Practice fields a lab for LSU football

There is no harm in giving a football player a look at a new position, especially if it turns out to be one where he stands to see more playing time. That's the mindset of LSU head coach Nick Saban when it comes to spring practice. <br> In advance of Saturday's scrimmage, a few Tigers are being shuffled around in attempt to get the best players on field for the 2002 season.

Saban met with reporters after Wednesday's workout and detailed some position tinkering he has done through the first five sessions of spring practice. Specifically, he is gauging the ability of Bradie James to play middle linebacker – a position without a starter returning due to the early departure of Trev Faulk to the NFL.

With James moved to the middle, Lionel Turner has been placed at weakside linebacker where he is joined by strong safety Adrian Mayes.

"We were encouraged with the way Adrian Mayes was playing so we moved him up to the Will linebacker to see if there would be a little more playing time for him at that position," Saban said. "(It) is really experimental, and he's done fairly well. It's a new position for him. He's learning. He's a guy that's made a tremendous amount of plays on special teams over the last two years. He's a playmaker so we're trying to find a place for him to play."

There is a downside to placing players at new position, according to Saban. He says the lack of continuity it creates can affect other positions.

Such is the case at wide receiver, where a couple of running backs have been moved and some younger players are getting their first real consideration.

Devery Henderson and Shyrone Carey, who previously trained as running backs, are working full time as receivers this spring.

Bennie Brazell is splitting time between football and track and is expected to miss the Spring Game on April 27 to take part in the Penn Relays.

Senior Reggie Robinson is getting back into the flow after missing last season with a neck injury, and a back injury has slowed Michael Clayton's progress in the off-season

This leaves Jerel Myers as the only healthy, experienced receiver working in spring practice. The lack of tested talent has had some effect on the development of quarterbacks Matt Mauck, Marcus Randall and Rick Clausen.

"From a timing standpoint and everybody meshing together, I don't think we're where I'd like to be throwing the football right now," said Saban. "I don't think it's the quarterbacks. It's a combination of things."

Saban said he is otherwise pleased with the progress his quarterbacks are making, and the rest of the team is finding its stride after lagging during Monday's practice.

"We could tell we had been off for ten days," he said. "Guys were a little rusty. It was a little tough going out there, especially for the first day in pads. It may not have been the smartest thing to do…but I thought it would serve us well. I wanted to get us back on schedule so we could scrimmage on Saturday. The players bounced back nice today and I thought we had a bit better practice."

In assessing the play of his respective lines, Saban said he is pleased with the stability and experience on the offensive side of the ball. Four spots will be manned by proven starters and a healthy competition is taking place at right tackle between Brad Smalling and Kade Comeaux.

Along the defensive line, the situation is just the opposite.

"We need to continue to work defensively up front because even though we have some good young players, it shows at times they don't have the knowledge and experience of other guys," Saban explained.

There were three noteworthy absences at Wednesday's practice.

Linebacker Tim Pope is serving a 30-day suspension for a violation of team rules, said Saban. The redshirt freshman from Panama City, Fla., was arrested prior to enrolling at LSU for evading police in an automobile chase and then suspended from the team in the middle of the season for breaking team rules.

Despite Pope's prior transgressions, Saban says there is still an avenue for him to play football at LSU.

"If he does was he supposed to do, he can get back and be a part of the team," Saban said. "He's got a lot of academic work to do. I think if he can do what he needs to do it might be beneficial for him in the long run as a person. Hopefully it will work out for him that way."

The other two missing persons were from the defensive backfield. Chris Vincent was out of town to attend the funeral of a family member but is expected to return for Friday's practice. Brandon Williams still has not reported to Saban hasn't given any public indication he will do so.

The Tigers return to practice Friday for what's expected to be a light workout in advance of Saturday's scrimmage – the first of the spring practice session. The scrimmage is closed to the public but will be accessible to the media and members of the Tiger Gridiron Club.


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