Recently promoted UL defensive coordinator Patrick Toney decided to venture into a new area this season as the Cajuns’ new outside linebacker coach.
If anyone is tempted to read anything into that move, however, don’t.
Toney couldn’t have a higher opinion or enjoy coaching a group more than he did as the Cajuns' safeties coach.
“First of all, I love all of those safeties,” Toney said. “That room is incredible. That’s as deep of a safety room as I’ve ever been around and probably as deep as there is in college football to be honest.
“They make us different.”
The Cajuns finished the 2020 season ranked third nationally with 16 interceptions. The safeties played a huge role in that feat, led by Bralen Trahan with four.
Percy Butler added two interceptions and Cameron Solomon one.
But the value of the safety position for UL goes much deeper than interceptions.
It starts with the experience that unit brings to the defense.
“We were going through career snaps and at safety alone, all four of those guys (Kam Pedescleaux, Solomon, Trahan and Butler) have gone over 1,000 career snaps. You talk about experience. That’s huge.
“We ask a lot out of the safety position … making a lot of calls. Those guys have so many banked reps, for me as a defensive play-caller, it makes me feel so comfortable doing certain things based on a game plan, because I know they can do certain things and get it adjusted on the field.”
Solomon, who was honored as the team's top graduate last year, elected to return for another year offered by the NCAA because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“That’s great to have Cam back,” Butler said. “He’s a big help staying fresh. In the safety room, all of us are on a lot of special teams. So like, we’ll have punt and we’ve got two fresh set of legs to go in for the next defensive drive. So it helps keep everybody fresh.”
Solomon’s experience is invaluable to the younger safeties, especially during spring practice.
“It’s also helping the young guys to help develop them more for when they get their chance to come into the game and actually start playing,” Butler said. “They can put on tape how it’s supposed to be on tape, and not half-step and not really know the plays and just get through it. So Cam being back is helping the defense and he’s helping the young guys.”
Not only do the safeties help on special teams, Butler is one of the best special teams player on the team.
“I’ll never get tired of special teams,” he said. “That’s what got me on the field.”
It’s that willingness to go the extra mile that makes Butler so fun to coach.
“(Butler) was the first guy I got on the phone with when I got here to recruit when he was at Plaquemine (High School)," Toney said. "He is fun to coach. He takes coaching well and he plays extremely hard. If you’d be at practice, you’d be really impressed at how hard he runs to the football, flying around, breaking up balls."
The 6-foot, 190-pound junor also pushes the unit so that it is never satisfied.
“We dropped a lot of interceptions and there were a lot of fumbles that we should have had that the other team got,” Butler said. “There were more plays we should have made on the ball, so we feel like we didn’t do enough.”
Butler and Trahan are also physical, finishing last season as the team's fourth- and fifth-leading tacklers.
While many of the names are the same in the safety room, there are a few differences.
Butler has spotted a newcomer that could help in Kansas State transfer Tyrone Lewis.
“Tyrone, he’s doing good out there,” Butler said. “He’s getting extra film in. He just came in and he’s just attacking it right now. Every time I go upstairs he’s in there meeting with coach Neighbors, getting the playbook down. I feel like once he gets all the playbook down, he’s going to be playing this year. He’s going to be rotating with us, so he’s going to help too.”
With Toney moving, there’s also a new coach in the safeties room in Wes Neighbors.
“I feel like coach Neighbors is just like coach Toney,” Butler said. “He knows his stuff. He’s always on point with everything. Every guy in the room that I talk to, they like coach Neighbors. So it’s really not any different right now.”
The other secret behind to success is staying motivated without making excuses.
“All you do is think about if it’s really our fault that the season went like that,” Butler said of coping with the Sun Belt title game getting canceled. “If we win the Coastal game, the season doesn’t go like that. We really put that on our backs and that’s all we think about, losing that game by three.
“So every time we don’t feel like going or people are slacking, that’s what we say, ‘Remember that Coastal game. We don’t want to feel like that any more.’ ”
All the competition in the room also helps the group’s production. They don’t even wait for the fall to have internal competitions.
“Everything in the room is competition,” Butler said. “That’s what we do. Right now we’ve got a competition who’s going to get the most interceptions this spring. Whoever gets the most gets a prize at the end. We don’t know the prize yet.”