Learning, and school hasn’t started

<p class="p1">The McNeese State football team’s fall camp is about to come to a close as the Cowboys begin classes on Monday.</p><p class="p1">With that will come afternoon practices during the hottest part of the day as well as some extra players who — for a multitude of reasons — can’t dress out until classes begin.</p><p class="p1">The Cowboys have two practices and a scrimmage before taking Sunday and Monday off and beginning afternoon practices, and we’ve learned a lot about them since camp began two weeks ago.</p><p class="p1">For starters, we’ve learned that the quarterback position seems to be in good hands, even with the inevitable departure of James Tabary next season.</p><p class="p1">Cody Orgeron has improved immensely from a year ago, and his quick feet make him a solid alternative that head coach Lance Guidry said he will use a couple times a game when he, offensive coordinator Landon Hoefer and quarterbacks coach Kerry Joseph decide Tabary needs a break or the Cowboys need a change of pace on offense.</p><p class="p1">And while Orgeron might be the clear No. 2 right now, he isn’t guaranteed the starting job next year either. True freshman Cam Smith looks more and more comfortable running the offense with each passing day, and big passes from him have become common during drills.</p><p class="p1">On top of that, Smith has a cannon for an arm, so a year from now expect us to be debating which one of these underclassmen will take the helm for the 2019-20 season.</p><p class="p1">But for now, Tabary will more than suffice as he remains McNeese’s best option at the position and he enters his final season with a chance to break a multitude of the program’s career passing records.</p><p class="p1">We’ve also learned that 18 offensive linemen is a whole heck of a lot better than seven.</p><p class="p1">After dealing with depth issues all last season and then suffering such low numbers during spring camp, the Cowboys couldn’t play a spring game, The offensive line finally has the numbers it needs to build a stable of guys it can rely on.</p><p class="p1">Offensive line coach Ben Norton will be the first person to tell anybody that his unit has a long way to go before it’s where he wants it to be, but the progress they’ve been able to make with numbers has improved drastically.</p><p class="p1">Despite its lack of depth in 2017, the offensive line become pretty adept at run blocking, allowing running backs David Hamm and Justin Pratt to produce significant numbers and regularly extend drives for the Cowboys last season.</p><p class="p1">If they can build on that success and protect Tabary in the pocket to give him the time he had as a sophomore, McNeese should be able to move the ball at a consistent and grueling pace for opposing defenses that will have to be on the field much longer than they anticipate.</p><p class="p1">Players at virtually every position have said the newly replenished offensive line has helped make them better as well. Running backs have more room, quarterbacks have more time to find receivers, defensive linemen have better competition and other defensive positions are getting more reps because the offensive line has enough players for multiple units.</p><p class="p1">Finally, we’ve learned that nobody’s starting job is safely in hand. It’s not just Cody Orgeron making a name for himself at his position. Redshirt freshman defensive end Camron Peterson can regularly be seen in a DWA (Defense With Attitude) jersey, and transfer junior safety Jovon Burris has all but secured significant minutes despite sharing a position with Trent Jackson, one of the Cowboys’ most intelligent defensive backs.</p><p class="p1">The good news is this edition of the McNeese football team has thus far remained unselfish. When teammates, even competing teammates, make big plays and earn more time they are celebrated rather than envied.</p><p class="p1">When Orgeron makes a big play, Tabary said that makes him want to put together a long drive. When Burris put on a DWA jersey leaving Jackson in his No. 9 jersey, Jackson said it’s because Burris is like a sponge when it comes to learning.</p><p class="p1">That might be this team’s best quality if it remains consistent. The starters alone aren’t going to beat teams like BYU or Central Arkansas. Those games in particular are going to take a full team effort at every position.</p><p class="p1">Sometimes culture beats athleticism, and culture is what the Cowboys have been trying to build since convening two weeks ago.</p><hr /><p class="p2"><strong>Tyler Nunez</strong> covers McNeese State athletics. Email him at tnunez@americanpress.com</p>””<p>Cowboys practice on the new turf in Cowboy Stadium Monday, August 6, 2018. (Tyler Nunez/American Press)</p>TylerNunez
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