Football: Position-by-Position Breakdown
Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, Aug. 27, 2017
Jordan Davis thought he’d start in 2016, then lost the job during spring drills. Now the gig belongs to Davis, who has thrown 44 career passes — including just three last season. He’s dubbed dual-threat, but must prove he can get the ball to UL’s many targets. Look for Wildcat Dion Ray to play too. The Cajuns say he’ll have a 10- to 12-play package, but much may depend on the opponent. Juco-transfer Andre Nunez is the backup, but doesn’t appear to be an imminent threat to Davis. True freshman Levi Lewis leads a trio of youngsters waiting in the wings.
UL coach Mark Hudspeth says: “I think this team has got a lot of confidence in Jordan. The guy is playing at a high level right now. He’s making the right throws, the right reads. He can pull the ball down and run it with his legs too.”
UL merely must replace current New York Jets running back Elijah McGuire, its all-time leader in all-purpose yards and scoring. Senior Darius Hoggins was loosely listed No. 1 going into preseason camp, but broke his jaw in an off-the-field fall. Power backs Trey Ragas and Jordan Wright have emerged as the Cajuns’ top two. Speedster Raymond Calais Jr. could see some reps too. What’s uncertain is how much true freshman Elijah Mitchell will be used if UL burns his redshirt, and just how much the running backs will be relied on in the Cajuns’ new offense.
Hudspeth says: “We’ve got some guys that are stronger runners, bigger guys, like Ragas and Jordan Wright. Then we’ve got guys like Calais and Hoggins, who are more speed-oriented. Then you’ve got Elijah Mitchell, who’s been impressive.”
The Cajuns return young-but-experienced receivers in Keenan Barnes, Ja’Marcus Bradley and Michael Jacquet, and add ex-SMU slot receiver Ryheem Malone, who sat out 2016 after transferring. Jacquet starts in the slot, but will bounce outside. Expect to see all four on the field together in certain sets. Field-stretching Devin Scott returns from a knee injury for depth, while backup wideout Jarrod Jackson had a strong camp. The unit could be UL’s biggest strength, but it’s only as good as its quarterback.
Hudspeth says: “I don’t know if we have as much depth as we are just consistent across the full starting spots — the X, the Z, the Y.”
It’s a big line, but one that must prove its worth to certain skeptics, especially amid unsettling uncertainty. Four starters return, but a new center is needed; Cole Prudhomme has a slight edge or juco-transfer Kordell Brewster. Line-leader Grant Horst can play right tackle (like last season), left tackle or center; he’ll probably open on the left side with 2016 left tackles D’Aquin Withrow sliding to the right side. Guards Kevin Dotson and Robert Hunt are back, and Hunt also could play right tackle. Staten Wade may also contribute before the season is done.Hudspeth says: “We’ve got some quality depth on the offensive line, more than we’ve ever had.”
The seemingly eternal question at UL: How much, if much at all, will the tight ends be targeted? Ex-offensive lineman Raynard Ford is the new starter. He’ll help blocking, but what about beyond that? Highly regarded true freshman Chase Rogers arrived with hands, but will he be a true pass-catching threat? Depth comes from Matt Barnes and Carlos Robinson, both coming off injuries, and Chris Turner.
Hudspeth says: “That guy (Ford) is (291), 6-5. I wish we had him there last year. He can be a difference-maker for us.”
This is an area of strength, especially with 295-pound nose tackle Taboris Lee as the mainstay. Kevon Perry and LaDarrius Kidd, both solid defensive tackles, could split reps, while Trev Miller and backup Jarvis Jeffries are sound defensive ends. Then there’s Buck Joe Dillon, who can drop back to play like a linebacker but who forces opposing offenses to adjust while playing as a standup edge-rushing defensive end when UL turns to a four-man front.
Hudspeth says: “We’re gonna have to put more on our front this year. And we’ve got the front to be able to do that. So they’ve got to give us even a little bit more, even though they’re gonna be really good.”
This is UL’s biggest defensive concern, by far, especially with projected Will starter Ferrod Gardner sustaining a season-ending foot injury early in camp. The Cajuns lose inside linebackers Tre’maine Lightfoot and Otha Peters, who together accounted for nearly 200 tackles in 2016. Fifth-year T.J. Posey replaces Peters at the Mike, albeit with limited experience. The Will was wide open after Gardner went down, with Tanner Holmes and late juco-transfer addition Justin Middleton apparently earning spots in the rotation. Mike backup Jacques Boudreaux also can play the Will. Ex-reserve safety Corey Turner, meanwhile, moves down to start at UL’s Slash outside linebacker/defensive back position, backed up by juco-transfer Julius Perkins.
Hudspeth says: “It all is gonna pivot on the linebackers.”
With newcomers on the corners, it could take time for the secondary to take shape. It will start off as a three-man rotation with Damar’ren Mitchell, who started last season as a true freshman at the Slash; Lorenzo Cryer, who moves up from a special-teams role; and Levarious Varnado, who is back at corner after getting a look at the Slash. Former Tennessee defensive back Darrell “DJ” Miller could later make it a four-man rotation when he gets more comfortable with the Cajun defense. Troy McCollum is an experienced fifth corner, and Simeon Thomas could offer depth after returning from a two-game academic suspension. Safeties Tracy Walker, the Rover, and Travis Crawford, meanwhile, both have plenty of experience, and juco-transfer backup Koa Haynes impressed in camp, so that shouldn’t be a concern.
Hudspeth says: “We’ve got speed in the secondary. We’re long. And we’ve got guys that like to strike.”
Kicking and punting typically have areas of productivity under Hudspeth, but the return game hasn’t always carried its weight. Kicker Stevie Artigue made his last 25 straight PATS and has confidence, especially now that he has an experienced holder. New traditional-style punter Sam Geraci started at Cincinnati, where the grad-transfer also held. But their backups — Calvin Linden and Hayden Yezak, respectively — are inexperienced walk-ons, as is snapper Jackson Ladner. Kicker-returner Raymond Calais is back. Eyes will be on him and fellow return men Ryheem Malone, Levarious Varnado and Earnest Patterson to see who can break one first.
Hudspeth says: “(Artigue) is a guy that … will make a difference for us in some games, to say the least.”
— Tim Buckley