Football: Cajuns have a plan for big move on the offensive line
Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, March 18, 2020
Before the rest of spring practice for UL and its annual spring game was canceled due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the Ragin’ Cajuns got in three sessions of on-field work.
When they did, there was a pondering of potential moves on the offensive line for the 2020 season, which for the Cajuns begins Sept. 5 against Southland Conference member McNeese.
Perhaps the biggest:
Offensive guard O’Cyrus Torrence, who started at left guard as a true freshman last season, got a quick look elsewhere.
“O’Cyrus has taken some reps at tackle, in particular in 1-on-1 pass (protection),” Cajuns coach Billy Napier said. “I think he does have the ability to play on the edge.”
But there’s an even-more intriguing possibility.
According to Napier, it’s likelier that the 6-foot-5, 342-pound Torrence – a Football Writer’s Association of America Freshman All-American – will move from left guard to right guard.
“He and Max will play on the right side,” Napier said, “and that will give us kind of that Dotson-Hunt effect, to some degree.”
“Dotson” is pro prospect Kevin Dotson who played right guard; “Hunt” is a high-rated NFL prospect who tackle next to Dotson before getting injured and missing the season half of last season.
And “Max” is Max Mitchell, who moved from left tackle to right tackle after Hunt got hurt.
Putting Torrence with Mitchell on the right gives UL arguably its top o-lineman duo to protect lefty quarterback Levi Lewis’ blindside.
Which begs the question: What about the rest of the Cajuns’ line?
When would-be starting senior center Cole Prudhomme – who still is rehabbing, but will be back in 2020 – went down with a knee injury last season, Shane Vallot started there.
Both Napier and UL offensive line coach/offensive coordinator Rob Sale have suggested Vallot will stay at center.
What happens to Prudhomme?
And what happens to left guard Ken Marks, who injured a knee in UL’s 2019 season-opener and missed the rest of the year, opening the door for Torrence?
Marks, who was ready for the start of spring drills, also will be back after getting an extra season of eligibility.
Even before camp closed, Napier said starters would not be named until sometime much closer to the season’s start.
But he had some answers.
“Ken Marks can play tackle,” the Cajuns coach coach. “Cole (Prudhomme) can play center, he can play guard. We’ve got some versatility there.”
If Prudhomme were to take over at left guard, and Marks were to move to tackle to replace outgoing Rico Robinson, meaning Vallot stays at center, it would give the Cajuns an offensive line with a full five who have bona fide starting experience.
Then there’s the depth.
Napier also suggested Spencer Gardner has enough reserve-role experience to step in at left tackle, and the Cajuns also moved reserve defensive linemen Timaje Porter and Masry Mapiue to the o-line before spring practice opened.
“Like most years,” Napier said, “we’ll play more than just five.
“We’re pretty comfortable at tackle right now with Max (Mitchell), with Spencer (Gardner), with Carlos (Rubio), certainly Jax Harrington getting back in the fold, Nathan Thomas improving. We get (injured) King McGowan back, and we add two players to that room (incoming freshmen Jack McKenzie and Cory Marshall).
“But I think we’ve got some length on the edge,” Napier added, “and that allows O’Cyrus (Torrence) to … play (guard). We’re gonna move him over to right guard.”
Reserve quarterback Beau Kalbacher was in the NCAA transfer portal when spring drills started, but he was taking part in practice too while deciding what to do for his 2020 senior season.
“He’s still on our team,” Napier said of the juco-transfer from Austin, Texas, who joined the Cajuns last year.
“Beau’s a guy I have tremendous respect for. He’s a walk-on, very well-liked by his teammates, works extremely hard, knows our stuff. Just a competitor.”
The Cajuns started the spring with five scholarship QBs ahead on the roster: starter Lewis; juco-transfer Jaiave Magalei, last season’s backup; ex-Maryland redshirt Brayden Hawkins, who didn’t play in 2019; and Clifton McDowell and Chandler Fields, both freshmen who saw limited mop-up duty while redshirting last year.
Napier said Kalbacher may “experiment with some options at lower-level ball and see if he wants to go play.”
“But Beau is a valuable part of our team, and certainly he’s helped us improve as an organization,” the Cajuns coach said. “He does a number of things for us at practice, on game day, and (is) a guy that, if he does decide to stay, I think will have a role on the team for sure.”
Special teams questions
When camp opened, Napier had an especially close eye on special teams.
He needs a backup to punter Rhys Byrns, a backup to snapper Paul Boudreaux, a new holder to replace Bam Jackson and a new kicker to boot.
Kenneth Almendares, who handled kickoffs last season, and fellow walk-on Grant Paulette were battling to succeed outgoing Stevie Artigue, but Napier indicated another kicker would be added for 2020 as well.
“We need to create depth and competition across the board there,” he said last week. “So, we’ll be looking to do that regardless of how well (Paulette and Almendares) do.
“We’re fortunate to get Rhys (Byrns) back and Paul (Boudreaux) back, but that’s an area where we’ve got some work to do, for sure.”