Football: With Williams and other UL safeties hurt, some Cajuns could change positions
Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, Aug. 5, 2017
An injury sustained by baseball-player-turned-football-player-too Jam Williams, plus injuries to two more Ragin’ Cajun safeties, could cause a ripple-effect lineup shuffle that will impact UL’s defense early in the fall football season.
Williams will be out for “a minimum of a month, if not more” with a “lower-body” injury, Cajuns coach Mark Hudspeth said after preseason camp practice Friday.
The backup safety was hurt during a “freak accident” in practice Thursday, according to Hudspeth.
Hudspeth also said both backup safety Denarius Howard and true-freshman reserve safety SchDarren Archie are dealing with hamstring injuries.
The number of adverse health matters has Hudspeth concerned that others taking more practice reps as a result could become more susceptible to injury themselves.
“It all works together,” he said.
UL’s two returning starting safeties, senior Rover Tracy Walker and senior free safety Travis Crawford, do remain healthy and good to go after six days of camp and heading into a half-scrimmage Saturday.
If the two stay that way, they’ll get the bulk of game reps anyhow as the Cajuns open Sept. 2 at home against Southeastern Louisiana, followed by road trips to Tulsa and Texas A&M.
Getting Walker and Crawford to the opener is paramount, so neither will be overused in camp.
“But they need work,” Hudspeth said, “to stay sharp, and to work on their fundamentals, and to improve.”
“I definitely want to make it to the first game. That is the goal,” Walker added Friday. “But my goal is to just get better each and every day.”
The injury situation behind Walker and Crawford, however, could blurry the original defensive picture UL had planned for 2017 — especially if it lingers, or strikes someone else.
Williams was listed as Walker’s backup going into camp.
He joined UL’s football team during the offseason, and coaches hoped he could help — but they also knew he’d have to shake some rust off after leading Union Parish High to a Louisiana state championship as a quarterback in 2013, then pursuing a baseball career as a Cajuns outfielder and pinch-runner.
Williams, who remains on UL’s baseball team, was recruited by the Cajun football program as a receiver coming out of high school, but was put on defense now because the team was a bit short in the secondary even before this week’s injuries.
Howard, a senior, played all 13 games last season as a juco-transfer, including two starts. He’s the only returning safety besides Walker and Crawford with extensive NCAA FBS playing experience in the secondary.
Now — with Williams, Howard and freshman Archie all hurt — the Cajuns may have to pull players from elsewhere for help at safety, which would thin the ranks on a unit already moving players around following a 6-7 season in 2016.
Hudspeth said Cajun coaches have discussed moving senior special-teams standout Corey Turner from UL’s Slash outside linebacker/defensive back position, where he was listed as the starter before camp opened last Sunday, back to safety after Williams got hurt.
That could mean Julius Perkins, a juco-transfer linebacker, and/or Terik Miller, who played mostly on special teams as a redshirt freshman last season, move up at the Slash spot.
Hudspeth also said Damar’ren Mitchell could be moved to safety if needed.
That, though, would mean altering plans at corner, where the Cajuns also have game-ready depth concerns.
Mitchell was UL’s Slash starter as a true freshman last season.
But the Cajuns have him penciled in at cornerback for 2017, as part of what could be three-man at corner along ex-Slash backup Levarious Varnado and ex-Tennessee cornerback DJ Miller.
Senior reserve cornerback Troy McCollum does return with 13 career starts over the last two seasons, but for academic reasons senior Simeon Thomas – who started seven games last year – is suspended for the season’s first two games.
“We’ve got a lot of DBs (defensive backs), so we’ve got a lot of flexibility where to put them,” Hudspeth said. “But when you get your depth chart set, and you’re thinking ‘these guys’ at safety and ‘these guys’ at corner, that’s much easier than starting to double-train people.
]“When you start double-training, that’s double the learning. Sometimes, you know, you’ve got to find out who can handle that much information, and can process it.
“You would like to get somebody comfortable at one position,” Hudspeth added. “But when you have injuries, sometimes that does not allow you to do that.”
That’s indeed the case, no matter what the sport.