It’s been one of the biggest question marks surrounding the UL Ragin’ Cajuns since the spring game.
Seven games into a very encouraging season, the wide receiver rotation remains an issue.
Take Saturday’s 31-3 homecoming win over Texas State, for instance.
Leading receiver Ja’Marcus Bradley went down early and didn’t catch a pass for the first time in 35 games.
In his absence, Jalen Williams had three receptions for 50 yards — one for 19 yards for a first down two plays before a touchdown and another for 25 yards on third one play before another UL touchdown.
“It was great to see Jalen Williams make some plays, took advantage of some of his opportunities, stepped up and made a couple of big plays on some of the possessions that we scored on,” UL coach Billy Napier said. “He’s been one of the guys that’s really emerged, and we’re happy with the progress he’s made.”
For the record, Bradley’s injury was a “lower body issue,” not the ankle he injured in the Appalachian State loss. Napier said he expects Bradley to be ready for Thursday’s road game at Coastal Carolina.
Elsewhere, tight ends Nick Ralston and Pearse Migl both had two receptions. No other wide receiver had more than one catch.
The touchdown grabs were made by Ralston and running back Raymond Calais. Jamal Bell had one catch for 23 yards and true freshman Peter LeBlanc ad one for eight. No other receivers caught a pass.
“I think Jamal is making progress each and every week,” Napier said. “Certainly during the open date, I thought he really kind of took a step forward, made a play early in the game, had some other opportunities. I feel confident, certainly, Peter LeBlanc is probably the player that I’ve been most impressed with in how quickly he’s picked things up and the maturity he has as a competitor. It’s not too big for him. It’s just another day at the ballyard for him.”
It’s simple math.
If you have four days in between games instead of the usual six, you just can’t put as much into game preparation.
“You just don’t have the physical workload that you typically would have,” Napier said. “It’s more mental reps, mental energy, walk-throughs, trying to get the repetitions that you typically would get in the week that you just can’t do them physically. You’re certainly not ready to go do a Tuesday practice the day after a game or even a Wednesday two days after the game.
"Typically our players are in kind of a rest-and-recovery mode and getting ready to ramp it up Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, so a lot more mental work, meetings, walk-throughs."
For many during the preseason, the UL Ragin’ Cajuns were supposed to be a team carried by an explosive offense.
Although the coaching staff was able to work on preparing for Coastal Carolina during the team's 16 days off prior to Saturday’s Texas State game, that doesn’t totally make up for the shortened prep time.
“You kind of take some of the planning that you did and dust it off and pull it off the shelf,” Napier said. “Getting up to speed is the biggest challenge, and then we do have another game to kind of consider, with maybe some of the early planning that we did. It’s unique, we’re off to a good start here and certainly got to finish well here as we approach the game.”
Secret to UL’s success
If you ask junior linebacker Joe Dillon, sure he agrees with the logic that increased depth and the second year in the system play a big role.
But to him, the driving force is bigger than any technical football issues.
“Me personally, it’s my teammates,” Dillon said. “If you look at the team we’ve got out there, I would have to say they’re wonderful teammates. I wouldn’t want to play with any anybody else. I mean you come up here and you see them every day come up here and bust their butt, it’ll make you want to come up here and do exactly the same thing. We motivated each other to come up here and get better every single day.”
In his first season under new UL coach Billy Napier last season, wide receiver Jalen Williams made a good first impression with four reception…
With that said, Dillon has personally reaped the benefit of having more depth around him. For instance, the emergence of sophomore Kris Moncrief has taken a lot of pressure off Dillon.
“I feel great out there,” Dillon said. “If I had to guess, I feel like I’m back. But it’s not just Joe Dillon having to affect the pass rush. It’s more Kris as well. Chauncey (Manac) on the other, Bennie (Higgins), Zi’Yon (Hill) … it’s all from different angles that can affect the quarterback — not just Joe Dillon.”
Plan-B for O-line
On a short week, getting injury updates are even less likely. But if starting right tackle Robert Hunt isn’t able to play Thursday at Coastal Carolina, Napier did say the same Plan-B strategy will be employed.
Normal left tackle Max Mitchell moved to right tackle, where he played in high school at Neville in Monroe, and last year’s starting left tackle Rico Robinson filled in at left tackle.
They used to be bitter District 3-5A rivals. They still play on opposite sides of the ball.
“Let’s say we don’t get Hunt back, that’s our best lineup,” Napier said. “Certainly those guys played well at times. Certainly a work in progress there with a little bit of moving around. You know, it’s five equals one. A lot of those guys have significant experience. Certainly Rico’s played a lot of good ball for us, played really well in the games last year for us. I think that would be the lineup if we had the same issue that we had before."
Also, former Opelousas Catholic standout Spencer Gardner’s job as a backup at tackle potentially takes on a more significant role.