When Billy Napier’s staff was going through its first spring at UL last year, outside linebacker Joe Dillon was fighting for his football life.

A hip condition had threatened it. He was initially told his playing days were over following two encouraging seasons with the Ragin’ Cajuns.

The long road back since that successful procedure in March 2018 will reach a thrilling conclusion when Dillon steps on the field for the first time in a regular-season game at 11 a.m. Saturday against Mississippi State in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

“It’s been over a year,” Dillon said. “That first feeling back, I don’t know how I feel yet, but building up to that point, I’m pretty excited.”

Dillon played 20 snaps in the spring game, and coaches have warned that it would be a slower process to recovery in August camp. Dillon, who has career totals of 11½ sacks and 19½ tackles for loss, is listed as a backup to Kris Moncrief heading into the opener.

“He’s made great progress,” Napier said. “People are informed about his hip injury. That’s been a really awesome thing to observe. A guy gets football taken away from him and six weeks later finds out that the treatment worked and he’s got that road to recovery.

“His passion and his drive to have success is higher than it's ever been.”

Napier added Dillon is “bigger, stronger, and certainly has learned the defense. You’ve seen here in the last two or three weeks as a student of the game learning the big picture and his piece of the puzzle relative to the concept that we’re running on defense. He’s really made tons of progress.”

Dillon said he’s overcome the fear of injury and isn’t concerned about any individual goals.

“I just want to win,” Dillon said. “Me personally what I do doesn’t matter, if we lose at the end of the day, it’s pointless. I want to go out there and win. That’s my personal goal.”

Injury update

As starters go, senior right guard Kevin Dotson and senior cornerback Michael Jacquet are both listed as day-to-day.

Listed as the backup for Dotson on the two-deep depth chart released Wednesday evening is true freshman O’Cyrus Torrence of St. Helena Central. Jacquet’s listed reserve is sophomore A.J. Washington of Houston.

The only potential starter listed as out for Saturday’s game is tight end Johnny Lumpkin. Also out are: DB Blair Brooks, OL Tyler Brown, OL Jax Harrington and OLB Ja’Braylon Spencer.

“Outside of that, we’re really healthy and ready to go,” Napier said.

Depth on the line

Napier said he’s much more comfortable with the depth on his offensive line this season.

In fact, sophomore Max Mitchell is listed as a potential starter, along with senior Rico Robinson at left tackle. Redshirt sophomore Carlos Rubio from Alexandria is listed as Ken Marks’ backup at left guard.

Shane Vallot’s backup at center is redshirt freshman Luke Junkunc; redshirt sophomore Spencer Gardner is Robert Hunt’s backup at right tackle.

“Oh yes, we’re in good shape (on line),” Napier said. “We’ve got some tremendous young players and players who maybe played last year that are returning, whether that’s Max Mitchell, Spencer Gardner or O’Cyrus Torrence. You’ll probably see all of those guys play in this game.”

Kicking game

There weren’t any special teams surprises on the depth chart. As expected, senior Stevie Artigue will handle the placekicking duties, while redshirt freshman Kenneth Almendares will handle kickoffs.

Sophomore Rhys Burns is the punter and redshirt sophomore Paul Boudreaux is the long snapper.

Napier said he expects UL’s coverage teams to be improved.

“That’s one of the areas that we’ve really worked hard on,” he said. “I didn’t feel like we were ready to play from a punt coverage and kickoff coverage standpoint early in the season last year, so we’ve put a huge emphasis on that.

“We’ve done more drill work and certainly done more full-speed cover reps as of late. I think we’re benefiting from depth and I think we’ve got pretty good team speed. We’ve got lots of players who played last year that are coming back.”

Email Kevin Foote at kfoote@theadvocate.com.