Typically, UL coach Billy Napier is focused, prepared and ready to go at a news conferences.
He’s usually primed with an answer before a media member is even halfway through asking the question.
On this particular inquiry, however, Napier seemed stumped.
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.
Even more curious was the answer given after his long pause to consider a response.
The question was, “What’s been the one thing that’s surprised you most in camp?”
“Man, I wish I had a bunch of those,” Napier said. “I don’t think anything has just completely blown me away at this point. I think we kind of expected some the situations that we have.”
Certainly, there isn’t anything wrong with that response. It is just that for media members, there’s the reading-in-between-the-lines part of interpreting a coach’s responses.
There’s the obvious risk of overanalyzing any comment a player or coach makes in an obligatory press conference setting.
It’s an easy scene to picture.
But let’s face it, the guessing game is part of college football coverage in 2019.
On the surface, there are several ways to look at those three short statements.
One, Napier and his staff read the team so well coming out of the spring that there were no surprises. All the areas of the team are what they thought they were.
Two, there aren’t a ton of holes to fill, especially on offense, so the likelihood of being surprised was small.
Three, there were a few areas where he hoped to be wowed, but it hasn’t happened yet.
He’s 6-foot-5 with enough speed and he's entering his fourth year in the program.
Whatever Napier really meant — assuming he wasn’t just caught off guard in the moment and later thought of answers on the way back to his office — is almost irrelevant.
The point is in trying to figure out exactly how much progress this team has made entering Napier's second season, his answer made the guessing game for outsiders just a little more intriguing.
Indeed, coaches love to keep media, fans and opponents guessing in August. It’s understandable. During the grind of camp, it's a fun exercise I’m sure.
To be fair, however, Napier has made a few things crystal clear thus far.
For starters, he’s convinced the team will be better coached.
On more than one occasion, Napier or members of his staff have referenced the staff’s upgrade in performance since the Cure Bowl loss in December.
UL coach Billy Napier said his focus was primarily on the intangibles, but the Ragin' Cajuns released statistics Monday for Saturday’s first s…
“I am very pleased with the staff,” Napier said. “I’m very pleased with the second tier group of people we have. I think we made ourselves better with some of the graduate assistants and quality-control guys that we’ve hired.
“I think we’re in position here where we can be very effective once we start executing this in-season routine, which is exciting for me. The more talented and diligent people that you’ve got on your staff, the better chance you’ve got once you start turning over these in-seasons weeks. That’s very important and I think we’ve got a group that’s up to the task here.”
Secondly, the defense has more talent and is more schematically sound.
“The thing I’m probably most pleased with is there’s legitimate plays — competitive snaps out there,” Napier said. “Overall, we’re covering them better, our pressure package is much more difficult to prepare for and up front our guys are affecting the quarterback a little bit more.”
Junior quarterback Levi Lewis certainly sees an upgraded defense in practice.
“They’re showing me all kinds of different things,” Lewis said. “That’s what I like. I’ve got to think of every scenario when it comes down to my defense, because you never know what you’re going to get out of them. Anything you’ve seen or not seen yet, they’re probably going to show it. They kind of keep me on my toes and they show me everything I need to see when I go back and watch the film.”
Like most coaches, there's no denying UL coach Billy Napier fully grasps the significance of winning the turnover battle.
It’ll naturally be more difficult for fans to notice the finer points of the improved staff in the fall than it will a beefed-up defense, but that all goes into the mysterious trail of clues that is August camp.
In time we’ll all see how much depth the secondary and the wide receiving corps really has. In time, we’ll see if the passing game is really ready to take the offense to the next level.
In time, we’ll know if the front seven can apply enough pressure to make nine wins realistic again.
For now, we just listen, observe and try to decipher as best we can.
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…