Saban, Tigers tackle Media Day

The fourth year of LSU football under Nick Saban was addressed Sunday as the head coach and his players met with the press on media day on the LSU campus.

Fresh off reeling another one of the nation's top recruiting class, Saban praised his players for returning in top shape and expressed his excitement for the upcoming season, which gets underway Aug. 30 when the Tigers face the Louisiana-Monroe Indians at Tiger Stadium.

"I was very pleased with the way our team came back," Saban said. "I made the announcement that this is the most players we have ever had pass our physical training test, which is a real indication of the commitment our players have made. How hungry, how competitive, how willing to work, invest their time, is certainly important to the outcome of what happens over the long haul with the consistency we are able to play with. It is our goal this year to be a champion."

Saban approved of the way his team set goals in the spring and how they worked over the summer to build a foundation to achieve the standards set. "Players formulate goals each year of what they want to accomplish," Saban said. "I was very pleased in the spring when they decided that this was the goal they wanted to try to accomplish: to be a champion on and off the field, as a person, as a student, as a football player, as a team.

"Together everybody achieves more in terms of trusting and respecting each other."

The talk of media day surrounded mostly the health of quarterback Matt Mauck and if the junior signal caller will be ready to re-assume the reigns of the Tiger offense.

Offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher assured everyone that Mauck will be ready to go when the time comes.

"He's done a good job," Fisher said. "He's practicing and he hasn't missed a rep. He hasn't been full speed but it's going to take a little time for his body to adjust. He's passed every conditioning test we've had and he's one of our top guys in our conditioning test."

As for the freshmen, the buzz surrounding quarterbacks JaMarcus Russell and Matt Flynn, and the influx of a talented wide receiver corps, was still very much alive.

"There are a lot of questions about the freshmen," Saban said. "I don't know specifically after three or four practices who is going to contribute this year. The number one thing we want the freshman to focus on is the process of what they need to do to be good players. It's not focusing on how much playing time they are going to get.

"The second thing is that there are several positions on this team where several freshmen create competition, which is a focal point for this team because it will add depth down the road as they gain knowledge and experience. We are pleased with everything the freshman class has done.

"This is also the most freshmen we have ever had pass the conditioning test. We are very pleased with the commitment they have made this summer, to go to school, work out with the team." On the offensive side of things, Saban has raved about the strength of his O-Line. Dubbed the best front Saban has had in his three years in Baton Rouge, the Tiger head coach minced no words when crediting his front five and the expectations he has for them.

"I have said nothing but positive things about the offensive line we have right now," Saban said. "I think it is the best line we have had in terms of ability, experience and knowledge. They are a very smart group of guys who play well together. There is a lot of good chemistry there. I feel really good about the guys that we have. I actually look at our offensive line and think we have seven starters, which is the most I can say I have ever felt that way about.

"I think it is important to continue to develop depth down the road. Hopefully, we will be fortunate at that position to keep the continuity throughout the year."

On the defensive side of the ball, coordinator Will Muschamp has been pleased with the carry-over from the spring by the veterans.

"The older guys coming back we are really pleased with the front guys so far: Chad Lavalais, Marquise Hill, Marcus Spears and Melvin Oliver," Muschamp said. "Bryce Wyatt...moved inside and is really having a strong camp these first five days. We are very pleased with him. Tory Collins has done some good things at defensive end."

The biggest concern on defense has been linebacker and safety. After the first week of workouts, Muschamp eluded to the progress being made by the linebackers.

"Of course there are some question marks, and we are still trying to fit some guys in," Muschamp said. "Lionel Turner is playing the Mike position right now. He can play Mike or Sam. Lionel is coming in good shape and has done some good things for us.

"Eric Alexander and Dave Peterson are both playing the Sam position right now. And at Will linebacker of course, we have moved Adrian Mayes down to the linebacker and he has really shown some flashes of good things. He is a strong-handed guy, he is physical, he is tough, he is down hill and we feel like he has some playmaking ability at the linebacker position."

As far as freshmen making a contribution on defense, the bulk of the help supplied by the rookies will come in the secondary where there are a couple of impact freshmen who could shore up some major questions, especially at safety.

"We are pleased with all the defensive backs," Muschamp said. "It's too early to tell on any of these kids. We haven't been in full gear yet. We have been practicing in pajamas for the past five days. That's basically all we have done.

"Jessie Daniels and LaRon Landry have both looked good at safety, are both repping up with the second and third units right now and getting quality reps in practice and have done a good job. Jonathan Zenon, Nick Child and Daniel Francis all have the ability to play corner in the SEC. Time will tell when, but they are all good football players."

In all, Saban and his staff were positive after the first week but could offer very limited observations after just one week on the practice field.

Saban did though give his impressions of where he feels the program stands after his first three seasons in baton Rouge.

"When you talk about program, I never just talk about how many games we win or how many games you lose," Saban said. "I think everybody has heard me talk about our mission statement: helping our players improve as people and be more successful in life because of their involvement in the program.

"It is kind of a character, commitment and attitude issue."

Saban has openly admitted winning is important, but molding a student-athlete into a citizen is what is most important. However, the fan sometimes fails to see that aspect of the program. What the fan sees is winning and losing on the field and Saban notes that his teams have done a great deal more winning than losing.

"I was disappointed in the way we finished last year in terms of our ability to overcome adversity," Saban said. "Not going back to the SEC Championship game was obviously a disappointment. We felt like we had good enough football players to do it. The fact that we have been able to go to two New Year's Day bowl games, continue to attract pretty good quality athletes in recruiting is a positive."

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