Saban: Depth needed on defense

Wide receiver Michael Clayton was asked to split time at safety at the end of last season and is getting some practice time with the defense during spring practice.<br><br>Is another Tiger getting ready to jump from offense to defense?

Head coach Nick Saban said after Wednesday's practice that his defense is not making the same progress as the offense due to a lack of depth on that side of the ball.

"We don't have enough guys right now that have enough knowledge and experience about what we're doing and how to do it," said Saban.

The primary areas of need for the Tigers on defense are linebacker and at the safety positions.

Saban has big shoes to fill at Mike linebacker where Bradie James led the unit as a team captain. Lionel Turner, a starter at Will linebacker in 2002, is being transitioned to the other inside position to replace James.

Taking over for Turner at Will is Cameron Vaughn, who is a capable but quiet sophomore who saw reserve action at the position last year. Saban said he would like to see both linebackers assert themselves vocally as defensive leaders.

"At Mike linebacker, you're the quarterback," said Saban. "Your opportunity to affect other people is great.

"Cameron Vaughn is a very bright guy as well, but I'd like to see him be more assertive and affect other people with his leadership."

The Tigers also have to find a new Sam linebacker to replace Jeremy Lawrence, and Saban says he wants to find a speed rusher for the edge. Dave Peterson and Alonzo Manuel are being given a chance to take the role in the spring, but Saban said a freshman could be considered for the job in the fall.

Saban works directly with the defensive backs in practice and has noticed a need for more players at the safety positions. Jack Hunt and Adrian Mayes are the designated starters, but the Tigers are in need of more big hitters who have a grasp of coverage schemes.

"At corner, between Randall Gay, Ronnie Prude, Corey Webster and Travis Daniels...we've got four guys who are pretty decent," said Saban. "But we can't get our best players on the field if one of those guys don't end up playing safety, and none of those guys are safeties in terms of size."

Saban appears reluctant to pull one of his corners over to safety after seeing Gay, the smallest player in the secondary, injured for most of last season from playing safety against four-wide offenses.

An alternative at safety for Saban could be using wide receiver Michael Clayton, who was trained at safety and saw a few plays there in the Cotton Bowl. Clayton has practice sparingly with the defense this spring because of a temporary lack of depth at receiver.

Saban is also planning to give running back Justin Vincent a look at safety, although the coach said it's not very likely that he would use the freshman there.

"The objective with Justin Vincent is not to move him to defense," said Saban. "The objective is to know, could this guy be a solution to a problem if we had one next year if we lost a safety or we didn't have any depth at that position."

Clayton could play safety if necessary on a week's notice, Saban said, and the goal is to see if Vincent could handle similar responsibilities in case of emergency.

Webster and Daniels are the two bigger corners for LSU who might be considered for safety, and Saban said Webster is playing a lot more confidently now that he has ironed out some fundamental problems.

"Toward the end of last year, he got in some bad habits," said Saban. "He wasn't getting his hands on people, and I think the one thing he's done a better job of this spring is jamming people. As big as he is, when he gets his hands on you, you don't catch many balls."

Saban gave a good progress report on the defensive line, which will not see much practice time from end Marquise Hill. He is healed from shoulder surgery and strength tests show he is ready to resume full contact. But Saban said he feels it is best to give Hill more time off rather than aggravate his injury.

"He wants to do it, but we don't want to set him back or tear down what we had to rebuild," said Saban. "His presence would help us a lot."

SCRIMMAGE FORECAST: Quarterback Matt Mauck will only see between 25-30 snaps in Saturday's scrimmage as he continues to heal from a foot ligament injury. Saban says Mauck won't be used in any running plays.

Marcus Randall will get about 50 plays with the first and second offenses, and Saban wants one of the three reserves to get about 25 repetitions. The coach is hoping to use those plays to get a better idea of who is ready to be the third-string quarterback.

RECRUITING WATCH: Running back Jay Lucas (5-11, 206) of Baton Rouge-Redemptorist was at Wednesday's practice. Lucas, who is considered a major Division I recruit, was an all-state selection after rushing for 1,982 yards and 30 TDs as a junior. He set a record in the 3A title game with 257 yards in Redemptorist's 31-19 win over Patterson.

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