Newcomers get first taste of LSU football

The 32 newest members of the LSU football team were put through their paces for the first time on Wednesday afternoon.<br><br>Head coach Nick Saban gave an early assessment of his freshmen flock to reporters shortly after the first of two practice sessions.

While temperatures were high on Wednesday, conditions were bearable thanks to a steady breeze. But Saban believes some players had problems dealing with the heat because they were already anxious about their first day in practice.

 

"The kids really tried to focus and do a good job in the practice," said Saban. "But when you have that (few) number of guys and you throw that much new stuff at them, between all the adjustments they're going through …the confusion, and the anxiety created by the confusion, you've got to have lots of patience and lots of teaching out there."

 

Saban feels the new Tigers will settle down as fall practice continues and find a comfort zone that will allow them to display there ability.

 

The head coach added that he was impressed with the linemen in the freshmen class. While a few were a bit heavier than he would like, Saban said the entire group appeared to be very athletic and light on their feet.

 

Running a simple walk-through handoff play, the freshmen Tigers featured Terrell McGill at left tackle, Garret Wibel at left guard, Peter Dyakowski and center, Brian Johnson at right guard and Paris Hodges at right tackle.

 

Hodges' father was at practice, having traveled over 2,000 miles to Baton Rouge with Paris by van from their home in Northern California. Johnson's dad was also on hand after accompanying his son from Tallahassee, Fla.

 

Nate Livings was one of five scholarship newcomers working on the defensive line with two walk-ons. Kyle Williams, Doug Planchard and Livings worked at tackle, and Ryan Willis and Tory Collins lined up as ends. Saban says Livings will be considered first on defense and then moved to offense if he doesn't take to that side of the line.

 

Willis could be given a look at tight end if defensive end isn't in his future, Saban said. Meanwhile, assistant coach Derek Dooley has to wait until Friday when the varsity reports so he will have players to work with at tight end.

 

Offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher worked with two quarterbacks – freshman Lester Ricard and junior college transfer Michael Harrison. Although less seasoned in the college game, Ricard seemed to be the more polished passer at times. However, Saban gave kudos to both QBs for their ability to throw the ball with precision.

 

Dominique Owens, Jason Spadoni and Justin Vincent handle repetitions at running back. Owens is a lean player who Saban may end up considering at wide receiver or cornerback if he has any difficulty at running back. Spadoni drew praise for Saban for his conditioning. "He ran like a deer the whole time out there," the coach said.

 

At wide receiver, Skyler Green and Junior Joseph worked with walk-on Steve Mares. Green was clearly the class of the group and could potentially get a look on the field in 2002, Saban noted. 

 

There are three scholarship newcomers at linebacker and one is already starting to stand out, according to Saban.

 

"Cameron Vaughn is a guy who's extremely bright, learns quickly, has good size and athleticism and hopefully might be a guy that might be able to help us a little bit depth-wise at linebacker," he said.

 

Vaughn is currently tabbed as a weakside linebacker, called the Will in LSU's offense, after playing at middle linebacker in high school. Saban feels it will be easier for a newcomer like Vaughn to play at the Will with an experienced player, like middle (Mike) linebacker Bradie James, helping him adjust.

 

"I think at Will you can play with a guy who has somebody else helping (him) play the position," said Saban. "It's hard to help a guy play Mike. He's the man. He's making the calls on the defense. He's in the middle of all of it."

 

Saban stopped short of labeling Vaughn or Green as players who will definitely contribute in 2002. Such a designation creates unnecessary pressure on young players, he says, because seeing significant playing time is usually against the odds for most true freshmen.

 

"It's almost the exception rather than the rule," Saban said. "I think it's almost unfair to put that type of expectation on these guys sometimes. I think you're special when you play as a freshman."

 

Time is on Saban's side when it comes to determining which new players will get an early chance to star for the Tigers. He said it was evident after just a couple of days last fall that Michael Clayton would be able to play – either at safety, wide receiver or on special teams – as a true freshman. The coach expects the next few days to give him additional chances to evaluate freshmen with the ability to contribute in 2002.

 

An emphasis on technique was evident during Wednesday's practice, as the entire staff covered the rudiments of football with the freshman class. Saban was his usual hands-on self with defensive backs Keron Gordon, Jeff Cook, Vernon Russell, Troy Hankton and walk-on Patrick Babinecz.

 

Elsewhere on the field, the assistants taught the basics to players at their respective positions. Such attention to detail is very necessary for these players who probably have grown accustomed to relying on their athletic advantage, Saban said.

 

"A lot of these guys are so good (they've) performed without thinking or worrying about technique too much because they were better than the other guy. It's almost uncharacteristic for them to have to focus and concentrate on doing things with technique. It's hard on some of them and it takes them a while to try and get the concept.

 

"It really helps the young guys when the varsity gets here, because it really helps to see another guy do it before you have to do it."

Before varsity players report Friday, the newcomers will work out again Wednesday evening and hold two more practices on Thursday.

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