Cajuns Address Defense With 2016 Signing Class
There was no mistaking what the Ragin' Cajuns' goal was on National Signing Day: fix the defense, any way possible.
Mark Hudspeth and his staff signed 22 total players, and 14 of them were on the defensive side of the ball. With questions in the secondary and on the defensive line, the Cajuns loaded up to try to affect the quarterback. Six defensive backs to control air traffic, and four lineman to harass the passer were added into the fold.
Denial in a football program can destroy it. When you have a problem, fix it.
"Wee needed to get some more pass rush. That was one of the things we didn’t feel like we did last year well enough, and you want to be able to do that with your front and not have to bring [extra] pressure every time to get some type of pressure," Hudspeth said. "That’s what these guys are going to help us do. The guys we got, we feel like are very active; active guys with high motors…I think we helped our football team today"
One way to plug holes is through junior colleges. The Cajuns chose to take the express lane to fixing their issues.
Starting with the pass rush, the Cajuns added three from the JUCO ranks. Hudspeth picked out Jarvis Jeffries by name, and the 6'3"-245 lb headache off the edge will be expected to disrupt backfields early and often. The other JUCO defensive lineman provides some versatility. Kevon Perry checks in at 6'1"-290 lbs, which means he can be utilized at multiple spots on the line and provide a wider range of depth to the roster.
The final JUCO pass rusher, Trevara Miller (6'1"-283 lbs), came from a Mississippi connection.
"Trev comes from a town in my county where I grew up, fifteen minutes fromm my home, so he comes from what I call the 662," Hudspeth said with a smile. "Me and him had a lot of good talks about Woody’s One Stop right there at the four way stop at Noxapater, so we had a lot in common.”
Miller might come from a small town, but he brings big time game to the Cajun defensive line.
The last new addition to the Cajun defensive line is hard to miss, mainly because he is 6'4" and weighs 330 lbs. Tra'Vontae Booker is a classic space eater at the defensive tackle position, and a regimented college workout system could tone him up into a mean machine. If you get a guy of his size with a little mobility, you make it work.
"He blocks out the sun when he walks in," Hudspeth said. "He's a good player."
A bolstered pass rush will alleviate some of the defensive woes, but it wouldn't do any good if receivers were allowed to run free through the secondary. That's why they signed six defensive backs.
Two of them come from JUCO's (Denarius Howard, Artez Williams) and will be expected to come in and play right away. With Tracy Walker moving to linebacker, Howard should plug in at the safety position nicely. When it comes to Williams, the Cajuns were ecstatic to get him on campus. He had 12 scholarship offers and a lot of action late in the recruiting process, but he chose to put his pen on the Cajuns' letter of intent.
The other four defensive backs might not have the experience of the JUCO players, but they could still see the field early. Demar'ren Mitchell ran a 4.5 in the 40 yard dash in a private workout for the Cajuns, and Blair Brooks and Dontrell Allen are both six foot products from the town of Thibodaux. The last member of the secondary came from the state of Texas, and he created a bit of a splash.
In his senior year, Edward Hayes (Magnolia, TX) took three of his eight interceptions back for touchdowns and laid some licks vicious enough to make you cringe just watching. He's a 6'1"-185 lb missile in the defensive backfield, and he's a great basketball player too. Hudspeth said Hayes could even start as a freshman.
"We feel like we snuck one out of Texas on that one, he’s a heck of a player.”
A defense wouldn't be complete without a few linebackers either. The Cajuns didn't pick any players from junior colleges in that department, and they selected a few possible gems.
Local product and Breaux Bridge star Korey Louis made his commitment to the Cajuns very clear. Several other schools would have loved to have him on campus, but the son of a basketball player and brother of a former LSU football player chose the city of Lafayette for his future.
Hudspeth described Louis as "a guy that we did not want to let get away," and the leader of one of the best high school defenses in the Acadiana area could develop into the captain of the Cajuns' ship down the road.
"He’s a guy that can run sideline to sideline," Hudspeth said. "We’ve had a lot of great players from Breaux Bridge, and I think he’ll be the next one.”
Louis, along with Holy Cross LB Jacques Boudreaux and Texas product Tanner Holmes, fit the typical linebacker mold.
Hudspeth said Boudreaux is a more athletic version of former Cajun Jake Molbert, in terms of his grit and determination. Holmes is from a small town in Texas, and he brings a blue collar touch to the signing class as well. The last linebacker in the class, Nic Wiggins, is a bit more of a wildcard.
Wiggins played some time at defensive line in high school, but the Cajuns have him listed as a linebacker. He will get his start as an outside linebacker, but Hudspeth mentioned that he could move inside later if he settles into that role. If he can effectively get after the quarterback, he will stay on the outside to compliment the new pass rushers. Flexibility is a good problem to have as a coach, so Hud will figure out Wiggins' role with a smile on his face.
Defensive Coordinator Melvin Smith's first year with the Cajuns was a little rough, but he got a hefty care package on National Signing Day.
Not all these players will pan out, and some of the overlooked players will turn into playmakers. It's the fun of recruiting. For the fans, it's simply satisfying to see the Cajuns following common sense.
If you're hungry, you eat something. When your car isn't running right, you take it to the shop. When you can't stop opposing offenses from scoring, you try to fix your defense.
For a deeper look at the Ragin' Cajuns' 2016 signing class, watch Coach Hudspeth break it all down in the press conference video below.