"I was really pleased with the attitude, the effort and focus," said head coach Nick Saban, "especially with the older guys. It serves as a good example for some of the younger guys who haven't been in the program to see what it takes for a player...to execute and not make mental errors."
A big factor in the Tigers having a successful season will be how many good practices they can have on a consistent basis, said Saban. The challenge to that consistency will be the fatigue he expects to set in as August wears on and the lack of concentration and effort that sometimes follows.
Perhaps the most noticeable player at practice Monday morning was one who blended right in with the rest of the team. Sophomore quarterback Marcus Randall took part in group drills with the rest of the offense and ran at a good pace on the knee he had surgically repaired for a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) a little over three months ago.
Saban points to Randall's speedy return as evidence of improvements in sports medicine and rehabilitation. Another case in point is senior running back LaBrandon Toefield, who was cleared for practice in June after tearing his ACL in the Southeastern Conference Championship game in December.
"(Randall) didn't do anything out there that the doctors and the medical staff didn't think he was capable of doing," said Saban. "He's had an outstanding rehab and is ahead of schedule."
Randall did not take part in team drills in order to avoid contact and forced scrambles out of the pocket. Saban said Randall's status and availability for additional practice are going to be evaluated on a day-by-day basis.
Saban said Toefield is 100 percent as far as his knee is concerned but has a little work left to do to get into "football shape." The coach expects his All-SEC tailback to reach that level of conditioning in time for the Tigers' season opener at Virginia Tech.
Recent attrition has forced the LSU staff to reconfigure its offensive line early in fall camp. The Tigers are without tackle Brad Smalling after he dropped out of school during the summer, and Kade Comeaux will miss the 2002 season to receive treatment for Crohn's disease. Smalling had starting experience, and Comeaux was the projected starter at right tackle.
With junior Rodney Reed moved from left tackle to right tackle, redshirt freshman Andrew Whitworth was used at left tackle today and backed up by true freshman Terrell McGill. Whitworth and McGill are among four freshmen linemen who stand to see playing time in 2002, and Saban says his staff wants to make sure they are ready when needed.
"I'm going to be anxious to watch the film, not only on that bunch but the bunch behind them too," said Saban.
To improve depth on the offensive line, Saban moved defensive tackle Doug Planchard over to the opposite side. This gives the Tigers six true freshmen offensive linemen to work with in fall camp.
Asked if he noticed any of his freshmen standing out among the varsity players, Saban he wants to give his newcomers a chance to go through the process of fall practice in order to become acclimated and learn what's expected of them. Some take longer than others to find their comfort zone, he said.
"To see a guy like Ronnie Prude for example, who last year as a freshman had a hard time finding his way from the huddle to where he was supposed to line up, to right now where the guy is a pretty good football player one year later. (He) made a lot of good plays at practice today and probably is going to be a guy that has a significant role on this team."
A big hurdle for freshmen to clear, says Saban, is performing at the level their position demands in college, most often well above what they were required to do in high school. Plus, many new players are faced with learning a new position when they reach college and must start from scratch with the fundamentals.
Knowing players are capable of making progress similar to Prude's leads Saban to continue to work with younger players who may not always execute properly, but sow enthusiasm during the learning process.
"The thing that bothers me most about a player (is) if a guy doesn't pay attention to detail and doesn't have a certain intensity about trying to be a good football player," he said. "That the biggest question I have. If he's an older player and still that way, you really have a big question about him.
"…Today I saw some of our young guys have that ‘Eye of the Tiger' I guess you could call it, to where they may be doing it wrong, but they're doing it fast wrong. They're not frustrated. They have a mission and a purpose in getting in done right. Those guys progress much more quickly."
Saban singled out freshman linebacker Cameron Vaughn