Editor’s note: This is the fifth in a 10-part series looking at the storylines to watch as the Cajuns approach their Aug. 5 report date for preseason practice.
LAFAYETTE — Thanks to some good luck and some solid development, the Louisiana-Lafayette football team hasn’t been forced to play many true freshmen during coach Mark Hudspeth’s tenure.
The team has avoided a rash of injuries that force youngsters into position, and the starting 22 for last year’s New Orleans Bowl featured 15 upper classmen — 11 of which were seniors.
Giving players a year to develop with a redshirt has been a luxury Hudspeth and his staff have taken full advantage of, and it’s borne fruit for the Cajuns.
Of the 19 projected 2015 starters who signed with the Cajuns out of high school, 11 of them have redshirted.
But sometimes redshirting isn’t an option.
Sometimes it’s because a player is too good, as was the case with Elijah McGuire, sometimes it’s because a change needs to be made, as was the case with safety Travis Crawford last season.
Inevitably, true freshmen find their way to the field, even in programs like Hudspeth’s that try to keep true freshmen in the weight room. At some points last year, the Cajuns had as many as three true freshman on the field at once with Crawford, defensive lineman Taboris Lee and linebacker T.J. Posey.
And as the Cajuns have kept winning, their recruiting classes have kept getting better, providing more players who are capable of contributing immediately.
The 2015 crop of freshmen could yield some instant impact, provided the players show the coaches they’ve grasped the playbook and the feel for the speed of the college game.
Need will also play a role in a year where the Cajuns are replacing 10 starters.
Defensive lineman Mario Osborne could be one of those players. The Cajuns are replacing two all-conference level players on the defensive line in Christian Ringo and Justin Hamilton, meaning just one starter will return from last year’s defensive line.
At 6-foot-4 and 250 pounds, Osborne has a college-ready frame and coaches seem to think he’ll play a role on the Cajuns defensive line this season.
Defensive line is one of the toughest positions to contribute as a freshman, however, because young players often find the going much more difficult against grown offensive linemen than the players they worked against in high school.
A spring injury might make it easier for someone like tight end Carlos Robinson to contribute right away, after sophomore Matt Barnes was lost for the season when he tore his ACL.
To help with depth, the Cajuns moved offensive tackle Greg Siener to tight end, but Robinson provides the downfield receiving threat that Barnes was going to bring to the table this season.
At 6-3, 213 pounds, Robinson is built in the mold of a hybrid tight end/receiver, and should bring an element to the position that returning players Nick Byrne and Evan Tatford don’t.
Perhaps the most interesting freshman to watch is running back Jordan Wright. The Cajuns must find a way to replace the 14 carries per game that Alonzo Harris received last year, and not all of those can go to McGuire.
Wright is the closest approximation to Harris’ sturdy build on the Cajuns current roster, and he was massively productive in high school, topping 3,000 yards in his senior season.
While McGuire will obviously take the staring role in the Cajuns offense, Wright might sneak some carries away from returning veterans Torrey Pierce and Effrem Reed.