The No. 24 Ragin’ Cajuns will play UL Monroe on Saturday (2 p.m., ESPN 3) with a lineup impacted heavily by COVID-19 issues.
UL (7-1, 5-1 Sun Belt) has released a depth chart that is missing several key pieces and has a few others affected by shuffling stemming from the program’s battle with the virus. Starters are out at five positions – two on offense, one on defense and two on special teams.
But Coach Billy Napier, still in isolation himself after testing positive for COVID-19 late last week, suggested the Cajuns fared well with Wednesday’s testing.
“We had no issues at all,” he said.
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UL canceled last Saturday’s non-conference game against Central Arkansas due to a COVID-19 breakout. At least 33 players either were still recovering from the virus, had tested last week or were in quarantine due to contact tracing.
The updated depth released Wednesday night reflects that some Cajuns have had limited practice since coming out of quarantine and that others remain in isolation. Napier, in fact, suggested when asked that some players won’t travel to ULM (0-8, 0-5) until Saturday instead of the usual Friday departure.
“What you see there is what you get,” he said, “as a result of the previous issues that we’ve had.
“The good thing is that, I think, since Saturday we’ve been able to stay intact … and make it through several rounds of testing.”
Napier also indicated none of his full-time assistants have had COVID-19 issues.
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Napier himself still plans to drive to Monroe on Saturday, separately from the team, a day after his own 10-day quarantine period ends. After what he previously described as a “rough day-and-a-half” battling the virus last week, he said was done taking medication and that Wednesday was “by far the best day I’ve had.”
Among those missing from the depth chart, at least as of late Wednesday: Peter LeBlanc, the team’s leading receiver this season; starting tight end Pearse Migl; starting cornerback Eric Garror, also the Cajuns’ No. 1 punt returner; usual holder Dalen Cambre; and backup quarterback Chandler Fields.
The Cajuns also have usual starting left guard Ken Marks listed as the starter at left tackle, backed up by Carlos Rubio “OR” Zach Roberston, both of whom have started there this year.
Robertson had been dealing with a foot injury, Napier revealed for the first time this week.
With Marks at tackle, usual reserve David Hudson and usual backup Tyler Brown are listed as the “OR” starters at left guard.
Napier suggested all probably would play, but said decisions would be made relative to “if we feel like those guys have had enough work and are prepared to play.”
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A couple other depth-chart oddities: usual starting inside linebackers Lorenzo McCaskill and Ferrod Gardner, the team’s top two tacklers, are listed as ‘OR’ starters at their respective spots along with Kris Moncrief and Jourdan Quibodeaux.
Their situation seems similar to that of the left side of the offensive line.
Freshman Kyren Lacy is in as the starter at receiver, meanwhile, and with Migl out sophomore Neal Johnson moves up at tight end.
A.J. Washington, who had been starting on the opposite side early this season before being replaced by Mekhi Garner, is listed as the starter in Garror’s usual cornerback position. And with Garror not on the chart, freshman receiver Dontae Fleming is in the top punt return spot, backed up by freshman Trey Amos.
Usual backup Rhys Byrns, UL’s starting punter, is listed as the Cajuns’ holder instead of Cambre, with receiver Devon Pauley behind him.
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The No. 2 quarterback is last season’s backup, Jaiave Magalei, who missed time himself early this season due to apparent COVID-19 issues and was supplanted by redshirt freshman Fields.
“Although Chandler has been listed as the 2, and went in the game a couple times,” Napier said, “Jaiave has been taking reps in practice the entire time he’s been back.
“So, we have a lot of confidence in Jaiave. We always have. He’s very much in the competition going forward, and a guy that’s got game experience and has the respect of his teammates as well.”
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