UL’s three-headed running back trio of Trey Ragas, Elijah Mitchell and Raymond Calais combined for 2,920 yards and 28 touchdowns last season. It's becoming a group well-known across the Sun Belt, and to a lesser degree, across the nation.
But when Napier discusses his program’s depth at running back, he’s actually meaning more than just that celebrated trio. Senior Ashton Johnson has made an impression, as have sophomore T.J. Wisham and redshirt freshman Chris Smith.
“I think Chris Smith is one of those players that you can see an effort to get the ball at different times,” Napier said. “But that’ll be the primary way to start contributing. Even Ashton Johnson … he’s a guy we could put out there in a game and we wouldn’t blink. If those were our three backs (along with Wisham), we’d be happy right now.”
UL football coach Billy Napier certainly expected it, but the Cajuns’ two graduate transfers — Texas-San Antonio defensive back Brenndan Johns…
Naturally, there aren’t enough footballs or downs to distribute among six backs. Fans shouldn't be surprised if Smith makes an impact as a receiver or on special teams this fall.
As it is, Napier is pleased with how well the top three — Ragas, Mitchell and Calais — have handled that.
“The main thing is that I’ve been very impressed with the type of teammates that those guys are,” Napier said. “They’re selfless, (with a) tremendous attitude and some of the best practice players we have. We’ve got a great chemistry in that room — almost a brotherhood, to some degree.
“Coach (Jabbar) Juluke has done a nice job. They’re all intelligent, they all catch the ball well. There’s no limits to what they can do.”
Freshman WRs may contribute
Pro football coaches sometimes question rookie wide receivers' ability to make an immediate impact.
UL coach Billy Napier doesn’t believe that necessarily applies to freshman receivers on a college campus.
“One of the things about receivers in general nowadays is, there’s more throwing and catching going on at the high school level than there used to be maybe 10 years ago,” Napier said.
Several Cajuns newcomers, in fact, could make an immediate. A few of the candidates: Cassius Allen, Brandon Legendre, Peter LeBlanc, Jacob Bernard and junior college transfer Brian Smith Jr.
No single Ragin’ Cajun football player is more excited about the start of the 2019 UL season than Joe Dillon.
“Our system is very receiver-friendly,” Napier said. “You can see just in a couple of days there are guys who have made progress. The NFL game is a little different game, right? It’s a man-to-man matchup game. Certainly it’s a passing game.
“It’s hard to rush the ball in that league — more man-to-man cover guys, so a lot more technical relative to it’s happening faster. The defender is closer. In the college game, not as much man. (Teams are) in zone, so the open access makes it easier on your receiver.”
Napier said several UL newcomers weren’t full-time receivers at the high school level, which could add to the transition time.
On many college teams, most starting spots are relatively secure long before the season opener.
That may not be the case for the Cajuns in one area all season.
They can laugh about it now.
The secondary figures to have more movement than any area on UL’s depth chart this fall.
“I think you’re going to see in the secondary that it’s going to be a lot about who practiced the best this week,” Napier said. “You’re going to see us mixing and matching those lineups based off production, attitude and how they prepare, how they practice and what type of execution level. Simply put, can they do their job and who’s doing their job the best.”
Focused on details
Napier has made it clear how relieved he is that his way of doing things is now firmly established with preseason drills heating up.
But it goes much deeper than practice times and game plan installation.
The 2018 season couldn’t have ended much worse for the UL wide-receiving group.
“Coach Napier always talks about us about being a rep-based organization, and no one that I’ve worked for — it’s hard to compare him to anybody, as far as how detailed he is as a leader,” strength and conditioning coach Mark Hocke said. “It really puts pressure on me as a head strength coach. Just a very detailed plan.”