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Football: Role of UL Monroe transfer T.J. Fiailoa with rival Ragin’ Cajuns still unclear for now

Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, April 18, 2021

With all five starters returning, where graduate transfer T.J. Fiailoa fits on UL’s offensive line remains uncertain.

The former UL Monroe guard is expected to have a role of some sort for the rival Ragin’ Cajuns in 2021. But precisely what that is still isn’t clear even as the Cajuns, whose spring game Thursday (7 p.m., ESPN�) at Cajun Field, head into their final week of spring practice.

“The plan with him was bring him in, take advantage of his experience, get him ready to help us out immediately,” said Jeff Norrid, UL’s first-year offensive line coach.

“We’ve kind of had a slower process with him, kind of mentally helping him get into shape, helping him learn the offense, learn the techniques, the terminology and all that stuff.

“He’s a super smart guy. Very high football IQ. And his experience shows. It does,” Norrid added. “I’m really excited about him and what he brings to the table.”


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Cajun questions

When Fiailoa  made the jump to UL, returning players weren’t sure what to expect from the 6-foot-4, 302-pounder from MacArthur High in Lawton, Oklahoma.

They knew his resume – third team All-Sun Belt Conference pick after starting all 12 games and allowing only 1.5 sacks in 2018, limited to four games before a season-ending 2019 leg injury, second team All-SBC 2020 preseason selection before starting every game for an 0-10 team – but little more than that.

“I have no idea how they’re gonna work it,” guard Ken Marks said. “But he’s a great player. … However the coaches see fit, wherever he’s gonna be, I feel like he’s gonna help.”

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iailoa, who hasn’t been made available for comment this spring, has worked exclusively at guard, mostly on the left side with backups and third-stringers.

Marks, headed into his seventh season at UL, started all 11 games at left guard last year after missing most of 2019 with a knee injury. And Norrid loves the Cajuns’ starting right guard, second team All-Sun Belt pick O’Cyrus Torrence.

Where does that leave Fiailoa?

Norrid could rotate three.  Or he could move Marks to tackle, where Carlos Rubio starts on the left and Max Mitchell on the right.

“We’re not there yet,” said Norrid, who spent the past two seasons coaching Florida Atlantic’s offensive line.

“I’m still at the developmental stages, trying to push these guys to get at the level fundamentally where I want them. … I’ll get to that scenario once we get to fall camp.”

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Time before Texas game

There’s much to learn before then.

“It’s a big playbook … especially with Coach Norrid coming in with a couple new calls and adjustments here and there,” Mitchell said. “But we’re working with (Fiailoa), and he’ll fit in, and I think he’ll be in the rotation. I think he has a shot, for sure.”

But, like Norrid, coach Billy Napier suggested it’s way too early to be more specific.

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“Well,” Napier said, “we don’t play a game for a long time.

“T.J., he just got here right before spring practice started. … He’s not as familiar with our system. So I think he’s working at a pace.

“But (he) certainly has flashed at times,” Napier said, “and shown that he is exactly what we thought.”

The Cajuns open the season Sept. 4 at Texas.

“So I think – much like any young player on our team right now – he is in the middle of this process we go through to get him up to speed,” Napier said. “But we’re pleased so far and we’re excited about the ways he can impact our team in the future.”