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Football: Napier’s first media day " polite, restricted

Bobby Ardoin , Special to The Advertiser, Aug. 5, 2018

Usually it’s the first chance that creates a lasting impression.

In this case maybe UL deserves a second chance.

An initial preseason football press conference with the new Cajuns’ coaching staff was at best unusual and at worst disappointing. Hopefully the type of press conference the Lafayette-area media attended at Cox Athletic Building on Thursday won’t set a precedent for the remainder of 2018.

After an hour of reporters’ questioning you felt the receptive vibe in the room was similar to dragging kids out of bed for the first day of school – the coaches weren’t especially fond of doing this.

Coaches who were interviewed were often hesitant to discuss particular players during their initial appearances before reporters, television cameras and on-air personalities. Their times at the podium were limited in a calculated fashion which made you wonder if there was a team plane to catch afterward.

Most players requested by writers and television personalities were unavailable for interviews. Were they no-shows because they had classes? Is summer school still in session? We’ll never know because there was no explanation provided for their absences.

Take it or leave it.

Each of the five coaches available for interviews however were polite and one of them even complimented some of the reporters for asking good questions. Haven’t heard that directed to the media too often.

Thanks coach, we needed that.

Hopefully you can also work with us over the next few months during what appears to be a restricted atmosphere for obtaining just basic information.

Here’s what each coach had to say:

Mark Hocke, strength and conditioning

First impression? Like this guy. He’s compassionate, juiced up like a good strength coach should be.

Here’s what he had to say: Of course he said the Cajuns are leaner and stronger this year. He likes the quality and expanse of the Cajuns’ weight room which he said is equivalent to any college program in the country. Couldn’t give a measurement of how much the Cajuns’ strength has improved. They just have, Hocke said.

When asked which players specifically improved, we got the Cajuns’ crawfish answer: “I can’t narrow it down to one or two,” he said.

Matt Powledge, special teams coordinator

First impression? Probably a coach the players will like. He seems cerebral and methodical, searching for an improvement formula.

Here’s what he had to say: Powledge wants to change the special culture for special teams. He said he inherited special teams that weren’t particularly good or bad, just somewhere in the middle, meaning mediocre.

The Cajuns will be searching for a placekicker and the punting is all things Australian. The return game will start with Raymond Calais, Ernest Patterson and Ryheem Malone.

Didn’t get to spend much time with him. The reporters were reminded it was time for one last question.

Rob Sale, offensive coordinator

First impression:I ntense and brings an offensive lineman’s mentality to the his players.

Here’s what he had to say: The Cajuns shifted all the linemen beef to the right side, so it’s leaner on the left.

No starting lineup has obviously been posted, but said his players “will look different” on offense and play faster.The most line competition is at center. There will be an emphasis on play action and don’t ask about the quarterback, although Sale said he feels comfortable with either Levi Lewis or Andre Nunez there.

There’s depth at running back and he’s confident in the receivers’ group. The Cajuns’ tight ends are here to block, but you might see them break into a pattern or two, floating out on the edge.

Ron Roberts, Defensive Coordinator

First impression:This guy’s a pro. He’s been a Southland Conference head coach at two colleges (Delta State, Southeastern). You get the feeling he can see the defensive picture right away, which wasn’t very picturesque for the Cajuns’ last year.

Here’s what he had to say: He likes junior Michael Jacquet. Roberts thinks that in every sense of the word Jacquet can be a NFL cornerback after moving over from offense. There’s still that learning curve though.

Roberts is looking for depth, “those two’s and three’s” that will provide preseason competition and perhaps play. The defense is very much a work in progress, since he said, “fall camp will tell us a lot.”

You get the feeling that this area is more of a work in progress than any other on the team.

Billy Napier, head coach

First impression:Serious and focused, still a bit reticent. Nothing wrong with that. Apparently it’s his style. He’s somewhat of a difficult interview at this point. Nothing wrong with that either, but maybe he’ll loosen up.

Here’s what he had to say:“This is a completely different team. Thirty-five percent are new.” That led one writer to remark, “That means that 65 percent were here last year.” Some writers aren’t that mathematically challenged.

Napier said players’ resistance to his change of style was minimal and that leadership on the team has pleasantly evolved. Elijah Mitchell’s preseason work will be somewhat limited, but he called his quarterbacks exceptional. “If I had to play either one, I would be comfortable.”

The Cajuns want to run the football more, but he noted that wide receiver Jalen

 





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