For the first time since mid-March, Louisiana football is practicing again as the Cajuns open fall camp.
The team will practice seven times over the next ten days before classes begin on campus. One of the most important things on Billy Napier's checklist will be figuring out what's the receiving depth chart will look like.
The team's leading receiver the past two years, Ja'Marcus Bradley, graduated and is currently on the Cleveland Browns' roster. He takes a lot of production with him. Bradley finished his career fourth in school history in receptions and receiving yards; his 23 touchdowns ranks second. The Cajuns also graduated Jarrod "Bam" Jackson, who tallied nearly a thousand receiving yards in his career.
In a normal year replacing those two would be tough, but business as usual.
But 2020 is not normal. Spring practices limited reps and injuries are already limiting availability.
Thursday, on the eve of camp, head coach Billy Napier announced that senior Jamal Bell and junior Calif Gossett will miss the season with injuries.
Bell finished second in receptions (34) and yards (445) last fall and would have played a big factor. The team's top healthy returners are Jalen Williams and Peter LeBlanc.
"It's important to fill the productivity. Guys who are already here like Peter LeBlanc can help with the leadership of it," said offensive coordinator Rob Sale. "Ja'Marcus wasn't the most vocal guy but the way he went about his work is what you want young guys to see, and you hope that's something Peter is able to take on."
A sophomore from New Iberia, LeBlanc's playing time grew throughout 2019. He finished third in receptions (28) and fourth in yards (344.) His four touchdowns tied for second most.
The Cajuns added five freshman receivers with this year's recruiting class, including Lafayette Christian's Errol Rogers. Southern Lab receiver Reginold Johnson, and Thibodeaux's Kyren Lacy are the two highest graded players in the Cajuns 2020 class, according to 247 Sports.
"I think at receiver, like we talked about in recruiting last year, is one of the positions where a rookie could impact our team," said Napier. "This is very much a work in progress and there are a ton of competitive reps that will take place over the next couple of weeks. But I am confident in the ability in that room."
Building chemistry with senior quarterback Levi Lewis won't come overnight. Limited practices this spring and fall is a limiting factor, though Lewis believes private workouts he hosted could close the gap.
"Every route I needed worked on, whether it's on platform, staying in the pocket, outside the pocket, rolling out, we still got work done," he said. "With the ones, twos, the guys who are just coming in, we still got good work."
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