WATCH: Melvin Smith Describes His Ragin’ Cajuns Defense
Last year, the Ragin' Cajuns defense gave up more than 30 points per game, and they only forced 11 turnovers. Defensive Coordinator Melvin Smith saw it all.
Smith's defense got roughed up last year. Opposing quarterbacks were able to operate against the secondary, and the line struggled to get pressure up front. He and Assistant Coach Charlie Harbison worked on this defense together for years, and last year wasn't what either of them wanted.
Instead of going the slow route, Smith brought in numerous junior college players in the secondary and defensive line with this year's recruiting class.
"I wanted to fix our problems this year, not tomorrow," Smith said. "Every problem that we identified, we addressed."
Artez Williams and Denarius Howard will be asked to come right out of the JUCO ranks and add to the depth at safety. Jarvis Jeffries, Travara Miller, Kevon Perry and David Lemoto join a defensive line that needed depth and more importantly, playmakers. Smith wanted to plug the holes in his defense immediately, now it's time for the players to earn their keep.
Smith needs a couple of those JUCO players to come through in big ways, but the main stars of the defense are familiar faces.
Players like Otha Peters, Tracy Walker and Savion Brown are in the second year with Smith, and their coach thinks he has them all in the right place and on the same page.
"I'm excited about some new pieces we brought in. I have a really good grasp on what our kids can do," Smith said with assurance.
Smith admitted he didn't think he utilized Walker properly last season, which is why they adjusted his position this offseason. Now he will be closer to the line of scrimmage, where he can step in and affect the game more directly. That's just one of the changes made from the end of last season.
One of the main changes from 2015 to 2016 is in the leadership department. Dominique Tovell did more than lead the team in tackles. Smith said Walker will help fill his role, but the true alpha dog of the pack this season is middle linebacker Otha Peters.
Peters challenged the team last year at halftime against ULM, and he didn't let go of the reins. He's an uncontested anchor in the middle of the defense, and Smith said he noticed a difference in his leader.
Smith didn't have to peg him as the chief. Peters did it himself.
"He let me know that it mattered to him," Smith explained.
There's a lot of weight on Peters' shoulders, but he's a senior. It's his time to carry the load, and his coach needs him to stay strong.
Smith is a proud man in many ways. He takes pride in the defense he and Harbison created. He takes pride in the players he recruits and coaches. He takes pride in the performance they put out on the field. Last year, it wasn't just a disappointment, it was a shot to his pride. Smith doesn't want to feel that again, and his players certainly don't either.
The only choice is to believe. With this many newcomers from the JUCO ranks, it's a leap of faith with the coaching staff's recruiting. Let's all hold hands and jump into the 2016 season together.