Ask UL second-year coach Billy Napier and the position group that’s enjoyed the most obvious upgrade in talent level is the Ragin’ Cajuns’ secondary.
Senior safety Deuce Wallace is the leader of that unit and he too was quite impressed with how the young prospects in the defensive backfield performed in Saturday’s first scrimmage.
“You definitely want to see where the young guys are, and the best way to do it is to put them in a game situation when the coach is on the sidelines and you can’t ask them what to do,” Wallace said. “You have to depend on the guys around you. I was actually really impressed with the young guys. They were eager to communicate. Of course, there was some technique issues that we could all clean up, but other than that, the communication was there.”
To name a few, sophomore Mekhi Garner and redshirt freshman Kam Pedescleaux both had interceptions. Also, redshirt sophomore safety Bralen Trahan had 3½ tackles.
Football programs have carried the heaviest burden for athletic departments for decades.
Young or not, Wallace said the entire defense is more confident in coordinator Ron Roberts’ second year.
“I’m extremely comfortable,” Wallace said. “I feel like I can do this in my sleep. Not only that, but the guys around me are helping me. Even when I made the wrong call, the wrong check, I have guys — vets and even young guys — around me that have been studying and know it to where they can correct me.”
Of course, that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement.
“I think red zone,” Wallace said. “I think we’ve got to take a little more pride down there. We’ve got to take the approach that our back is against the wall, so you’ve got be able to be even more antsy and anxious to keep the offense out of the end zone.
“We try to emphasize four-point plays and even seven-point plays, don’t give them anything.”
They can laugh about it now.
Napier saw another defensive shortcoming that’ll need to be addressed.
“We did have an issue in the scrimmage of letting the guy scramble and run around and we’ve got to get that fixed,” he said.
Third down, red zone talk
Junior quarterback Levi Lewis, who threw for 229 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions, said he was pleased with the lessons learned by his unit in Saturday’s first scrimmage.
“We got a lot of things out of this scrimmage,” Lewis said. “Putting drives together, trying to stay on the field. Giving our defense time to rest. It all comes down to that.
“Mainly what I got out of it is convert more on third down — those critical moments. Clean up the little bitty details.”
Being excited about an upcoming football season is nothing new for any college athlete, especially two who are expected to be team leaders in …
Napier said the rate of success varied.
“I would say there’s always good and bad,” he said. “Most of the first units had good days. The first defense had a solid day on third down. The first offense had a solid day on third down. The second units is where we’ve got work to do.
“There’s no question with quarterback in decision-making on third down, that’s where you’ve got to make your money. I thought the quarterback play was really good in the red zone, but the second, third and fourth quarterbacks on third down, not a great day.”
Kicking game woes
There are some issues to be resolved in the kicking game and others that appear to be working themselves out pretty quickly.
Senior place-kicker Stevie Artigue had “a great day” in Saturday’s first intrasquad scrimmage and shined throughout spring drills, so that position seems locked down.
Sophomore punter Rhys Byrns “continues to be an explosive player” and there’s no competition for that job.
1. Can Cajuns repeat as Western Division champions?
Napier said there continues to be competition for kickoff duties between redshirt freshman Kenneth Almendares and freshman Grant Paulette.
“We need to improve there in terms of consistency,” Napier said.
As for the return game, Raymond Calais and Chris Smith figure to handle the bulk of those duties, while sophomore cornerback Eric Garror is the leading candidate at punt returner.
“Eric Garror in particular has really kind of separated himself from the pack,” Napier said. “Very poised, tremendous experience in high school — very productive doing that. He’s been doing it a while and that’s starting to show up. If we played a game today, he’d run out there and be the first guy.”
Bergeron opens eyes
On Monday, the coaching staff announced walk-on running back T.J. Wisham had been moved to scholarship. Napier said more were on the way at the press conference later in the day.
“We reward them when we feel like no question at all that they’re deserving,” Napier said. “When they’ve earned the respect of the staff and the team.
“There’s a pool of walk-ons on our team right now. They’re battling for these spots that are left.”
It’s an easy scene to picture.
One of them is 6-foot-5, 229-pound redshirt sophomore tight end Hunter Bergeron of St. Thomas More.
“Hunter Bergeron is a walk-on who has put a couple good days together,” Napier said Monday. “He’s a big athletic local kid here that started out as a defensive end. When we got here, we moved him over. You can see that long term he’s going to be a guy I hope can help our team, whether that’s this year or down the road.”