The 2018 season couldn’t have ended much worse for the UL wide-receiving group.
In the 41-24 Cure Bowl loss to Tulane, the Ragin’ Cajuns’ passing game didn’t have its finest hour.
UL quarterbacks completed only 10 of 22 passes for 85 yards with two interceptions and no touchdowns.
Only five different Cajuns caught passes — and one of those was running back Trey Ragas and another was tight end Matt Barnes.
When the UL Ragin’ Cajuns lost to Tulane 41-24 in the Cure Bowl last December, it did quite a few things.
Ja’Marcus Bradley led the group with four grabs for 41 yards and Jarrod Jackson had one reception for five yards. No other returning receiver caught a pass.
Naturally, that wasn’t all on the shoulders of coach Tim Leger’s receivers, but it was a point of focus going into the offseason.
“In the bowl game, they loaded the box and played man,” Leger said. “We’ve got to win more one-on-ones. For us at wide outs, to help us win, we’re going to have to be better at the one-on-one matchups.”
The good news for UL fans is there are several reasons to believe the 2019 receiving corps will be improved.
No single Ragin’ Cajun football player is more excited about the start of the 2019 UL season than Joe Dillon.
For starters, Leger said the spring season was evidence that he’ll be a better coach this season.
“Just having been through it before, the second year is always cleaner for those guys I think,” Leger explained. “And honestly for me. I probably did a better job of teaching it and preparing those guys, because last year was new for me as well. I had been in the same system, same verbiage, same terminology to some degree for 11 seasons.
“Even a lot of what I ran when I was calling at St. Thomas More was very similar verbiage than what I went back to McNeese in ‘07. Last year, was a big learning curve for me as well.”
Another big reason is both primary leaders on the unit return in Bradley and Jackson. Bradley is coming off his breakout campaign with 40 receptions for 608 yards and 10 scores, while Jackson caught 19 balls for 325 yards and four touchdowns.
They can laugh about it now.
“Guys like Bam (Jackson) and Ja’Marcus (Bradley) are pros,” Leger said. “They’ve been pros around here for a long time. Our young guys have taken some of their leadership as well and kind of moved forward.”
Leger said the unit should be more versatile this season because each member’s been cross-trained to learn all the different wide receiver positions.
“The more you can get a guy to play multiple positions, the more valuable he becomes to your team,” Leger said. “That also gives them a better appreciation for the whole concept of what we’re trying to teach.
“If a guy goes down, then you’ve had guys who have prepared at each spot. That way, it’s not necessarily the best guy in that line, but who is the next available guy, who is the best player we’ve got? Let’s move that guy.”
Another major reason for optimism among the receivers is more quality depth.
It was the first day of camp.
In the spring game, for instance, 6-foot-5, 188-pound junior Calif Gossett, 6-4, 214-pound junior Brian Smith and 6-0, 184-pound Jamal Bell junior all displayed the ability to make plays.
Gossett was arguably the star of the spring game with eight catches for 159 yards and two scores.
“I think the biggest thing is Calif has really grown up and matured,” UL head coach Billy Napier said. “He’s more physically tough. He’s got much more intensity and urgency. He’s become a better practice player. He’s playing stronger. I’m excited about what he’s going to bring to our football team. He brings a different dimension maybe than we’ve had in the past.”
Smith — a Barbe High product out of Glendale CC in California — showed a physical approach to the game, catching nine balls for 165 yards and a score.
“What I like about Brian is he’s a tough kid,” Napier said. “He plays well without the ball, he’s done a really nice job on special teams and you can see he’s a big man. He’s tough to cover. He’s got some ability to run after the catch as well.”
In other words, junior quarterback Levi Lewis is liking his supporting cast as August drills heat up.
“You’ve got (running backs) 4 (Raymond Calais), 15 (Elijah Mitchell) and 9 (Trey Ragas),” Lewis said. “It’s always good to have those guys back there to back you up and you’ve got guys on the perimeter like Ja’Marcus Bradley, Calif, Jamal Bell, you’ve got Bam Jackson. We’ve got guys all over the field. It’s going to be hard to stop us if everybody’s at their best.”
Then there’s the incoming freshman class, including Catholic High of New Iberia’s Peter LeBlanc, E.D. White’s Brandon Legendre and freshman Jacob Bernard, as well as red-shirt freshman Cassius Allen of Northeast Oklahoma A&M.
Napier said Monday that Allen has stood out during the first three practices.
“We signed those with the expectation that they’re going to come in and play,” Leger said. “They’re going to have until we kick it off to try to earn the opportunity to do that. Now, they’re going to have to buy into our culture, the way we practice, the way we do things — all the things we set forth. It’s not just learning what we’re doing, but how we’re doing it and the way we’re doing it.
“It’ll the be the first time in their lives that they’re on the bottom of the totem pole looking up at a bunch of guys who have been here and done it. We’ll see how they progress.”
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 …