complacency.
The last thing coach Billy Napier and his assistants want are satisfied players more focused on signature wins over Iowa State and Appalachian State than the challenges ahead.
So there’s two terms or concepts the staff is really pushing this spring to keep the Ragin’ Cajuns striving for more in preparation for the 2021 season.
One, there’s the byword ‘accelerate.'
That takes on many forms, depending on the position.
By all accounts, former UL running back Elijah Mitchell made a lot of money at Monday’s UL Pro Day.
For example, the Cajuns intercepted 16 passes last year, but they also dropped nine other potential interceptions.
“We dropped a lot of interceptions and there were a lot of fumbles that we should have had that the other team got,” safety Percy Butler said. “There were more plays we should have made on the ball, so we feel like we didn’t do enough.
It includes the coaches.
“I’ve learned that you start over each year,” said Napier, entering his fourth season at UL. “You’re always quality controlling what you do. You’re evaluating what’s been productive for you and maybe hasn’t been productive.
“You’re trying to improve your processes and your systems. You keep evolving, keep adapting, keep adjusting. Every year is a different year — makeup of your roster, makeup of your staff. There’s always problems to solve and relationships to build.”
Seventh-year tackle Ken Marks said he is convinced there’s plenty more to learn.
“As for myself, I’m always learning, no matter how long I’ve been here,” Marks said. “There’s always something new that you can learn. You never can evolve to the top and never learn anything else or can’t adjust to something. That’s just how life is. It just keeps going. (It's about) learning the game more and being able to help the younger guys to develop too.”
Recently promoted UL defensive coordinator Patrick Toney decided to venture into a new area this season as the Cajuns’ new outside linebacker coach.
A more specific goal is transforming as many players as possible into “four-dimensional” players.
The first dimension is to know your duties on the field. The second step is knowing all the duties for every position in your position group.
The third rung is to know all 11 positions on your side of the ball.
For the veteran players, that huge fourth level is to know what every player on the field is supposed to be doing.
“We want players to have a firm understanding of what the other side of the ball is trying to do,” Napier said. “I’d like more two-, three- and four- dimension players on our roster.”
A high achiever like Butler certainly got the message.
“(Four-)D player,” Butler said when asked what his next step is. “He knows what exactly every guy on the defense has to do and he knows what the offense is doing next.
“My next step is to become a 4D player and know exactly what’s going on the offense. I know the offense. I just need to get in the film room and study more film and become a 4D player.”
It’s all about gaining more knowledge.
The UL football team on Tuesday surpassed last year’s practice total with four spring practices sessions under their belts. The coronavirus li…
“That’s where they can take the next step. … I think that’s what you’ll see from that group,” defensive coordinator Patrick Toney said. “These guys have a good understanding — maybe some of them a mastery of our schemes and our system — so how can they take it to the fourth dimension and understand what the opposing offense is doing.
“I think that’s what you’ll see from that group, taking it to the next level by slowing it down and knowing what the offense is doing.”
Toney said one of the big differences between college and professional performers is complete knowledge of the game.
“You talk to players — that’s the biggest difference between college and pro,” he said. “You’ve got a guy that’s played 10 years in the NFL and he’s studying the offense. He’s not trying to learn what he has to do.
"He knows what he has to do. Now how can he react faster from a defensive perspective by studying the offense. We’re trying to be more fundamentally sound, be more precise and then on top of that, understand how our opponent is doing better.”