Most coaches consistently proclaim that preseason intrasquad scrimmages are one of several tools to decide starting lineups for the regular season, not the primary proving ground.
One area where those August scrimmages might actually carry a little more weight is kick returns.
Like most coaches, there's no denying UL coach Billy Napier fully grasps the significance of winning the turnover battle.
“That’s going to be a big part of this scrimmage that maybe gets overlooked, the execution of the specialists and that includes the returners,” UL coach Billy Napier said. “Having hands on the ball, communicating, having good judgement in making sure that we get possession of the ball.
“This is oftentimes the time of the year where returners’ decisions get made based on those situations.”
Napier said the top candidates to be the punt returner include running back Chris Smith, sophomore cornerback Eric Garror and freshmen Brandon Legendre and Amir McDaniel.
“Eric Garror is a guy who has a pretty good history there — a lot of production there in high school,” Napier added. “He’s got instincts back there. I’ve been impressed with him. Brandon Legendre, the same category as a guy who did it in high school."
McDaniel has a similar history of returning punts during his high school playing days. Also, there are veteran options from last season.
“Jamal Bell and Ja’Marcus Bradley both repped there the entire year last year,” Napier said.
Sharing ball underrated
Some wonder how three top-notch running backs like UL’s Trey Ragas, Elijah Mitchell and Raymond Calais can co-exist.
After all, isn’t this the era of selfish young athletes looking out for No. 1?
Not even close with this group, Napier insisted. In fact, all three actually prefer it this way.
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…
“This offensive system to some degree has always been a two or three-running back system,” Napier said. “I think they like it. They would tell you they’re fresher. They stay healthy. They can play harder.”
The physical toll of the running back position makes it easier to accept sharing time.
“People don’t realize the cumulative effect and energy that’s required to play that position,” Napier said. “You’re on 10 — your pedal’s to the metal when that ball gets in your hands, and you’re taking contact. It’s a deal that if you’ve got multiple backs, it’s (good for all).”
It certainly worked well last year with Ragas rushing for 1,181 yards and eight touchdowns, Mitchell 985 yards and 13 scores and Calais adding 754 yards and seven touchdowns.
No change at WR
There’s still plenty to decide as far as the wide receivers depth chart, particularly in the third, fourth and possibly fifth spots.
The No. 1 and the No. 2 positions, however, are nailed down with Bradley and Jarrod Jackson manning those positions.
“Oh yeah, no question,” Napier said.
For the record, most of us have been mispronouncing his name over his four seasons in Cajun Country.
“Both of those guys are lights out right now. They’re in their prime. They’re certainly refining their game. They played significant snaps last year, so we’re working on minor details. They’re playing an elite level of football at wide receiver.”
Napier said Jackson will be playing in “two-receiver groupings” as a senior after primarily being the third receiver last season.
Bradley had 40 receptions and 608 yards and 10 touchdowns last season, while Jackson had 19 receptions and 325 yards and four scores.
OL wanna-be WRs?
On the surface, Napier is completely prepared with comments about how selfless his offensive line is.
“They really exemplify what the game is about,” Napier said.
While that’s certainly accurate, it also doesn’t mean the coach and play-caller doesn’t detect the secret desire beneath most linemen.
It wasn’t a far-fetched concept. There was good reason for it.
“Four of the five are never going to touch the ball, even though you might have a trick up your sleeve here and there where one of them gets it,” Napier said, “or they’re bringing me videos of where O-linemen are catching passes.”
Napier was then informed of a recent alumni football game where former Cajuns offensive lineman Mykhael Quave caught two touchdown passes.
“I think that’s a common theme,” Napier laughed. “Every time people run one of those plays, there’s a campaign by the OLs to get that installed.”
Possible this season for the Cajuns?
“We’ll see as time goes,” he said. “It depends on how well they play.”