Football: What to know about the Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns offense during spring practice
Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, March 17, 2021
With two glaring exceptions, the Ragin’ Cajuns started spring practice Tuesday mostly stacked with returnees on offense.
It is a satisfying feeling for coach Billy Napier, and perhaps part of why he eschewed job opportunities at South Carolina and Auburn to return to UL for a fourth season.
The group returning almost intact helped UL go 10-1 including a First Responder Bowl win over Texas-San Antonio, and it’s a big reason the Cajuns are hopeful this is the year they finally get a Sun Belt Conference Championship game win.
Some things to know about the offense for UL, whose spring game is April 22:
Cajuns restock at running back
The two big names missing for UL in 2021 are running backs Elijah Mitchell and Trey Ragas, both NFL Draft prospects. Together, they rushed for 18 touchdowns and 1,600-plus yards last season. Much of this spring will be about identifying candidates to pick up their combined 272 carries.
All-Sun Belt return man Chris Smith, UL’s No. 3 last season, is a known commodity who’ll get his fair share.
Unknown is who emerges from a pack of candidates including 2020 freshman Emani Bailey, former Texas A&M running back Jacob Kibodi and ex-Army running back T.J. Wisham, who missed much of last season (wrist injury).
The Cajuns also signed four high school running backs – Carencro’s Kendrell Williams, Many athlete Terrence Williams, Dre’lyn Washington and former Arizona commit Montrell Johnson of De La Salle High in New Orleans – but none of them are in for spring ball.
Who backs up Levi Lewis?
There’s no doubt about UL’s No. 1 quarterback, Levi Lewis, the starter from the past season two seasons. But with Jaiave Magalei exiting, this spring offers opportunity to identify Lewis’ clear-cut backup.
Will it be transfer Lance Legendre, Maryland’s backup last season? Can Chandler Fields, who shared No. 2 time with Magalei in 2020, fend off the Legendre’s challenge? Does walk-on transfer Ben Woolridge, Fresno State’s former backup, have a chance?
And what about UL’s freshman signees who are in for spring practice, Hunter Herring of Ouchita Christian in Monroe and Zy McDonald of Ridgeland High near Jackson, Mississippi? Time will tell.
UL's line is intact
UL’s starting offensive line when last season concluded – right tackle Max Mitchell, right guard O’Cyrus Torrence, center Shane Vallot, left guard Ken Marks and left tackle Carlos Rubio – is back.
Mitchell, Torrence, Vallot and Marks were starters from the get-go; by season’s end Rubio was ahead of Arizona State graduate transfer Zach Robertson, who didn’t return.
It will be interesting to see where experienced UL Monroe transfer T.J. Fiailoa fits in. He’ll begin at guard, Napier said Tuesday. The other big question over the next month is which reserve establishes himself worthy of heavy snaps should a starter fall.
Will it be Tyler Brown, who played a good bit behind Marks last season? Is it AJ Gillie’s turn soon? How ready is backup center Luke Junkunc?
Cajuns have promising receivers
UL got a big boost when starting receiver Jalen Williams decided to play another season. Usual starter Peter LeBlanc returns and TCU transfer John Stephens Jr. arrives. But this spring’s all about development for three Cajun receivers who played as freshmen last year.
Kyren Lacy was UL’s statistical leader with 28 catches for 364 yards. Dontae Fleming and Errol Rogers saw lots of time too. Napier wants each to play with more precision. The spring is a chance to fine-tune that. If they can do it, the ceiling is sky high for all three.