With the biggest game most of them will ever play in still a ways off, the LSU players met with the media Wednesday and were relaxed and playful as they navigated through their only week this season without a game.
That relaxation will give way to intensity very soon of course. But for a few days this week, the LSU players were focused on just football and camaraderie.
For the big men on both sides of the ball, the break from game action is a welcome respite physically.
Last week the Tigers were close to full strength on the offensive line, although center P.J. Lonergan didn’t play because of a high ankle sprain but he could have.
Every lineman has missed some time with an injury.
“We’ve run the ball 30-40 times a game most of the time and doing that for eight weeks will bang you up a little bit,” guard Will Blackwell said. “This week, we’ve taken a little more time to heal up and get some treatment. This will give us a chance to get rested and be ready for the rest of the season.”
For Blackwell, who has played both guard spots this season, the notion of Lonergan and T-Bob Hebert rounding back into health after both have missed time is particularly good news.
When those two were ailing, Blackwell shifted to the backup center spot – one he’s never played in a game before.
“I really don’t want to play center if I don’t have to,” Blackwell said. “Snapping the ball and then getting on your guy, that’s tough. I’ll do it if I ever have to, but those guys are much better at it than I could ever be. I’m pretty happy where I’m at.”
As much as there is a focus on resting and healing physically this week, there is also plenty of work between the ears for the players to tend to.
In particular, the receiving corps will spend plenty of time in the video room looking at Alabama’s talented secondary – at tendencies, hos the Crimson Tide disguises coverages, etc.
“We’re taking a lot of time this week to look at a lot of film and to begin to work against their press man coverage,” Russell Shepard said. “These are probably the best DBs we’ve worked against. They do a lot of stuff and probably have one of the best DB coaches of all time in college football in Nick Saban.”
Added Rueben Randle, “We’ll have to break down film and break down what their secondary does on certain downs. We have to be ready to beat man-to-man coverage. We have to read their defenses and read those zones.”
Quarterbacks Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson also have plenty of studying to do. Besides the Alabama secondary’s skills, the Tigers’ QBs also have to get familiar with where the pass rush will come from.
“They have great players on defense,” Lee said. “They’re physical, but they’re also smart and aggressive. It’s like they’re not out of position very often. They disguise a lot.
Saban is known for giving his defensive backs the freedom to match up one-one-one, which could play into LSU’s favor with Randle.
“They’re confident in their guys as athletes and they should be,” Lee said. “They’re great players.”
Lee said as much as reviewing video helps, just getting back to practice is the best preparation he and the offense can get.
“I think our defense shows us everything we’re going to see every day in practice,” he said.
On Shepard’s 10-yard touchdown reception against Auburn last week, the officials originally ruled he had not reached the end zone after he dove for the pylon and stretched the ball out.
When the closest referee spotted the ball inches away from the goal line, Lee sprinted over and argued vehemently – not exactly his normal MO.
“To me it was an obvious touchdown,” Lee said. “It was inside the pylon when he dove. I was pretty upset. It was great effort to get in there. I was pretty upset about it and I let it show.”
Lee grew up in Brownwood, Texas, before moving to Brenham as a high school sophomore.
And as a baseball fan, he doesn’t hide his allegiance with the 2011 Major League Baseball World Series reaching a boiling point.
“Oh the Rangers are going to win it,” he said. “There’s no doubt about that.”
Familiar with the enemy
Because the Alabama and LSU coaching staffs recruit many of the same players, a handful of Tigers are familiar with Saban.
As always seems to be the case with the former LSU coach, the feelings on Saban are mixed.
“He’s very, very simple – straight to the point,” Shepard said. “He’s a great football coach, a great man. A lot of people talk bad about him. I have a lot of good positive things to say about him.”
Sam Montgomery didn’t pop onto a lot of recruiting radars until late in the process, including Alabama.
“Me and Saban talked right before my decision,” Montgomery said. “I always thought that Nick Saban was on one of these ancient great coaches. I always wanted to meet him and shake his hand.”