UL coach Billy Napier warned how unstable the depth chart would be from week to week during this season.
He wasn’t lying.
He described positive COVID-19 tests impacting the depth chart before Week 2 at Georgia State as “the streak ending." With it a streak of a different kind began with many more Ragin’ Cajuns not available for Saturday’s 11 a.m. home opener against Georgia Southern at Cajun Field.
As many as eight potential starters, as well as several reserves, weren’t listed as available on the updated depth chart released Wednesday evening.
Freshman wide receiver Dontae Fleming (lower body) was listed as questionable and Kris Moncrief (upper body) out on the injury report, but the remainder of the players are assumed to be COVID related with no other explanation reported.
The first home game for the No. 19-ranked UL Ragin’ Cajuns football team is an 11 a.m. ESPN2 contest Saturday at Cajun Field against Georgia S…
The missing list is topped by senior running back Elijah Mitchell, whose 164 yards and two touchdowns bailed out the No. 19-ranked Cajuns in the 34-31 overtime win over Georgia State to get to 2-0.
Other starters not appearing on this week’s depth chart are: defensive tackle Tayland Humphrey, right tackle Max Mitchell, safety Cameron Solomon, linebacker Joe Dillon and cornerback AJ Washington.
Also not included on the depth chart were kicker Kenny Almendares and defensive linemen Kendall Wilkerson and Sonny Hazard.
“We’ve had good practices,” Napier said of the week so far. “The testing variable is where you’ve got to make adjustments most weeks.”
A week ago, the coaching staff saw reserves step up big at linebacker and in the secondary. This week, far more backups will need to respond for the Cajuns to get to 3-0.
In many ways, UL sophomore safety Kam Pedescleaux had already distinguished himself from the crowd — behind the scenes anyway.
“I think those opportunities like those young men had last week, that’s what this football season is going to present, given the dynamic that we’re competing in,” Napier said.
With Mitchell out, the Cajuns will lean more on senior Trey Ragas and sophomore Chris Smith, but freshman Emani Bailey and junior T.J. Wisham will be available if needed.
“Both could play in the game and we’d be really comfortable with it,” Napier said. “Bailey has been especially impressive with the reps that he’s taken. T.J. missed quite a bit of time during training camp. Emani Bailey has been one of the more impressive freshmen and we hope that transfers to the game.
“He’s been playing on special teams a little bit. I’ve been blessed with his attention to detail. He’s a good practice player. He practices fast. He’s intense. It’s very important to Emani to do his job for the team. He doesn’t like to make mistakes.”
Napier said he’s also comfortable with the reserves at linebacker, which now includes sophomore junior college transfer Jasper Williams and redshirt freshman walk-on La’Kamion Franklin from Neville High.
Williams was hurt during training camp, but “he has been really impressive in the short time we’ve been able to work with him on the field. Really smart kid, really conscientious … pays attention he’s a detail guy. He’s tracking everything that you’re teaching.”
Senior Chauncey Manac will play a bigger role this week.
The overall theme for the 2020 season thus far for the No. 19-ranked UL Ragin’ Cajuns applies also to the special teams.
“Oh yeah, Chauncey and Joe played 50% of the snaps in the first game — 50-50,” Napier said. “We see Chauncey as a starter. He’s one of the players that stepped up last week. Tyler Guidry, A.J. Riley … all three of those guys played last week and all three did a real good job. (Assistant coach) Mike Giuliani has done a good job with that group.
“That was one of the bright spots last week. I know Mekhi Garner got a lot of attention because AJ (Washington) was out (at cornerback), but going back and looking at the tape, we were very pleased with their detail, their execution and their production.”
On the offensive line, juniors Carlos Rubio and Spencer Gardner will fill in for Max Mitchell. Rubio has been praised throughout camp for his versatility, and Gardner “has good knowledge of our system, he has good length and good feet. He’s a good technician and he’s certainly worked hard for these opportunities to play.”
If Fleming is out again, Napier said he feels comfortable with the depth at receiver. Former Cecilia star Kaleb Carter and LCA standout Errol Rogers figure into the picture.
No one knows how many receptions UL sophomore wide receiver Devon Pauley is going to get before the end of the 2020 season.
“I’ve been very pleased with the progress of Errol Rogers this week,” Napier said of Rogers. “After the oblique injury he had in training camp — he missed about 10 days or so — he’s made really steady progress. I think you’ll see him more. He’s making the most of his opportunity.”
In Napier’s mind, Carter has earned the right to play anyway.
“Kaleb can really run,” he said. “He’s a vertical threat. He presents some strength as a result of that. He’s a detailed route runner and he’s smart. He has a good understanding of the system. He’s really been productive this training camp.
“He’s had one of the better training camps in that group. Kaleb is a good result of that. He’s in there mixing it up and certainly very deserving of that opportunity.”
At first glance, UL’s 34-31 overtime win over Georgia State on Saturday was totally different than the season-opening win over Iowa State.