WATCH: Mark Hudspeth At Ragin’ Cajuns Media Day
Louisiana's Ragin' Cajuns held Media Day on the first day of fall camp this year, which happens to be Mark Hudspeth's favorite day.
Coach Hud said he was moving into the dorms with his athletes ("I'll be staying in room 407. I can't wait.") to kick off camp properly. He's excited about the first game of the season against Boise State (11 am kickoff), but the simple act of putting the pads back on is enough to get the ball coach fired up.
"[We're] a much deeper football team than we were at this point last year," Hud said. He let fans know their goals remain the same, to compete for the Sun Belt crown and get back in a bowl, "If you're not dreaming big, then you don't have the right type of dreams at night."
There are a lot of questions to answer coming off a 4-8 season, but the battle for the starting quarterback is front and center under the spotlight.
Anthony Jennings' arrival from LSU spiced up the conversation, but Coach Hud still thinks the former Tiger has some catching up to do if he wants to take the job from Jordan Davis.
"You'd like him to be able to answer questions in the meeting room on film, on practice field and in the game," Hud said. He added, "It's not just learning the scheme, it's the other QB's have been running with Coach Lou [Carella], running with them and chasing them."
The Ragin' Cajuns new strength and conditioning program is more personalized, and it seems like the players are responding to the changes. Several players, like DB/LB Tracy Walker and DL Karmichael Dunbar, look like completely different football players. Jennings didn't have the same workout routine, as Media Day was his first official day with the team.
Things might not have worked out for Jennings at LSU, but the staff didn't sour on him.
Coach Hud said Les Miles and his staff had nothing but positive things to say about their former QB during the transfer process. When the Ragin' Cajuns asked about concerns, they got nothing back but praise.
"They pounded the table for the guy," Hud shared. "They couldn't say enough positive things about the guy."
To make things even more interesting, Hud announced that it's not just a two man race at QB. It's actually a three man pack.
During spring practice, the word was Jalen Nixon was moving to running back. Unfortunately, a foot injury prevented him from getting the work in necessary to make the jump. Hud was concerned he didn't have enough time to learn blocking schemes and techniques, so they decided to keep him as a quarterback.
Nixon won't likely be the starting QB, but he's going to get snaps. Hud described Nixon as "a football player," in the sense that they could play him anywhere on the field and he would still have an impact. Look for Nixon to come in during short yardage situations and near the goal line, and you can expect to see him in Wildcat-like packages too.
The main difference between last year's QB battle between Nixon and Brooks Haack and this year's race is the similar styles of the different QB's. Last year, one passed better and the other threw better. This year, the skill sets are the same.
"This year, all three can run, can throw, that part will make it easier, just plug in the right guy," Hudspeth said. He also said he wants to name his starter as soon as possible, "We would like to get to that sooner rather than later."
He doesn't want to rush into a decision, but he's sure he wants to have it settled. Whenever Boise State comes into town, there should be a sheriff in place.
Hud didn't just talk about the QB's, of course. He announced that DB Ethan Rose and OL Jesse Freeman wouldn't be returning to play for the Cajuns, and he even clarified some depth chart issues.
We're not sure who the QB will be yet, but the offensive line is pretty much set. Hudspeth settled a position battle at RG, stating that veteran Adrian Goodacre will take the reps with the one's when camp starts. He joins Grant Horst (RT), Eddie Gordon (C), D'Aquin Winthrow (LT) and Robert Hunt (LG) on the front lines, where the Cajuns hope to make a jump forward in protection.
Speaking of Hunt, Hudspeth had high praise for the young behemoth (6'6", 320 lbs), and he compared him to one of the most beloved Cajuns of all time.
"He's Mykhael Quave, but bigger," Hud said.
Big Quave was a staple of the Cajun offensive line in his time on campus, and Hud knows how much it means to throw his name around. This isn't the first time he compared Hunt to Quave either. He did it whenever UL signed him as a recruit too, which goes to show how much potential Hunt has on the offensive line.
If the offensive line can create a push, Elijah McGuire has the chance to seek and destroy defenses all year long.
Hud was obviously excited to get his star running back for another year. McGuire tested the NFL Draft waters, mostly to hear what scouts thought about him, but he's returning for his senior year with high expectations. His career as a Cajun is already special, but he has an opportunity to break some records and write his name a couple more times in the history books.
"He has a chance to leave his mark here," Hud stated simply.
Speaking of players set to leave their mark, cornerback Simeon Thomas is finally ready to make his debut.
After two years of teasing Cajun fans with his talent, Thomas will get a chance to prove his potential. We've been hearing about the 6'3" NFL-prototype CB for a long time now, and Coach Hudspeth and his staff can't wait to unleash him.
"He has the chance to be one of the best corners we've had in a long time," Hud said.
Thomas isn't the only player that figured out how to get out of his own way either.
Jared Johnson's injury affected the Cajuns at the wideout position last year, specifically when Jamal Robinson went down. Hud said his 6'5" wide receiver is back to 100 percent medically, and more importantly, the maturity is finally coming around.
Johnson recently got married, and he's an upperclassmen now. Hudspeth sees some growth.
"He's a senior. He got his act together," Hud said.
Johnson is one of several players (Keenan Barnes, Jarrod Jackson, Michael Jacquet, Ja'Marcus Bradley) competing for the starting wideout job, to compliment Al Riles, Gary Haynes and Gabe Fuselier in the slot.
There are a few other battles that aren't as clear. Four new junior college players on the defensive line hope to come in and bolster the line, next to veterans like Dunbar and Taboris Lee. Other JUCO players will be expected to contribute in the defensive backfield, namely Artez Williams and Denarius Howard at the safety positions.
It will be a new look for the Ragin' Cajuns in 2016. New faces from the JUCO ranks, a new starting QB, new philosophies and an uptempo offense...change is supposed to be scary, but this feels like the right kind of change at a time when they need it.