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Football: UL's Napier wants team 'comfortable' at Cajun Field + Harrison Moves to Receiver

Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, March 22, 2018

Since spring drills opened last week, the UL football team has been working on the artificial turf at Cajun Field — not on their natural-grass practice fields, as typically would be the case.

Why the change?

New Ragin’ Cajuns coach Billy Napier explained.

“We don’t have enough players to really utilize two fields,” he said, “so I just like it as a change of pace … that would benefit us.

“We’ve got a new surface in there (as of the start of last season). And I like to go in there. I think it’s a positive in terms of morale, spirit.”

The Cajuns are thin in numbers because they’re currently well below their allotted number of 85 scholarship players, a circumstance Napier inherited from ex-coach Mark Hudspeth, and most of the players from Napier’s 2018 signing class aren’t yet on campus.

Moreover, several Cajuns have been recovering from surgeries to repair injuries sustained last season — running backs Elijah Mitchell (foot) and Jordan Wright (broken arm) and tight end Chase Rogers (foot) among them.

More: Napier's Cajuns open spring practice 'a little banged up'

Napier also has high expectations, he added, for how the Cajuns will fare at Cajun Field, which may also play a part in the decision.

“Make no bones about it, and this is important to understand: We want to make that place a very difficult place to play,” he said.

“Obviously that starts with our players playing well, but certainly six Saturdays in the fall we want our fans to come out to make that a rowdy place and a difficult place for our opponents to come in and execute.

“So I want our guys,” Napier added, “to get comfortable in that place, and that’s important.”

Related: UL's Napier 'not the rah-rah, yelling coach'

CRAWFORD DONE

Less than two months after celebrating the fact he’d been granted another season of eligibility, longtime Cajuns safety Travis Crawford no longer is a part of the UL football program.

Napier has said both Crawford and another senior defensive back — Lorenzo Cryer, who played mostly on special teams — “have chosen to” end their careers and will no longer be playing football.

The unannounced decisions came before the start of camp last week.

Asked if Crawford’s case was because of his injury history, Napier cited “a lot of variables.”

“I don’t think it would be right for me to speak on his behalf,” he said. “But Travis did a great job when he was with us. You know, he worked really hard. Certainly had a great attitude. We’re excited about him graduating.

“He’ll always be a Ragin’ Cajun, and certainly is invested in this place. So we wish him nothing but the best.”

More: UL safety starter Crawford gets redshirt, can play in 2018

Crawford, who graduated in December and never actually played for Napier, couldn’t be reached for comment.

On Feb. 20, he tweeted this: “Ruptured my calf in 2 spots 5 months ago never thought something crazy like that would happen to me.”

One month prior to that he suggested he looked forward to playing in 2018 for UL, tweeting on Jan. 21 that “After tearin(g) my calf last season I’ve been granted my redshirt everything happens for a reason! Im forever grateful now it’s time to pick up where I left off.”

Napier also confirmed around that time that Crawford indeed was “back,” making the most-recent development rather surprising.

Crawford missed most of the 2017 season, which is why the extra year was granted by the Sun Belt Conference

He had been a longtime starter for the Cajuns alongside fellow safety Tracy Walker, a pro prospect who took part in the recent NFL Draft Combine.

A product of Holy Cross School in New Orleans, Crawford appeared in the last nine games and started the final six as a true freshman in 2014, started seven of the 11 games in which he appeared in 2015 and started all of UL’s 12 games during his junior season in 2016.

But Crawford — who has 158 career tackles, two forced fumbles and one interception — was limited by his injury to three games last year.

Related: Cajuns like how new UL coaches keep them 'on task'

RINGO RE-SIGNS, WHITE IN CFL

Former Cajuns defensive lineman Christian Ringo re-signed earlier this week with the NFL’s Detroit Lions.

Last month, meanwhile, ex-UL cornerback Melvin White re-signed with the CFL’s Saskatchewan Rough Riders.

White spent the final four weeks of last season on the Rough Riders’ practice squad.

He previously played regularly for two seasons with the NFL’s Carolina Panthers from 2013-14, and spent the 2015 season on the St. Louis Rams practice squad and was waived by Minnesota in August 2016.

Ringo started last season with Cincinnati, joined the Lions’ practice squad in September 2017 and appeared in six games for Detroit last year.

Selected by Green Bay in the 2015 NFL Draft’s sixth round, he was on the Packers’ practice squad in ’15 and played eight games for Green Bay in 2016.

In 14 career NFL games, Ringo has five total tackles and one forced fumble.

Related: Ex-Cajun Ringo's Packers career going swimmingly

* * * * * * * *

Harrison moves to receiver as Cajun QB battle narrows

Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, March 21, 2018

The crowded battle to be UL’s starting quarterback has one fewer combatant.

Early in spring drills freshman Kadon Harrison has moved to receiver, new Ragin’ Cajuns coach Billy Napier said.

“He came to me and pursued that opportunity,” said Napier, whose Cajuns held their fourth of 15 practices and will hold their fifth Thursday afternoon, “and certainly — I think, after observing him — he’s got the tools to continue to develop.

“If he’ll have the right approach, and the right self-discipline, and really be a student at that position, he has the physical tools to develop into a player that can play winning football.

“But a lot of that — his production, and his ability,” Napier added, “is gonna be decided based off what type of work ethic that he has each and every day, for sure.”

Related: UL's Napier wants team 'comfortable' at Cajun Field

The Cajuns didn’t make Harrison available to discuss the unannounced switch.

Harrison — a product of Memorial High in Port Arthur, Texas, where he played for a team coached by his father Kenny Harrison — redshirted in 2017.

He started the spring as one of six Cajun quarterbacks on scholarship — a number Napier said was too many shortly after his hire last December.

The herd has now been thinned to five: Jordan Davis, Andre Nunez and Levi Lewis, each of whom started games last season; Dion Ray, who has played as a Wildcat QB; and Jake Arceneaux, who has played sparingly in a reserve role.

More: Napier discusses UL QBs

“We’re still giving everybody (equal) reps, and I think those guys will compete,” Napier said after Tuesday’s practice. “We’ll probably readjust the reps after the first scrimmage.

“But I want a lot of reps (for all). I want to watch those guys. I want to see who can retain information, who makes improvement. But let’s don’t forget: The No. 1 most-important quality in that group is how they affect the other 10 players that are on the field with ’em in terms of communication, confidence, execution, production.

“It comes back,” Napier added, “to that trust factor — who do they trust, and who really wins over the team in the end.”

Napier expects Harrison’s relocation to be permanent.

“He’s made the move,” the Cajuns coach said.

“Don’t get me wrong, if we have an emergency or something we can put him back there to finish a game. But right now we’re gonna put 100 percent of his effort, and our effort, into developing him as a receiver."

Harrison redshirted while Lewis played as a true freshman season under former Cajuns coach Mark Hudspeth, who recruited both.

More: Cajuns true freshman QB Lewis 'not a freshman'

The move to receiver for Harrison was one that gained footing shortly after Hudspeth exited and Napier arrived last December, and after Cajun players returned to campus following their holiday break.

“We had had discussions about it through the offseason program,” said new UL receivers coach Tim Leger, hired in early January.

“In the offseason program, there are multi-directional days — where there are a lot of transitions, a lot of change of direction-type things. In those drills, defensive backs, running backs, wide receivers tend to stand out.

“Kadon (Harrison) … even seemed to be a natural in those transition drills,” Leger added. “That kind of led you to believe if something were to fall through with this guy at quarterback, there’s a chance for him to be a ‘natural’ at wide receiver. And the skill set is certainly there.”

Napier — offensive coordinator last season at Arizona State, receivers coach at Alabama for four seasons prior to that — has a history coaching former quarterbacks who previously have stood out at other positions.

More: UL's Napier 'not the rah-rah, yelling coach'

“ArDarius Stewart at Alabama (an ex-Crimson Tide receiver now with the New York Jets) was a high school quarterback,” Napier said. “And it really took him a little while. But eventually he was a heck of a football player.

“Kyle Williams last year at Arizona State was a high school quarterback (and a receiver too), and obviously developed into a really good player for us. So, I think there are a lot of positives to having a quarterback background.”

Harrison won’t the be first Cajun receiver who starred as a high school quarterback.

Starters Ja’Marcus Bradley and Michael Jacquet both did, too.

“It’s really a blessing in disguise,” Napier said.

“They may be a little bit behind early in their career, but ultimately they understand concepts, they understand coverage.

“Typically that means that their coach trusted them to run the offense, communicate to the other players,” the Cajuns coach added. “So that means that they’ve got a certain level of maturity about ’em.”

Leger also has experience with quarterbacks who came from a different position.

More: UL offer too good for Leger to pass up

Two such examples, according to the longtime McNeese State offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach who spent the past two seasons at UL Monroe: Dionatae Spencer, a quarterback at Westgate High in New Iberia who played receiver at McNeese and last season was an All-Star receiver with the CFL’s Ottawa Redblacks, and former ULM QB/receiver Brian Williams.

“When you recruit at the FCS a lot of times, like I have … you take a lot of guys that played different positions and you develop them at a secondary position — something they’ve never done,” Leger said.

“And we’ve had success doing that. Just two years ago we got to that place (ULM) and Brian Williams was a backup quarterback, very similar to Kadon (Harrison). Went through the spring with him at quarterback, realized it was in our best interest to move him.”

Williams, according to Leger, initially was hesitant.

“The guy had (three) receptions his junior year, kind of semi-embracing the move — a lot less than maybe Kadon (Harrison) has up to this point,” he said. “And then (Williams’) senior year, the guy graduates, comes back, really embraces the position with (45 catches for 626 yards.

“So, we’ve done it before, and I think we can be very productive with Kadon and he will help us playing winning football at that position before it’s over.”

More: Napier's Cajuns open spring practice 'a little banged up'

More: Cajuns like how new UL coaches keep them 'on task'



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