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Football: Billy Napier reveals his observations from Ragin’ Cajuns spring practice

Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, April 6, 2021

Billy Napier likes some of what he has seen so far.

But not everything pleases the Ragin’ Cajuns coach after eight days of spring practice, including their first of three scrimmages.

Seven sessions, including UL’s April 22 spring game, remain after taking most of this week off for spring break.

Napier said he saw “a lot of good and a lot of bad” after UL’s scrimmage Thursday, with some of the bad including “average” fundamentals, a mixed display of communication efforts and “a lot of young players that need to make improvement.”

Here’s what is known at the halfway point:

Bailey, Orphey making a case

Chris Smith, UL’s No. 3 running back last season, is the leading candidate to pick up more carries now that Elijah Mitchell and Trey Ragas are preparing for the NFL draft.

But who else could contend for what Napier said will again amount to a by-committee backfield approach?

40-YARD FLASH:What Elijah Mitchell’s blazing 40-yard dash time means for his NFL draft stock

THE NEXT BACKS:How the Ragin’ Cajuns plan to replace two running backs lost to NFL draft

“I thought Emani Bailey had a good day (in Thursday’s scrimmage),” he said.

Bailey – from Denton, Texas – had 10 carries for 60 yards while appearing in five games as a freshman last season.

“I saw him be decisive (Thursday),” Napier said. “The play speed was there.

“Chris (Smith) had a good day as well. Then we had a number of players after that that took reps, and I think we’re kind of sort of working through those things.”

Other candidates include T.J. Wisham, who sustained a season-ending wrist injury playing special teams last season; Michael Orphey Jr., a walk-on who appeared in four games last season; and Jacob Kibodi, a transfer from Texas A&M.

“The surprise for the first eight practice has been Michael Orphey,” running backs coach Jabbar Juluke said. “He’s been doing a really good job out there of being consistent, doing the things that we’re asking him to do.”

Orphey, an Alexandria Senior High product, had three carries for 59 yards and a touchdown in a blowout win over UL Monroe late last season.

Wisham is taking full reps but remains in a noncontact jersey.  

Experience:What to know about Cajuns special teams in 2021 after an eventful 2020

Fresno State QB transfer impressive

One of the biggest surprises so far has been the play of quarterback Ben Wooldridge, a walk-on transfer who was Fresno State’s sparingly used backup the past two seasons.

“He’s really made progress and picked up the system rather quickly,” Napier said, “and has showed the ability to execute the system and move the offense.

“I would say he’s the one in that room that really stands out. Now am I saying he’s the leader to be the backup? No, I’m not saying that. I’m just saying … of the four new guys that have joined the team … he’s been the most impressive so far.”

Wooldridge’s arrival was overshadowed by that of Lance LeGendre, a scholarship addition who was Maryland’s backup last year.

TRANSFER:Maryland backup quarterback Lance LeGendre commits to Ragin’ Cajuns

The Cajuns also have two early high school enrollees, Zy McDonald and Hunter Herring.

None of the four, however, have separated themselves from Chandler Fields, who shared backup duties with Jaiave Magalei behind Levi Lewis last year. Magalei entered the NCAA transfer portal and no longer is with the program.

“Chandler (Fields) is the leader in the clubhouse,” Napier said, reiterating what he suggested before spring practice began.

“He’s been around here two years. He’s got a big body of work and we know what we have there. Then we’ve certainly got a lot of newcomers that are in a different stage relative to overall comprehension. But I do think (Wooldridge) has picked things up quickly.”

The next step:How the Cajuns can use ‘the deep shot’ to improve offense

Eke, Bernard, Stephens productive

Much already has been made of Kyren Lacy, Errol Rogers Jr. and Dontae Fleming headed into their second season.

But three less heralded Cajun receivers have made waves early this spring: Golden Eke, a transfer from Oklahoma’s track and field program who had one catch in five games for the Cajuns last season; Jacob Bernard, a walk-on who appeared in one game as a redshirt freshman season; and John Stephens Jr., a transfer from TCU who had one catch in five games as a redshirt sophomore for the Horned Frogs in 2020.

“Those three in particular have been very productive so far,” Napier said.

Defensive coordinator:How Ragin’ Cajuns’ Patrick Toney grew wiser in 2020

Related:Expectations for the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns defense are high

Humphrey standing out

One notable presence on defense has been starting nose Tayland Humphrey, who returned for 2021 rather than declare for the NFL draft.

“All I can tell you is it’s very obvious when he’s out there on the field,” Napier said with a laugh.

“He’s improving. I’m very impressed with how Tayland has worked in the offseason.”

A transfer from Florida International, Humphrey – listed at 6-foot-5, 333 pounds – made an impact with 32 tackles in his first season as a Cajun last year.