UL coach Billy Napier has made it clear during August camp where the biggest upgrade in the Cajuns figures to be.
“I’d say the secondary,” Napier said..
Most of the changes in the secondary since last season have been in personnel with the exception of new cornerbacks coach Lamar Morgan joining safeties coach Patrick Toney.
Typically, UL coach Billy Napier is focused, prepared and ready to go at a news conferences.
“We’ve got speed and athletic ability in the back end,” Napier said. “I think we’ve got more cover guys. I like the continuity and cohesion we’ve got back there. Certainly, Lamar and his relationship with (coach Patrick Toney) on the back end working together. Year 2 in the system, understanding how we meet, how we walk-through and how we practice. We’re a little bit ahead of the game there.”
Progress is needed. A year ago, the Cajuns’ defense ranked sixth in the Sun Belt in pass defense, sixth in interceptions, eighth in third-down conversion defense, 10th on fourth down and seventh in the red zone.
“We certainly made our team better,” Napier said. “If you get a healthy Percy Butler, a healthy Bralen Trahan to go along with those veterans — Mike (Jacquet), Terik (Miller), Deuce (Wallace). Certainly Eric Garror, being in his second year, you can see that he’s starting to emerge as a consistent, dependable player.”
Napier has also been complimentary to safeties Ja’len Johnson and Cameron Solomon and cornerback A.J. Washington during camp.
Roster coming together
While there’s still plenty practices in the August camp, the coaching staff is likely only a few away from drawing some personnel conclusions.
“We typically scrimmage the eighth practice,” Napier said. “So after eight days, you’ve got a pretty good feel for who the new players are as players and maybe who those veteran players who are coming back and are ready for a bigger role are. We’ve got a little bit better handle on that and we can start repping the newcomers with the second group maybe, maybe in the first group.”
But while “some of the younger players are going to have to step up to the plate” for the Cajuns, Napier said the staff isn’t ready to determine which newcomers will end up redshirting.
It’s an easy scene to picture.
“It’ll be pretty obvious at the end of the second scrimmage (Saturday) — practice 14 — who’s ready and who’s not,” Napier said.
The closer to the opener, it becomes about putting together a big puzzle for the staff.
“As it slows down a little bit, it may be about need too,” Napier said. “I think that’s the beautiful part of coaching. We’ve got the players we’ve got right now. We’ve got to coach those players and get the most of those.
“Every team we play this year, they’ve got their set of problems and we’ve got ours. It’s about managing those the best, coming up with the best solutions and playing to your strengths.”
Dillon playing catch-up
Redshirt junior linebacker Joe Dillon isn’t new to Cajuns fans.
In 2016, the Tylertown, Mississippi, native displayed his potential with 51 tackles, 12½ tackles for loss and seven sacks as a redshirt freshman. A year later, he slipped to 30 tackles, seven stops behind the line and 4½ sacks.
But sitting out the entire 2018 season with a hip injury didn’t allow Napier’s staff to learn much at all about Dillon.
Like so many high school football stars over the year, UL redshirt sophomore Bralen Trahan did a little bit of everything in earning All-State…
Consequently, it’s almost like Dillon is a freshman all over again in the eyes of the coaching staff.
“And Joe, he’s like your typical rookie,” Napier said. “That’s what he is in our system. The guy didn’t practice last year. He’s battling through getting to know the defense and playing with more consistency. When he’s on and he knows what to do and he’s doing things at a really high rate, he can be a disruptive player and certainly being an edge player.”
Local ties help
UL linebacker Jourdan Quibodeaux made many new friends since first stepping into the Cajuns’ program in the summer of 2017.
But when the going got tough as he attempted to earn a scholarship as a walk-on, there was still nothing like seeing some familiar faces.
“Being local, guys like Bralen Trahan, Zi’Yon Hill and just teammates from high school that I kept in contact with,” Quibodeaux said of teammates who aided him. “They just told me to not ever get discouraged. Whenever you come in as a walk-on, you have to earn the eyes that’s put on you. You’re not going to have eyes on you. You pretty much earn everything and that’s what I try to do … and they help me with that.”
For the record, most of us have been mispronouncing his name over his four seasons in Cajun Country.
Even better, still on the roster are such former Wreckin’ Rams teammates as Trahan, Jayrin Wilson, Kyle Pierre and Andre Landry.
“It’s amazing,” Quibodeaux said. “To have at one point and time, we had four or five that’s all from Acadiana and all played on the same field at Acadiana. So to be able to be here and work with each other every day is just amazing. It makes it a lot easier. You meet other people and they become your brothers, but to still have brothers from high school, it’s amazing.”