Like many players across the country, several UL Ragin’ Cajuns reaped the benefit of the new NCAA rule allowing a student-athlete to play up to four games in a season and still be able to count that campaign as a red-shirt year.
Among those Cajuns taking advantage of it a year ago were safety Bralen Trahan and tight end Chase Rogers.
The UL Ragin’ Cajuns quarterback situation officially got more crowded this weekend with the news from the NCAA that Brayden Hawkins is eligib…
“I think it’s been an outstanding rule,” UL coach Billy Napier said. “It gives you some flexibility not only relative to getting a guy some significant experience, but also when you do have injuries, you can take a little bit of a different approach. Late in the year, you’re constantly trying to evaluate.”
Napier said there’s different avenues to utilizing the rule.
“There may be players that we basically decide, ‘Alright, we’re going to play this guy for four games and then shut him down and get him ready for the next year,’ ” Napier said. “Then there may be some guys we pull at the end of the year. A lot of it has to do with the health of your team or the health of a certain position group.
“I think it’s a good rule. And for a team that lacks depth, I think it’s a really, really good rule.”
Of course, the positive aspects of the new rule do also include an extra responsibility for the coaching staffs.
Like most coaches, there's no denying UL coach Billy Napier fully grasps the significance of winning the turnover battle.
“One thing I think we could improve at is communicating with each one of those guys in those situations,” Napier admitted. “Because a lot of guys that maybe their role isn’t big on the team, but OK, they play their third game or their fourth game and they start thinking, ‘OK, if I play again, I don’t have that red-shirt opportunity.’ So as a staff, it’s something we’ll continue to evaluate as we go.”
No. 3 WR so far?
It was one of the focuses of spring game as well as questions to answer during August camp for UL’s coaching staff.
Who will emerge as the No. 3 wide receiver on the depth chart behind senior Ja’Marcus Bradley and Jarrod Jackson.
“I’d say Jamal Bell would be the third receiver,” Napier said. “I think Calif Gossett has flashed. He’s certainly talented. It’s more about maturity and consistency with him. He’s got ability.”
Like so many high school football stars over the year, UL redshirt sophomore Bralen Trahan did a little bit of everything in earning All-State…
Both got limited action a year ago. Bell had six catches for 38 yards and a score in nine games, while Gossett had three grabs for 43 yards in six games.
“But I’ve been impressed with Jamal,” Napier said. “He’s becoming a steady, consistent tough competitor. He’s improved his ball security, which was an issue last year. Overall, I think both of those guys — Year 2 in the system. Small roles last year. They’re ready.”
Napier could easily foresee a platoon scenario.
“Both of them will play,” he said. “It might be one of those groups where it’s, ‘Alright Jamal and Calif, whichever one practices the best this week will start the game.’ I could see that being a weekly thing.”
Also still in the mix are newcomer Brian Smith Jr. and veteran Jalen Williams.
With the addition of red-shirt freshman Brayden Hawkins, Napier said there’s no real concern about getting a good enough look at each of the five quarterbacks competing in camp.
“You’ve got to realize now that we two-spot every drill,” Napier explained. “So let’s say we have a 7-on-7 period where there’s 24 reps on the script, well there’s actually 48 reps that are taking place.
For the record, most of us have been mispronouncing his name over his four seasons in Cajun Country.
“You’ve got two groups working on this end and two groups working on that end. We're finally to the point where we have enough quality players to execute the two-spot plan.”
Furthermore, Napier said his staff will until the game week of the Mississippi State season opener on Aug. 31 to make any tough depth chart decisions at quarterback, or any other position.
“I’d say we’d probably go another 18 practice, 17 practices, before we say, ‘Hey, here’s the clear-cut rotation’ as we install the game plan (for Mississippi State),” Napier said Friday.
In addition to current No. 1 Levi Lewis, No. 2 Jai’Ave Magalei and the trio of Hawkins, Chandler Fields and Clifton McDowell fighting for the No 3 spot, Napier said quarterbacks Beau Kalbacher and Quentin Gibson will join the team with school starts.
Next man up?
Until the depth chart is filled with the amount of top-notch players Napier envisions for the Ragin’ Cajuns program in the coming years, replacing injured performers this season won’t necessarily be a matter of looking at the depth chart.
“That’s why you teach conceptually,” Napier explained. “That’s why you have guys in certain meeting rooms together. In a perfect world, we’d like to have legitimate twos and not to have to make some of those changes. One change is better than two.”
It wasn’t a far-fetched concept. There was good reason for it.
For example, if an outside linebacker goes down, it may not be as easy as the No. 2 outside linebacker moving up to the starting spot. The No. 2 inside linebacker might actually be viewed as the best option. But that’s only possible if he’s been trained at both spots.
“It’s all about getting your best people on the field and that’s where you’re hoping you’re teaching conceptually, so if you do some injuries through the year, you don’t have to put a guy out there that’s not ready,” Napier said. “That’s what Ferrod Gardner did for us last year. Had to play on the edge one week with two days notice when Chauncey got hurt.”