Tigers back in practice

With Old Glory flying at half-staff from nearby Alex Box Stadium, the LSU football team worked out at its practice fields Tuesday, fixing old problems while a Sept. 29 road date with Tennessee looms in what will be its first game in 21 days.

"I know I've been asked several times, ‘How will this affect the season?' I don't know," said head coach Nick Saban. "I can't answer that question. Nobody knows."

National events, of course, wiped away the Tigers' Southeastern Conference opener with Auburn, which was scheduled for Saturday. With LSU's first bye coming in four days, its season has been effectively split into two parts.

"We've got to manage it," Saban said. "And in managing that, we've got to manage ourselves, in terms of what we do and how we play the cards that we have in our individual lives. So that's what we're trying to do."

Of course, Saban has never had to manage a football team quite like this. It will be a new challenge for both his squad and Tennessee coach Philip Fulmer's, which will also have a three-week layoff.

On the positive side, the interim provides a chance for players to brush up on assignments and for their injuries to heal. (During a fairly positive practice Tuesday afternoon, only LSU cornerback Robert Davis, nursing a knee injury, stood on the sidelines. Saban said he should know something about Davis' status later this week.)

On the negative side, the time off might make some Tigers and Volunteers rusty — or, as Saban said, give them a feeling of detachment from football, given the bigger-than-sports events across America last week.

"I don't know what the outcome is going to be," Saban said. "Hopefully, we can focus on the process and be able to help the players stay focused."

After learning that the Tigers' game against Auburn was postponed (the teams won't play until Dec. 1), Saban gave his players three days off to be at home with their families.

"I'm glad he gave us that weekend off," said tailback LaBrandon Toefield, who also reported he has earned the nickname "Toe Truck" earlier this season. "We could go home and really have time to watch the news; see what's really going on. We're always in class or have practice, so we would just hear about it."

Watching the events on television, Toefield said he thought of how he felt when his late mother, Ida, died from a heart attack last spring.

"There's thousands of people over there feeling the same way that I felt," he said. "It was rough, man."

Since Monday, the players have focused on correcting some mistakes they made during the first two games of the season. They will do so again Wednesday, then take Thursday off.

"I even told the players, ‘Look, guys, I probably made a mistake with you. We probably didn't talk about (the terrorist attacks) long enough.' My whole thing was, I didn't talk to the players about it until they canceled the game," Saban said.

"(I was) thinking that if we don't talk about it, it's not really there. And if we don't talk about it, we'll stay more focused on the game."

Saban said that if LSU and Auburn had played Saturday, he suspects that the quality of play would have been affected in some way. Since then, Saban says, both he and his team feels better about how things are.

"Players were asking me, ‘What was it like when they had the (military) draft, when you were in school?' " Saban added.

During some practices this week and next week, the Tigers will engage in at least some contact. Otherwise, Saban said, his players would run the definite risk of being a step slow and perhaps less game-ready than if they spent 21 days without making some hits.

"In the old days, we'd have scrimmaged back when I played," Saban said. "I always say they don't make them like they used to, or we'd be going full metal jacket right now."

Instead, the Tigers will work out in full pads again Wednesday, take the day off Thursday and practice in "shells" — helmets, shoulder pads and shorts — Friday afternoon.

Saban said LSU's first game-week preparations will begin during Friday's practice, giving the Tigers a bit more time to look at their next opponent via film and their work with the scout team.

The players and coaches will hit the field again Saturday before they take Sunday off.

"Now you worry about having your best players available for the game," Saban said. "But you also want them to be ready to play the game."

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