With an entirely new defensive coaching staff, Louisiana-Lafayette’s football team is in for a schematic change on the defensive side of the ball in 2015 — one that coach Mark Hudspeth is doing everything in his power to keep under wraps — but the changes go beyond scheme.
The players must also learn to adapt to the tough-love approach brought to the table by defensive coordinator Melvin Smith and assistants Mike Lucas and Levorn Harbin.
“They are all over our guys, 24/7,” Hudspeth said. “Our defensive guys are for the first two weeks walking around like a deer in the headlights. Oh my, what in the world is going on?”
Entering his fifth season with the program, senior outside linebacker Dominique Tovell classified the first practice with the new coaches as “pretty tough.” But through all the yelling, the message was always framed to build the players up, not just tear them down.
“They’re a real high-tempo style,” Tovell said. “It’s a lot of yelling, but it’s a lot of positive things. They want you to run to the ball and play hard every play.”
One thing his previous staff lacked was energy in practice, Hudspeth said.
“It just seemed like coach Willis had to bring all the juice himself,” Hudspeth said.
With that energy came some needed constructive criticism.
“There was some really hard coaching going on,” Hudspeth said. “You know what though? The kids were taking hard coaching. That’s what I love. They were wanting to get better, they were being challenged and they stepped up to the challenge. When they do that, they allow you to push them, they allow you to coach them hard, they’re going to get better.”
That message translates into all aspects of the players lives, and Hudspeth couldn’t have sounded more pleased.
“They’re on them about everything — not just about taking your gap — but how you present yourself, how you sit in your meetings, how you walk around campus, how you dress, how you act, being on time, the way you work out, your manners,” Hudspeth said. “I mean, they’re all over our guys right now, which has just been phenomenal.”
Shuffling the deck
Senior offensive lineman Mykhael Quave, who has started the past 26 games at left tackle, spent the first spring practice working at left guard, where he started 13 games as a freshman.
Hudspeth said the move is likely temporary, and was made in order to get sophomore D’Aquin Withrow some valuable first-team practice reps.
“D’Aquin’s going to get much better in 15 practices,” Hudspeth said, referring to the NCAA-mandated 15-practice limit for the spring. “Being able to force-feed guys sometimes ends up being a plus, because they get more reps than they would’ve ever gotten if the situation hadn’t been like this.”
Donovan Williams started every game at left guard last year, but spent the first practice working at right guard. Hudspeth said that move could be permanent.
The Cajuns don’t yet have a player on the roster they feel comfortable plugging in at left guard, as Hudspeth said he needs to see more out of redshirt freshman Adrian Goodacre and Jesse Freeman. Hudspeth said he is hopeful to add a left guard to his signing class before the fall.
No spring Eli
Reigning Sun Belt Player of the Year Elijah McGuire will not participate in spring practice while he recovers from what Hudspeth called, “an upper body injury.”
Hudspeth did not sound the least bit concerned about McGuire’s health, and actually sees it as an opportunity to see what else the Cajuns have at the position.
“He’ll be fine,” Hudspeth said. “He’ll just miss spring ball. If we’d have pushed spring ball back, he maybe could’ve made it. But I know what Elijah can do, we’ll try to create some depth with those other guys.