It was the first day of camp.
The team doesn’t actually hit the field for the first August practice until Friday, and the coaches had just met for that first pep talk of fall camp from head coach Billy Napier.
Therefore the team’s official media day to kick off the 2019 UL football season had its fair share of motivational one-liners.
When the UL Ragin' Cajuns announced Billy Napier as their new coach a week before Christmas 2017, there was a tall pile of selling points and …
“Don’t get consumed with the results. Get consumed with the work that it takes to get those results.”
Perhaps an even better one is, “Complacency is the virus of success.”
But in the middle of the clichés and creative slogans was a message.
The overriding observation from coaches and players alike is how much easier year two should be.
“I think the major chance is to go a little bit heavier, maybe able to add a few more reps here or there and push them to new thresholds,” UL strength coach Mark Hocke said.
“The big thing I talked to the staff earlier about is year two is a new level of discipline and a new level of detail,” Napier said. “We look forward to seeing what we can get out of this group.”
1. Can Cajuns repeat as Western Division champions?
Simply put, Napier’s roster is still young, but it’s more than just bigger, faster and stronger.
Sure, 85 of the 110 players are in their first or second season in the program, but almost all of them are comfortable with Napier’s expectations now. Most of them are no longer guessing at the schemes.
Yes, the staff was trying to win games in year one, but at times, it seemed like much more of a crapshoot than an expertly organized game plan.
“Last year, there were a lot of guys getting their first snaps of college football,” defensive coordinator Ron Roberts said. “I didn’t know what we were going to get half the time.
“We’ve got kids who were freshmen last year or redshirt freshmen last year that weren’t ready to go, but a lot of them had good springs and great summers. Those guys are in the hunt. Anybody in that room could turn out to be the guy, so there’s some exciting things that are going to take place in fall camp.”
What’s got the coaches more pumped up is competition.
As the 2018 football season unfolded, UL fans learned a great deal about the offensive play-calling side of new coach Billy Napier.
“There’s going to be competition across the board,” Roberts said. “I’m excited about the competition more than anything. Last year, we were probably walking in with like 15 guys we felt like were good enough to compete athletically. And now defensively, there’s probably 30. That’s 30 guys physically ready to go compete.”
Consequently, practices should be able to be more physical, whereas the staff had to hold back some last season.
“You’ve got to be physical,” Roberts said. “You’ve got to set the tone of how you play the game, and it’s tough when you don’t have numbers. You’re trying to keep guys (healthy) to get them to Saturday. That’s not always the best place you want to be.”
That ability to be more aggressive should play right into Napier’s plan to make the turnover margin a strength of the 2019 Cajuns.
“I’m getting ready to talk to our team about how significant of a statistic that is relative to wins,” Napier said. “I think the key is going to be how intentional we are about the way we practice, how deliberate are we going to be and how fanatical we’re going to be about attacking the ball.”
Throughout the offseason, there wasn’t any position UL football coach Billy Napier seemed more up in the air about than defensive line.
So instead of teaching his first team how to practice, Napier and his staff are counting on his second team being primed to take that next big step.
“So you cover them a little bit better and you rush the passer a little bit better,” Napier said. “You get into passing downs, you want to win first and second down and create favorable down and distances. You’ve got to play with tremendous effort and pursuit. It’s almost has to be to me who you are and what you do every day. We’re going to put a premium on taking the ball away, attacking the ball, holding the football.”
Year two should also produce fresher players in the second half, because there will be more confidence in the depth chart in the first half. And that even includes a seasoned offensive line with four returning starters.
“In my past, I’ve stuck with five guys, but we’re not going to do that this year,” offensive coordinator Rob Sale said. “We’re going to play them. I don’t care where we’re at in the ball game. That’s how much we believe in these guys. They deserve it. They’ve worked hard, they’re smart, they’re tough. If the sixth guy is equal to the fifth guy and the seventh guy is equal to the sixth guy, we’re playing them.”
When Bryan Maggard accepted the position as the new director of athletics for the UL Ragin’ Cajuns on Feb. 1, 2017, he couldn't possibly know …