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Football: Guts = Glory: Cajuns’ defense brings new attitude

Cajuns’ defense bringing new attitude to practice at camp

Joshua Parrott • jparrott@theadvertiser.com • August 7, 2008

Within seconds of catching the screen pass in Wednesday’s practice, Draylon Booker suffered the most vicious hit so far in UL’s preseason football camp.

Booker, a true freshman from Texas, had enough time to turn up field before getting blasted by junior cornerback Junior Jean.

Jean’s helmet flew off and up in the air.

Booker hit the turf hard, as his teammates and coaches roared after the big lick.

Welcome to the first day of practice in shoulder pads for the Ragin’ Cajuns.

"That defense is playing on edge," head coach Rickey Bustle said. "The coaches have those guys fired up. They’re playing with a passion."

That passion has been on display so far in fall camp as the Cajuns look to improve on defense in 2008 after going 3-9.

Last year, the Cajuns ranked 113th nationally in rushing defense, 106th in scoring defense and 104th in total defense, with injuries to several starters for most of the season.

In their first nine games, the Cajuns went 1-8 and gave up an average of 40.1 points and 490 yards per game.

But there were encouraging signs at the end of the season.

The Cajuns allowed 23 points and 314 yards per game when finally healthy, closing the year by winning two of their last three games. UL’s pass defense ranked 43rd in the nation.

Looking to carry that late-season momentum into the spring, the Cajuns brought in former UL player and coach Gerald Broussard to work with the defensive line. While Broussard got acclimated, defensive coordinator Kevin Fouquier switched from coaching the linebackers to the defensive line. Tim Rebowe took over the linebackers. Hurlie Brown worked with the secondary.

With Broussard comfortable with his surroundings, Fouquier will be more active at every defensive position this season, and Rebowe and Brown will stick with their new positions.

While the defense needs to replace three starters on the line and in the secondary, the linebacker position is the strength of this unit. Senior Antwyne Zanders is back after logging a team-high 93 tackles and earning second team All-Sun Belt honors. He is joined by senior Brent Burkhalter and sophomore Grant Fleming at linebacker.

The competition for the open spots was on display at Wednesday’s practice. UL’s defense forced five turnovers, meeting its daily goal set by Fouquier. He said "TNT: tackles ‘n turnovers" is the defense’s new motto.

Fouquier, who previously made the defenses at Florida International and Middle Tennessee into two of the best in the Sun Belt, wants his players to be more active this season. Starting with Saturday’s scrimmage, a red hardhat will be given out to the player who makes the most tackles. A white hardhat will go to the player who forces the most takeaways.

The winning players will carry those hardhats out to the practice field all week.

"You can tell by the way the guys are running around that they’re in shape," Fouquier said. "They’re stronger, bigger and faster. We’ve just got to continue building on the end of last season and what we did in the spring."

The Cajuns return to the practice field at 3:30 p.m. today in shoulder pads and go in full pads at the same time on Friday. On Saturday, the Cajuns will hold their first two-a-day practice, going at 8 a.m. before a scrimmage at 2:30 p.m.

Putting in overtime

A handful of players stayed after practice to put in some extra time on Wednesday.

Julian Shankle, a redshirt freshman running back, worked on the blocking sled and did slide drills. Shankle missed most of the spring with a broken ankle that required surgery.

At least six players worked on pass routes and catching the ball, including junior Louis Lee, redshirt freshman Jawanza Mitchell and true freshman Brendan Wilson.

Back on the field

Brian Jenkins, UL’s running backs coach, was back at practice on Wednesday, one day after having oral surgery.

"He’s a warrior," Fouquier said. "He was coaching today like nothing had happened."

Who’s who

Based on the numbers gathered from Sunday’s team physicals, six players – Erik Jones, Jaron Odom, Nasser Jamal, Kyle Plouhar, Kyle Pirtle and Josh Robinson – all measured in the tallest at 6-foot-6. Caleb Rubin, a senior wide receiver, was the shortest at 5-7.

Odom, a freshman offensive lineman, was the heaviest at more than 330 pounds. Pierre Hill, a freshman wide receiver, weighed the lightest at 150 pounds.

Quote of the Day

"I wish everybody would play like you."

-Brian Jenkins, UL’s running backs coach, to junior fullback Geoffrey McCullough.

The Ragin' Cajuns' defensive coordinator Kevin Fouquier is looking to build another top-notch Sun Belt defense at UL, just like he did at FIU and Middle Tennessee.

The Ragin’ Cajuns’ defensive coordinator Kevin Fouquier is looking to build another top-notch Sun Belt defense at UL, just like he did at FIU and Middle Tennessee.