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UL wide receiver Dontae Fleming (17), shown here running with the ball against Nicholls, is leading the Cajuns with 11 receptions so far this season.

Through four games, UL’s production at wide receiver has been spread across the room.

Freshman Dontae Fleming is leading the way with 11 receptions for 152 yards and a score. Below him, eight different receivers have between three and 10 receptions, and that’s not counting multiple running backs and tight ends in that range as well.

“Yeah, what we have is we’ve got a lot of people that can play,” UL coach Billy Napier said. “Basically, all we’re doing is evaluating how they practice and maybe how they play in the previous week. It’s extremely competitive in that room. We probably have more players than we’ve ever had at any point since I’ve been here.

“If they deserve to play, they’ll play. Maybe they didn’t have quite the week they should. I think that’s the ideal scenario for the coach, and it’s really allowed us to get good play out of that room.”

Napier said he’s not concerned about quarterback Levi Lewis developing a cohesive relationship with that many targets.

“I haven’t see any timing issues so far,” Napier said. “I think in general, we’re just fortunate to have some depth. I think we’re trying to create a competition there, and I think that’s more important than maybe some of those issues that you’re bringing up. If I felt like that became an issue, then maybe we would change it, but it hasn’t been so far.

“I think being fair and consistent with the players in terms of rewarding playing time is more important than those issues, relative to just earning the opportunity to be one of 11 players that steps between the lines and represents the team.”

Kicker added to injury list

It already was expected that offensive linemen Carlos Rubio, Tyler Brown and now Jax Harrington are lost for the season with injuries. On Wednesday, Napier confirmed kicker Kenneth Almendares won't play any more this season because of an "avulsion tear."

"We're fortunate that we have an experienced player in Nate Snyder, who has made some big kicks in his career for us," Napier said of Snyder assuming the role. "Nate's had a great week. He's really had a really good training camp and so far in the season. He gets reps each and every day."

Rubio suffered both MCL and ACL injuries and will have surgery soon. Brown and Harrington already have had surgeries.

"I think the important thing here is to keep perspective and come up with really good plans," Napier said of the OL injury list. "This comes with the territory, and certainly we've had a little bit of a bad run of luck here with our bigs on offense, but I've been very pleased with our contingency plans."

Running back plan

The process of getting the running game up to speed is ongoing process for the Cajuns.

Chris Smith has the most carries (43) and yards (191) at 4.4 yards per carry. True freshman Montrell Johnson is next with 41 carries, 183 yards, and four touchdowns at 4.5 ypc.

“This is a team sport, a team game,” Napier said. “When you rush the ball effectively, all the players contribute to that. I think when we have plays when 11 players do exactly what they’re supposed to do and the ball gets handed off, typically the guys that’s carrying the ball has success.

“There have been different running backs this season. He has been in the game and carried the ball in the past when we’ve executed well. He’s very capable of making plays. It’s about execution. I think that’s where our focus will be spent."

So far, Emani Bailey has the highest average at 6.5 ypc on 27 carries with 168 yards, essentially playing the big-play role Raymond Calais filled two years ago and Smith did last season.

Napier said he has no plans to alter the system.

“We’ve got a pretty good track record around here at running back at rushing the football,” he said. “We’re going to continue with our plan. I think we can block them better, we can play better on the edges, we can block the force-fitter, we can play with better footwork, eye discipline and be more decisive at running back. And then I think our quarterback can make better decisions on some of these run-pass options and run-screen options.”

UL reaches dozen in NFL

UL’s imprint in the NFL has grown.

On Monday night, former UL fullback Nick Ralston made his NFL debut on special teams with the Dallas Cowboys. Ralston made a tackle in the kicking game after being elevated from the practice squad.

Ralston is the 12th former Ragin’ Cajun currently on an NFL roster.

On the high end, there are the offensive linemen Kevin Dotson with Pittsburgh and Robert Hunt with Miami. Both Dotson and Hunt have been starters over the first three weeks of the season.

Tracy Walker is also a regular starter for the Detroit Lions, recording 14 tackles with one behind the line and a hit on the quarterback.

Running back Elijah Mitchell has started one of two games but was out with an injury in the third. So far, he has 146 yards and a score on 36 carries for the San Francisco 49ers.

Former teammate Trey Ragas was active for Sunday’s game for the Raiders, but he didn’t play and was released Monday.

Defensive tackle Christian Ringo has started all three games for the New Orleans Saints with five tackles, while former teammate Justin Hamilton has played in one game for the Dallas Cowboys with no statistics.

Other ex-Cajuns getting NFL paychecks on practice squads are Ja’Marcus Bradley (Browns) and Michael Jacquet (Eagles). Elijah McGuire is on injured reserve for the Chiefs, as is Raymond Calais with the Rams.

 


Email Kevin Foote at kfoote@theadvocate.com.