Since UL coach Billy Napier arrived, he has always trumpeted the value of versatility.

Until his coaching staff has the kind of roster Napier envisions for the future, the ability to treat his depth chart like a puzzle with movable parts is valuable.

Perhaps the best example as the Ragin’ Cajuns prepare for the Aug. 31 season opener against Mississippi State in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, is linebacker Kris Moncrief.

The sophomore from Raleigh, Mississippi, played outside linebacker in high school. As a freshman last season, he contributed as a reserve inside linebacker.

When it came time for spring football, defensive coordinator Ron Roberts thought Moncrief would serve his defense better back on the edge behind Joe Dillon on the depth chart.

“Kris is one of the players who has tons of versatility” Napier said. "We say all the time, ‘We need to sign more Kris Moncriefs.’ He’s a guy who can play on the edge and certainly in a crunch, could go back and play inside linebacker.”

At inside, Moncrief would have been behind two of the mainstays in senior Jacques Boudreaux and Ferrod Gardner, not to mention talented reserves in Lorenzo McCaskill and Jourdan Quibodeaux.

"This year, with Jacques and Ferrod being veteran players, (Moncrief is) one of our better football players, so how are we going to get him on the field?” Napier said. “That was what it was really about, trying to get the best 11 out there.

“And hey, next year when Jacques and Ferrod graduate, we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it, but he’s a guy who has versatility. He could go back and play ‘Mike.' We’re a big fan of Kris and his skill set and his attitude and toughness. He’s got a bright future.”

Ask Moncrief and where he plays matters little to him.

“I feel like I can play both,” Moncrief said. “I’ll play defensive tackle if they want me to.

“It was a big jump for me, but I was used to it. I was already prepared for it. I was ready to do whatever for the team. I was recruited as an athlete.”

In addition to his team-first attitude and aggressive approach to the game, Napier also likes the athleticism Moncrief brings to the position.

“He’s just instinctive,” Napier said. “I think he really finds the ball. He’s got a high football IQ. He played both ways in high school. He was a running back. He’s really athletic. He can run on third down, but he also can play in space. That gives you some flexibility when you start talking about pressure.

“He’s a guy who has a skill set in coverage as well. He’s a good point-of-attack player, weighs 250 pounds, but he also can rush and has some coverage ability, which really makes him unique. We need more guys like that.”

Last season as a freshman, Moncrief had 32 total tackles, 3.5 stops behind the line, 2.5 sacks and a pass breakup.

“I expected better of myself,” Moncrief said. “But being my first year coming in from high school, I just had to adjust to everything from high school to college. The speed of the game, it was different, very different. Just catching on to everything.”

The 6-foot-1, 250-pounder also encountered a transition when moving back to outside linebacker.

“I get all my work from Joe Dillon,” he said. “When I came in, they taught me. I really didn’t have any pass-rushing moves. All my brothers in the outside linebacker room taught me that.

“They helped me from there. He taught me the ropes, all the hand placements. He took me from there.”

The toughest part?

“The toughest adjustment for me so far is just stance-wise, standing straight up,” Moncrief said. “At middle linebacker, you’re down. You’re taking on blocks from the bottom up. But that’s about it. Everything else, I’m on board. I caught on.”

One aspect of his new position that isn’t lost on Moncrief is how important it is to the team overall.

“It is very important,” he said. “We play a very important role on the defense. We set the edges, we set the tone on the edge. It’s an important role, so we all have to step up to the plate.”

Email Kevin Foote at kfoote@theadvocate.com.