Saban ready to get things started

LSU football coach Nick Saban, entering his fourth season in Baton Rouge, voiced enthusiasm the day before beginning fall practice with the Tigers.<br><br>"We're definitely excited and happy to get things started today," he said. "It was good to see the squad in total. The players were fitted for equipment and had their physicals and strength tests. We will have our first meetings tonight and the first practice is tomorrow."

Saban was pleased with tests of the players overall as a unit. He singled out quarterback Matt Mauck, wide receiver Michael Clayton and defensive back Ronnie Prude, saying all looked in good shape.

With a number of the incoming freshmen in Baton Rouge for workouts during the summer, Saban said was pleased with the way the Tiger newcomers looked. "By having most of those guys here this summer, I would say that their conditioning level was probably better than any class we have had in the past," Saban said. "That's only going to help those guys have an opportunity to play or show what they can do early enough that we can make a decision about whether they should be playing this year or not."

Saban said 105 players reported to fall camp for the Tigers, but four players from last year's squad were not in that number.

Safety Jeff Cook has decided to transfer to Louisiana-Lafayette to pursue a baseball career, and cornerback Troy Hankton did not pass his physical due to an undisclosed injury and will most likely receive a medical redshirt.

Quarterback Michael Harrison will also receive a medical redshirt after rotator cuff problems in his throwing arm, and senior wide receiver/holder Blaine Bech has also not reported to camp and could receive a medical redshirt due to continuing migraine headaches. Saban said 25 signees qualified from the 2003 signing class with defensive back Daryl Johnson the only signee in question. Johnson's status is still pending and while he awaits word from the NCAA Clearing House.

Sugar Land, Texas, defensive lineman Tim Washington did not qualify but Saban hopes Washington will get a passing test score in order to join the team in January, following the path running back Justin Vincent took last season.

With freshman reporting the same day as the returning players, Saban has decided to split practices for the first three days with the returning players practicing together and the newcomers practicing in their own session.

The returning players will practice before the freshman for the three days of split practices and will be giving playing time in practice based on experience at the position; something Saban says will help practice run more smoothly.

"There's no particular depth chart yet," Saban said. "Just because there is a couple of guys out there with the purple squad or varsity squad, it doesn't mean anything right now.

"We just want to have a two-team unit out there if possible. It will allow us to have a more well-organized practice. That's a problem with freshman practice because of the limited numbers."

Saban also said the split practices will allow the freshman to get more individual attention, something that will be beneficial down the road.

"I think it will give a chance to spend a lot of specific coaching time with the freshman. If we would have gone out there with 105 guys all at a time with most of the freshman being fourth and fifth team, it will be very difficult to do." Saban shot down rumors from other Internet sites indicating linebacker Nate Harris would be a part of the 2003 LSU roster. The former Miami signee served time recently in a correctional boot camp, but Saban said he is interested in Harris if he is eligible to play.

"Nate Harris is not here," Saban said. "I don't know where everyone is getting information on Nate Harris. Nate Harris is a guy that if he qualifies, we would be interested in recruiting and that's about it."

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