Some positions don’t require any guessing or verification from UL coach Billy Napier about who is the starter.
Other won’t receive any confirmation until Napier releases the first depth chart of the season before Saturday’s 11 a.m. season opener at No. 23-ranked Iowa State.
This past week, however, Napier offered a few thoughts on various positions.
As for the return guys, junior Eric Garror will be back as the punt return specialist, while redshirt sophomore Chris Smith will replace Raymond Calais as the primary kickoff returner.
At cornerback, it’s Garror again as the expected starter, alongside junior A.J. Washington. The primary backup on both sides is redshirt junior Jayrin Wilson.
It doesn’t seem so long ago that Eric Garror was this relatively unsung prospect making his way to Lafayette to begin his college career as walk-on.
The other qualified backup is “really talented” redshirt sophomore Mekhi Garner.
The next level at cornerback is a talented trio of newcomers in Trey Amos, Caleb Anderson and Courtline Flowers.
“I feel really good about that room,” Napier said. “I think it’s competitive. I think there’s lot of competition in that room, relative to the two-deep and how many plays they get to play in a game. Some of those guys got to play last year and got some significant playing time and played really well for us. We go against these guys every day, and I think those guys are ready to go.
Meanwhile, the defensive line also appears set with Andre Jones, Tayland Humphrey and Zi’Yon Hill as the starters.
The question is how will the reserve spots work themselves out during the first few games.
“After that, there’s tons of competition, partly because we’ve got a really good group of rookies and then some of these players that were mostly likely going to be twos, have had a few injuries along the way and that’s slowed that process down,” Napier said.
Players accept backlash
After Napier explained his viewpoints on his team’s controversial march for social justice last week, several team leaders also weighed in.
For starters, running back T.J. Wisham said some may have misinterpreted the intention of the walk.
“I look at the march as an opportunity for us to learn,” Wisham said. “I look at it as an opportunity to use our platforms to do good. There has been some backlash.
“The march was never meant to rub anybody the wrong way or disrespect a person or a particular group. It was just to bring light, some awareness to many things our team believes needs to be changed in our world.”
Quarterback Levi Lewis said much of the negativity was expected.
Sure, the offseason was rough.
“We expected that,” Lewis said. “That what comes with it. When you see negative like that, everybody has their opinion. That just goes to show you that we’ve got work to do. That’s what it shows me. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”
Not only does Wisham not think the march’s reaction will disrupt the team, he’s actually convinced it will bring the team closer together.
“I definitely think our team has grown and gotten confident with it,” Wisham said. “Myself, I really reached out to a lot of our (White) teammates and asked them for their honest truth and their honest opinion. Those conversations have been great. I know some of my other teammates have been doing that as well. It’s helped our team to come closer.
“Within our team, it’s all been support. I wanted to know how they feel not being African-American and standing with us. There was no doubt in their mind that they would do it again. A lot of the guys told me they supported i, and they still support us and just not to worry about it.”
Lewis only wishes everyone could experience UL’s brand of team unity.
“My teammates, we’re diverse,” Lewis said. “I wish everybody could play sports. Sports is the great unifier of both Black and White races. I feel like everybody should play sports. Beau Kalbacher is my best friend — on and off the field. Everybody should play sports, because you don’t see color.
“Everybody’s trying to go to that same goal — trying to win. On and off the field, we treat each other just like family. You just wish everybody could play sports and really see — it’s an eye-opener because you’ve got to learn how to play with that guy on the side of you.”
Backup QB race tight
Lewis is entrenched as the starting quarterback.
As for the backup quarterback, UL coach Billy Napier said there may not a definite one throughout the season.
The options are redshirt junior Jaiave Magalei and redshirt freshman Chandler Fields.
“I do think we’ve got three really good quarterbacks in my opinion,” Napier said. “I’ve been very pleased with both Jaiave and Chandler. I wouldn’t be nervous if any of those guys had to play.”
If you don’t believe in reaching for the stars, you might not want to talk to UL junior right tackle Max Mitchell any time soon.
Magalei played in six games last season, completing 20 of 28 passes for 224 yards with one touchdown and an interception. Chandler played in three games last season, rushing once for 4 yards and also going 3-for-3 passing for 16 yards.
“In general, we’ll narrow down the reps and get a guy ready to go as the backup, and that could change every week,” Napier said. “I think both of those guys are deserving. It’ll be competitive based on how they perform. We’ll be grading them very closely and evaluating everything they do.”
In addition to that duo behind starter Levi Lewis, redshirt freshman Clifton McDowell joins Luke Bogan in running the scout squad.
“He continues to get a little better,” Napier said of McDowell.
Staff decisions soon
Napier hasn't announced how his staff will be reorganized after offensive line coach D.J. Looney died of a heart attack on Aug. 1.
“We’re still evaluating all of those things,” Napier said last month. “It’s still very much under evaluation. We’ve filed some waivers and different things to create opportunities for guys to coach on the field.”
UL coach Billy Napier said his football team remains free of any positive tests just a few days before the first game week of the 2020 footbal…
Looney was typically in the press box, so in addition to just filling his spot on the staff, all the game-day roles also had to be determined before Saturday’s season opener.
“Right now, we’re in the process of working through — through trial and error — how we’re going to fulfill some of those roles,” Napier said. “We’ll make an announcement as we approach the opener in terms of the staff assignments.”