PREVIEW: Improved Cajuns visit Tiger Stadium

With their season opener against No. 9 ranked LSU just around the corner, the University of Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns have closed out fall camp and are making their final preparations for the season, which begins on September 2 in Tiger Stadium.

"Camp has been good," ULL offensive coordinator Rob Christophel said.  "We've been able to get done what we've needed to get done."


The ULL staff said that this year's team will feature several veteran players, and that experience has done a successful job in leading the team during fall practice and getting them to where they want to be.


The Ragin' Cajuns finished the 2005 season in a three-way tie for the Sun Belt Conference championship, with the tiebreaker for a New Orleans Bowl birth going to Arkansas State.


That season saw ULL get off to a rocky start, dropping five of their first six games before make a complete turnaround to blow through the back half of the schedule to claim a share of the conference crown.


This year, the Cajun faithful have higher expectations, as 41 lettermen and 17 starters will be returning to the field in 2006.


Defensively, ULL opened last season allowing 35 points per game through the midway point before changing schemes and allowing just 18.8 points per game during the second half of the year.


Perhaps the biggest improvement that occurred for the defense came in pressuring the quarterback. In 2004, the Ragin' Cajuns recorded a total of nine sacks, while they tallied seven in the first half of last season before coming alive to reach the quarterback 14 times in the last five games.


Returning this season to help in the rushing defense will be All-Sun Belt senior defensive end Tony Hills, and the trio of senior tackles in Marshall Delesdernier, Travis Ferguson and Joe Bradley, who have a combined eight letters, bringing a wealth of experience to the defensive line.


Hills finished last year with 19 tackles and four sacks to emerge as one of the leaders on the defensive side of the football. The three middle men combined for 36 tackles a year ago.


The leading candidate for the other end position is junior Rodney Hardeway, who will look to fill a hole left by departed Eugene Kwarteng, who finished his senior campaign with 43 tackles, four sacks and a team-best seven tackles for a loss. As a backup a year ago, Hardeway saw action in 10 games, finishing with 18 tackles and three sacks.


A host of young new players will also join the Cajun defensive line this fall, learning under the veterans in preparation for next season.


Also coming back for another round in 2006 will be linebackers Mark Risher (Jr.) and Brent Burkhalter (So.), two of the team's top three tacklers last season. Risher finished the year with 59 tackles, while Burkhalter ended up with 53.


Burkhalter's play was limited in the spring due to a wrist injury suffered in last year's finale, but he is expected to be in full form for the start of the season.


Senior Tre' Green will take over in the third linebacker slot, following the departure of defensive leader Tyler Norman. Norman's shoes will be tough ones to fill, as his 67 takles were the most on the squad. Green saw action in 10 games last season, finishing the year with 28 tackles of his own. He also served as starter during the 2004 campaign before surrendering the job last season.


One area that the Ragin' Cajuns has traditionally prided themselves in is pass defense, sending six members of the secondary to the NFL over the past five seasons.


This year, ULL boasts the return of their top five cornerbacks from the 2005 squad, including senior Michael Adams, who recorded two interceptions and 45 tackles last year to earn All-Sun Belt honors.


Starting opposite Adams will be junior Kyle Ward, who picked up one interception and 21 tackles a year ago.

Also looking to play significant time at corner will be senior Jarrett Jones and juniors Torres Kingsby and Jemarcus Smith, all of whom were contributers in 2005.


Senior Johnny Felders and junior Lamar Morgan figure to start at strong safety and free safety, respectively, after sharing time at SS last year.


Derik Keyes, a junior and returning letter winner at safety, will also play a part in the Cajun secondary.

Offensively, ULL found a good deal of success last season, scoring 26 points per game and leading the Sun Belt in nine different offensive categories.


The ground game in 2005 enjoyed perhaps the most successful season in school history, as the Cajuns set a new school record with 2,797 rushing yards for 34 touchdowns.


Their 254.3 rushing yards per game was also a school record, as well as the 7th best rushing average in the country.


Returning to the offensive line to allowed for the Cajuns success will be veteran tackles senior Brandon Cox and junior Jesse Newman, both of whom were selected to the All-Sun Belt team last year.


Starting at the guards will be sophomore Will Chance and junior Tim Falter, who split time as starters last year.


The lone newcomer to the offensive front will be Junior Ramos, who transferred from junior college, at center.

Leading the ground attack again in 2006 is sophomore Tyrell Fenroy, who ran for 1,053 yards and 12 scores as a true freshman. Aiding Fenroy will be junior Josh Harrison, who saw playing time as a back up last year.


The second starting running back looks to be senior Chester Johnson, who received a medical hardship after injuring his shoulder early in the season opener and missing all of last season. Johnson started for the Cajuns in 2004, and if healthy could prove to team with Fenroy to make a stellar running duo.


ULL's receiving corps for 2006 will be talented, yet unexperienced as they are losing players that accounted for over half of their receptions last season. Anchoring the group of wide outs this season will be sophomore Derrick Smith, who caught for 250 yards and a pair of touchdowns during his freshman campaign. Joining him will be senior Corey Frederick, who accounted for 293 yards in 2005, as well as a host of incoming receivers who could all wind up seeing time as the season progresses.


Returning to the helm at quarterback this season is the duo of senior Jerry Babb and sophomore Michael Desormeaux. Babb currently sits fourth in the ULL record books in career passing yards, though he missed some of last season with an injury. He finished the 2005 season with 859 yards. Completing 74 of 119 passes for three touchdowns with as many interceptions.


Babbs' injury last year opened the door for Desormeaux to shine. The freshman competed in seven games as a quarterback, completing 53% of his passes for 597 yards. His work on the Cajun special team also earned him the title the Sun Belt All-Purpose Player of the Year.


On special teams, ULL has several players vying for time at kicker, with sophomore Drew Edmiston holding the edge over true freshman Tyler Albrecht as the place kicker.


Also new to the kicking game is deep snapper Scott Hayes, a red shirt freshman who began learning the role during his red shirt season.


Returnee Brit Framel (Sr.) will serve as the teams punter for the second year, and was a competitor for the place kicking job in the spring.


Returning kicks will be Derrick Smith, who compiled 262 return yards last year, while Michael Adams will resume the role of punt returner, with a return average of 9.4 yards per kick last year.

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