Why Louisiana football's spring practice quarterback battle is far from settled
Louisiana football is searching for the successor to Levi Lewis, its starting quarterback the past three seasons.
But even with spring practice ongoing since March 10, first-year Ragin’ Cajuns coach Michael Desormeaux is reserving judgment.
“You have to go through the whole deal,” Desormeaux said, “and what you want is … to see guys compete, and they are.
“It’s certainly a total body of work you’re going to have to look back at at the end, once the install is complete. How have they handled it? How have they mastered it, right? Do they know it inside and out?”
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Chandler Fields, Lewis’ backup last season, and Fresno State transfer Ben Wooldridge, UL’s No. 3 in 2021, are the front-runners who were getting first-team reps before Saturday’s first spring scrimmage.
But Desormeaux didn't rule out others, including Maryland transfer Lance LeGendre, who helped run the Cajuns’ scout team last season; Zy McDonald, a Class of 2021 signee who redshirted last season; and Class of 2022 signee Zeon Chriss, a highly regarded early enrollee.
“We’ve got a heck of a competition in that room,” said Tim Leger, UL’s offensive coordinator, “and I think they’re aware, and you can see it in the way they practice every day.”
“Going into it I felt like it was wide open,” Desormeaux added. “I still feel that way, because I still feel like there’s a lot of time left in this thing.”
UL’s spring game is April 9.
“Early on, I think the thing that’s obvious is that Chandler and Ben Wooldridge – they’ve got a better understanding of the offense, having been in it, Chandler for three years and Ben, (he) just kind of immersed himself in it a little bit,” Desormeaux said. “The other guys, I think they’re picking it up and they’re doing a good job. But the mastery of it? I would say those guys have mastered it a little bit better.
“But the thing you tell them all the time is if you’re worried about what group you’re going with or what rep you’re getting, you’re looking at this thing the wrong way. Because we don’t play a game this week. We don’t have to decide this week.”
Zeon Chriss tantalizing
UL’s other Class of 2021 quarterback signee, redshirt Hunter Herring, is injured and out.
“Zy knows it really well, maybe not quite as good as (Fields and Wooldridge),” Desormeaux said. “Lance has really come a long way with figuring this thing out. He’s put himself in position to compete.
“Then you’ve got Zeon, who, truthfully, for a true freshman … has really surprised everybody in the building with his ability to pick it up and run with it. He’s got a really bright future ahead of him.”
Cajun coaches rave over Chriss’ talent.
“I’m really excited about Zeon Chriss,” Leger said. “I recruited (him). Built that relationship for a long time. Beat some really good schools to get him to stay here and be the guy.
“He’s uniquely talented. He’s wired the right way. He’s really intelligent. He understands what’s happening.”
UL coaches, though, acknowledge it could take time before Chriss is ready to take the starting job.
Lance LeGendre factor
For now, then, Fields and Wooldridge battle.
LeGendre – who appeared in six games, including one start, at Maryland in 2020 – is the wild card.
He could see 2022 action, perhaps as a Wildcat quarterback, even if he can’t unseat Fields and Wooldridge for one of the top two jobs.
“Lance has made a lot of progress, with both Coach Des and Coach V here, recently, and how we’ve kind of reset this thing,” Leger said, referencing Desormeaux and Matt Viator, the former UL Monroe coach who’s now a UL senior offensive analyst working with quarterbacks.
“Lance is so athletic he could play safety here. He could play wide receiver here, he could play quarterback here. He is one of the most uniquely built physical specimens I’ve ever seen.”
Fields appeared in six games last season, completing 9 of 13 passes for 106 yards and one touchdown.
Wooldridge didn’t play last season, but he appeared in eight Fresno State games from 2019-20.
“When I say those guys (including McDonald) are ‘a little behind,’ I don’t mean they can’t function,” Desormeaux said. “I just mean they’re just a little behind some older guys that have been in and out of college offenses for longer.”
Still, Desormeaux has lots to sort out – with no deadline before UL’s Sept. 3 opener against Southeastern Louisiana.
“Hopefully at the end of spring you feel good enough to say it will be this guy or that guy,” he said. “But if you feel like it’s still tight, then you let it keep going.”
This article originally appeared on Lafayette Daily Advertiser: Why Ragin' Cajuns' spring practice QB battle is far from settled