One of the factors leading to UL’s 11-3 record this past season was possessing consistently strong special teams unit.
During national signing day week, the Ragin’ Cajuns’ kicking game has undergone was significant changes.
For one, special-teams coordinator Matt Powledge has left the Cajuns’ program to join Dave Aranda’s new staff at Baylor, along with defensive coordinator Ron Roberts, according to multiple reports.
"We are extremely proud and happy for coach Matt Powledge," UL coach Billy Napier said. "He played an integral part in establishing our identity on special teams and the overall culture of our team.
"His role in helping build our organization over these last two years will not be forgotten, and we wish him the best of luck as he takes on this new challenge.”
Powledge, who also coached outside linebackers in his two years under Napier at UL, had previously coached at UL-Monroe and his alma mater, Sam Houston State.
Much like in the actual games themselves, it’s the close attention to detail during the process that produces the desired result in the end.
Napier said in a news conference last week that the coaching carousel was ongoing, but he hoped no coach would leave his staff after the "identity" phase of UL’s offseason begins next week.
The special-teams news also includes the roster.
During national signing day festivities Wednesday, a UL fan asked Napier why he didn’t address the opening at placekicker with senior Stevie Artigue leaving.
Napier just smiled and promised the fan the issue had been addressed.
That solution is junior transfer kicker Brandon Ruiz.
Ruiz kicked at Arizona State in 2017 and 2018, only missing eight of his 49 field-goal attempts during that stretch.
Ruiz, who made a 54-yarder as a sophomore, essentially sat out last season with an injury and then transferred to Mississippi State in December.
During his high school days, Ruiz broke an Arizona state record with a 58-yarder, helping him early USA Today All-American status. He was ranked by some recruiting services as the No. 2 kicker nationally, and he originally committed to Alabama before signing with Arizona State.
In addition to those two changes, UL’s top two kickoff returners from a year ago were both seniors in Raymond Calais (19-541, 28.4 average) and Ja’Marcus Bradley (11-211, 19.1 average).
Offensive line changes
In addition to special teams issues to be resolved, UL’s offensive line will have a very different look in the 2020 season.
Gone are tackles Robert Hunt and Rico Robinson and All-American right guard Kevin Dotson.
That doesn’t mean offensive coordinator Rob Sale doesn’t have options to work with.
For starters, defensive lineman Masry Mapieu and Timaje Porter have been moved to the offensive line.
UL coach Billy Napier put the final bow on its 2020 signing class with a national signing day press conference Wednesday.
“Masry will start at tackle and Timaje at guard,” Sale said. “We’ll see what they can do. It’s our job to put the best five out there and if they’re ready to play, we’ll put them out there. They’ve got a long way to go.”
Another option is senior center Cole Prudhomme, who is expected back after missing last season with an injury. Sale said both Prudhomme and his replacement Shane Vallot could play center or guard.
“That gives you flexibility there,” Sale said. “Cole’s played the majority of his whole career at center, but there’s been some periods throughout that he’s played guard, so he’s very comfortable. You make the same calls, so he’s comfortable.”
Left guard Ken Marks, who was lost for the season in last year’s opener, is another experienced option on the line.
New No. 1 receiver?
UL’s 2020 signing class certainly replenished the team’s wide receiver room with the additions of Kyren Lacy, Reginald Johnson, Dontae Fleming and Errol Rogers.
But all the newcomers and returnees will be hard pressed to truly replace departing top target Bradley.
Soon all the excitement and superlatives associated with national signing day will be gone.
“Ja’Marcus was such a professional every day, so productive,” wide receivers coach Tim Leger said. “The best thing about him is you knew exactly what you were going to get out of him every single day. Just a pleasure to coach.”
Leger said he needs all styles of receivers to make it work, whether Bradley’s replacement emerges or not.
“Coach Napier has said this too and I’ve already kind of recruited this way, but your wide receiving corps needs to look like your basketball team,” Leger said. “Coach (Bob) Marlin has a point guard, he has a power forward, he has a center. You have to have different body types. If you all little guys, you’re going to have matchup issues, and if you have all big guys, you’re going to have matchup issues.”