spkm_0817_MSU_scrimmage-2

Cody Orgeron hands off to J'Cobi Skinner during a scrimmage at McNeese practice fields in Lake Charles, Louisiana on Saturday, August 17, 2019. (AP Photo/Lake Charles American Press, Kirk Meche)

Missing McNeese football yet?

Well, it's been about a week-and-a-half since the Cowboys ended their season by walking off of the field at Provost Umphrey Stadium with a 27-3 win over rival Lamar in the Battle of the Border. Little did we know at the time, but that result would be the final one for Mike Schultz as Lamar's head coach. Just a few days after the season-finale, Schultz was fired in a move that was surprising to him.

But this isn't meant to go on about the Lamar head coaching position. In my last column, I reviewed the 2019 season. This time, I'll be previewing what to look for going into 2020 spring practice and beyond. It will be a two-part series: this week, I'll look at the offense and next week I'll preview the defense and special teams.

Of course there are some caveats: neither I, nor you, nor even the McNeese coaching staff know what the roster will look like come the start of fall camp next year. There will more than likely be transfers in (via the junior college and four-year college route), two signing days in which juco and high school seniors will sign to play at McNeese. As well, there will be transfers out. All this column will do is look at the kids who are on the roster as of right now, fully acknowledging that some of them could leave.

QUARTERBACK

Cody Orgeron will enter his senior season and I can't imagine he won't be the starting quarterback for the Cowboys if he's healthy. He did a great job of staying on the field for McNeese this season, only missing a handful of snaps that I can remember.

The question is, how will head coach Sterlin Gilbert handle whoever is behind Orgeron? The fact that he felt so comfortable naming Orgeron the starter not only signaled to me how confident Gilbert felt in him, but possibly his lack of confidence in the backups. Does he bring in an FBS or junior college transfer to push and compete with Orgeron? Does he just sign a freshman and hope Orgeron can survive his senior season unscathed? Gilbert will need to groom a backup for the 2020 season that will be ready if his number is called, and also so he can possibly be the guy in the 2021 season.

Cade Bartlett redshirted his freshman season, so he will have two years of just learning the system, and developing in the strength and conditioning program. I think he could jump the other backup quarterbacks and become the No. 2 guy next season. But of course, Matt Keller and Matt Gardner won't make it easy.

RUNNING BACK

Justin Pratt is gone, and he was the workhorse over the final few games of the season. Elijah Mack will be a senior and Sulphur-graduate J'Cobi Skinner will be a junior, and they both played a lot in 2019 before injuries got to them.

After Mack and Skinner, Carlos Williams will be a good candidate for carries. He got a few at the end of the season when the running back depth was thin. J'uan Gross could be a short-yardage or goal-line back, but it seems like he may be best suited as the rarely-used fullback in Gilbert's system. McCaylon Thibeaux and Ivory Roberts will also hope to show something to the coaches in spring practice.

WIDE RECEIVER/TIGHT END

This may be the area where the Cowboys feel best about their depth. Cyron Sutton and Trevor Begue will both be seniors, and Sutton was named to the 2019 All-Southland Conference second-team. Begue was pretty good himself, his numbers were strikingly close to Sutton's. Another year in Gilbert's system as well as the familiarity with Orgeron could mean even better production in 2020.

Rhashid Bonnette and Draysean Hudson are the two wide receiver sleaving due to graduation. But the wide receiver room is still pretty deep on talent, but short on production past the top two. The biggest competition will be for the third and fourth receivers. Davion Curtis was a massive disappointment in 2019, but if he can play to his abilities, could give McNeese one of the best pass-catching trios in the Southland Conference.

Then you have Nate Briscoe, Markquell Stewart, Mason Pierce, and Markel Cotten among the others who will compete for spots as well.

As far as tight ends, most of them return for the 2020 season. The question is, will they be thrown to? Three McNeese tight ends combined for six receptions, 35 yards, and one touchdown last season. That's pitiful. But Jacob Logan and Dontay Hargrove will get the chance to show what they can do again in 2020.

OFFENSIVE LINE

This unit will be affected by graduation, with four linemen – two of whom were starters – exhausting their eligibility. The returning starters are center Cutter Leftwich, right guard Caleb Gary, and left tackle Jamarcus Bolding.

Calvin Barkat started the season at center, so he will have experience and could still compete with Leftwich. Demarcus Thomas played as a true freshman at left tackle when Bolding was hurt, so he now has much-needed experience as well. Nick Holiday also started a game for the Cowboys during the season. Kyle Herridge and Tanner Pugh are some other names to look out for.

Bottom line, Grant Burguillos and Tre Newton were as steady as can be for McNeese at left guard and right tackle, respectively. They will need to be replaced. The Cowboys have extended multiple offers to junior college offensive linemen, so it's clear they prefer some college experience for that unit going into 2020. Offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Matt Mattox will have a big job ahead of him.

Next week: a look at the defense and special teams


David Berry covers McNeese State athletics. Email him at dberry@americanpress.com

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