Saban pleased with offensive progress

Nick Saban predicted the LSU offense would improve following a shaky showing in the first scrimmage of 2002 spring practice. <br><br> Although the media wasn't allowed to watch the team drills, the Tigers' passing game apparently made big strides. Saban said the quarterbacks and receivers, who struggled with their timing last weekend, worked in sync on Wednesday.

Quarterback Matt Mauck turned in one of his most consistent practices, according to Saban who highlighted receivers Jerel Myers, Devery Henderson, Shyrone Carey and Bennie Brazell as big playmakers.

Brazell will miss his second straight scrimmage to compete with the LSU track team.

"This offensive team has to develop a personality of its own," said Saban. "A lot of people try to make comparisons to last year's team because of the type of team we have. We're not really trying to replace the players we had; we're trying to build on what we have and develop a personality…

"That identity and leadership are still something that's being nurtured along. Hopefully we made a big step in that direction today." 

Saban was also pleased with the way his team bounced back after what he termed a not-so-good practice on Monday. He pinned the low productivity of the workout on it coming so close on the heels of the first scrimmage.

A particularly low part of Monday's practice came when starting center Ben Wilkerson, a Freshman All-SEC selection, suffered a knee injury. An erroneous Internet report Tuesday indicated Wilkerson had torn his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), but the sophomore from Hemphill, Texas, actually suffered a third degree sprain of his medial collateral ligament – a far less serious injury.

Wilkerson was at Wednesday's practice wearing full leg brace and using crutches. Although he won't require surgery, he will miss the remainder of spring practice.

Saban projected the injury to take 4 to 8 weeks to heal and said his medical training staff will take the maximum amount of time necessary to get Wilkerson healthy. This would put him on track to resume preparations for the 2002 season no later than June.

In Wilkerson's absence, John Young worked with the first unit at center Wednesday and redshirt freshman Rudy Niswanger took over on the second unit. Saban said he would prefer to use Niswanger as a swing lineman, capable of playing the tackle and guard positions, but feels he is capable of picking up the skills needed to play center.

Tight end Demetri Robinson did not dress for Wednesday's practice. He suffered a mild shoulder separation and is expected to miss the next few days of practice. Saban said a decision will be made later this month whether Robinson would benefit more from straight rehab or an arthroscopy procedure.

In more positive injury news, two players who suffered the same injury as Robinson have been cleared to participate in full contact work.

Defensive backs Demetrius Hookfin and Travis Moses suffered their shoulder separations during the 2001 season and underwent repairs in January. They had both been wearing red no-contact jerseys prior to this week.

The springtime experiment of using players at different positions continued Wednesday with a couple of players flip-flopping to new spots. Ryan Gilbert is practicing with the defensive backs after spending two weeks at running back and Chris Vincent is in the offensive backfield after practicing at safety during the first half of spring practice.

Gilbert worked briefly with the cornerbacks during the 2001 season when the injuries left the Tigers without depth at the position, but the Dallas-Hillcrest product didn't play last season and took a redshirt. He had been battling with Joseph Addai for the No. 3 tailback role behind Domanick Davis.

Vincent, a midterm transfer from Valley Forge Military Academy, played as a running back for the prep school after starring as a defensive back at Neshiminy High School just outside Philadelphia. Saban said he will decide after spring practice which position he feels Vincent and Gilbert will concentrate on in 2002.

Wednesday's practice marked the start of opponent preparations, according to Saban. The defense got a look at the option offense it is likely to see against Alabama and Arkansas along with the attacks that are different from the Tigers' pro-multiple offense they see every day in practice.

In order to inject some competition into spring practice, Saban used the latter part of Wednesday's practice to hold a late-game situation scrimmage.

The Tigers get Thursday off before returning to practice Friday for a light workout in advance of Saturday's scrimmage. The second head-to-head pairing of the offense and the defense will take place at 1 p.m. in Tiger Stadium and is closed to the public.

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