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UL safety Cameron Solomon earned a surprise start this past Saturday against Liberty as part of coach Billy Napier's plan to keep an open competition for playing time across the depth chart.

The biggest national sports story of this past weekend — Antonio Brown’s released from the Oakland Raiders and suspiciously quick acquisition by the New England Patriots — even made his way to a UL coach Billy Napier news conference.

And while Napier was obviously much more concerned about his Ragin’ Cajuns than the Antonio Brown saga, he was willing to offer up a prediction on the matter.

“I think you’re going to see Antonio Brown make a smooth transition right into New England and have a terrific year,” Napier said.

Since day one at UL, Napier has constantly reinforced the "culture" aspect of building a football program. For example, wide receiver Kalem Reddix didn’t make it to UL’s spring season.

“It’s part of our job as coaches take some of these opportunities, discipline these young men and then put them in position giving them an opportunity to make that right,” Napier said back in March. “But it’s also a privilege to be on this team, and we’ll take that away at any point in time if we feel like it’s what’s in the best interest of the team. We’re not going to compromise our culture and what we believe in for one guy.”

Observing from afar, like all coaches, Napier seemed intrigued by the entire Brown process.

“It’s a unique situation,” Napier said. “It goes back to what type of culture you’ve got in your locker room and your organization, how clearly do you define expectations. What you tolerate sometimes you’re promoting if that makes sense. You’ve got to start in a place and be crystal clear about what you expect from a player, from a staff member.

“Certainly I think that’s what I know has had success in the past. And then you’ve got to discipline when it’s right.”

Fan appreciation

Naturally, UL’s athletic administration would have loved for more than 16,231 fans to show up for Saturday’s victory over Liberty.

But Napier suggested in his weekly news conference that the total figure doesn’t tell the entire story.

“We’re really thankful for our fans and for our students being at the home opener,” Napier said. “I thought the energy was outstanding, I thought they affected the game starting with the energy they provided in the Cajun Walk — by far the best Cajun Walk we’ve had since I’ve been here. We want to build off that, we encourage them to go grab three or four friends and bring them back.

“A great opportunity this week with this being family night. We’re improving the game day experience for the fan and for the student, working really hard. Our administration has done an outstanding job.”

In fact, Napier said even some of his players commented on the fan support.

“When I hear feedback from players about our fans and students, that’s a big deal,” Napier said. “We’re very thankful for their response, showing up and supporting the team. We want them to know that we’re working hard to represent this community and represent the university.”

Depth remains encouraging

After enduring his first season plagued with little depth, Napier continues to relish the ability to play lots of players.

And considering the recent stifling heat and humidity in south Louisiana, that ability is at a critical stage.

“In general we played a lot of people, even from the jump,” Napier said. “We knew it was going to be hot and humid, we felt like we’ve got lots of players that area in comparable places if that makes sense, so we committed to playing them, rolling them throughout.

“At the end of the game, the last five or six minutes of the game, we did play some of those players who maybe hadn’t played up to that point. And that’s a huge benefit, because now those players are going to make significant improvement, they kind of got out there, got their first-ever playing time, which I think will be good for us as a team.”

In all, 66 different players saw the field during Saturday’s 35-14 win over Liberty.

The depth issue also continues to show up in terms of the revolving door in the starting lineup in certain positions.

For example, redshirt junior Cameron Solomon started at safety in place of senior team leader Deuce Wallace on Saturday.

”It’s no secret that if you practice well you’re going to play well, and because we have competition on defense we’re getting a better product on game day because it’s very competitive out there each and every day, Tuesday and Wednesday in particular,” Napier said.

Ex-Cajun Thomas gets chance

Former UL cornerback Simeon Thomas was signed to the 53-man active roster by the Washington Redskins on Tuesday off Seattle’s practice squad.

Thomas, who played only 25 games for the Cajuns from 2013-17, was a sixth-round pick by the Cleveland Browns in 2018. He was cut just prior to the regular season last year and claimed by the Seahawks.

Washington, which is scheduled to play archrival Dallas at home on Sunday, played with five active cornerbacks this past Sunday after normal starter Fabian Moreau was inactive for the Redskins’ 32-27 season-opening loss at Philadelphia.

Thomas is now one of three former Cajuns currently on NFL rosters. Tracy Walker, a third-round pick in 2018, had an interception and nine tackles in the Lions’ tie at Arizona on Sunday.

“It was exciting seeing Tracy (on Sunday),” UL linebacker Joe Dillon said. “For a guy that I played with two or three years to go out there and do that at the highest level, it’s amazing to see that happen.”

Elijah McGuire, who had 591 rushing yards on four touchdowns along with 36 receptions for 370 yards and two scores in two NFL seasons, was released by the New York Jets in the final cuts and signed to Cleveland’s practice squad.

Email Kevin Foote at kfoote@theadvocate.com.