Tone of practice gets serious

It's not that the mood was light and care-free in the first three weeks of LSU fall practice. It's just that with the Tigers' season opener against Virginia Tech only eight days away, the coaching staff was sounding extremely serious during Saturday's workout at the McClendon Practice Facility.

The weather conditions on the LSU practice fields weren't the only thing hot on Saturday. Members of the coaching staff made it very clear to certain players that they needed to get their game face on - and quickly - to be ready for next Sunday's game at Blacksburg, Va., against the 17th-ranked Hokies.

Head coach Nick Saban said earlier this week that Thursday's scrimmage would help him determine who would make up the first two units on each side of the ball, but it may take him a few more days to determine exactly who will be starting in the first game at a couple of positions.

Based upon observations at Saturday's practice, the jury is still out at Will linebacker and perhaps free safety where veteran Damien James has been considered the favorite.

At Will linebacker, sees sophomore Lionel Turner and true freshman Cameron Vaughn are in a dead heat for the starting job. Vaughn was thought to have moved head in the race, but a strong scrimmage apparently put Turner back in contention. Saban said after the scrimmage that Turner's experience is a big factor in the battle, but he credits Vaughn with grasping the defensive scheme very quickly and sees him getting substantial playing time this year.

At free safety, Jack Hunt practiced with the first team during the portion of Saturday's practice open to the media. Although Damien James is still wearing a no-contact jersey after injuring his shoulder nearly two weeks ago, there was very little contact allowed in the team vs. scout 7-on-7 drills in which Hunt got to work almost exclusively with the first unit.

Updating the status of injured players, cornerback Demetrius Hookfin was cleared for contact Saturday after suffering a shoulder stinger earlier in the week. No practicing were Kenderick Allen (knee), Vernon Russell (ankle), Keron Gordon (knee) and Jeff Cook (sternum). Russell and Gordon were jogging on the field and could return to practice next week.

Quarterback Marcus Randall continues to impress on his repaired ACL. He reportedly had no trouble with his knee following his first scrimmage of fall camp on Thursday, and all signs point to him being slated as the No. 2 quarterback for the Virginia Tech game behind Matt Mauck.

Along with Mauck and Randall, Rick Clausen worked with the first two offenses in the early part of practice. Clausen's repetitions will probably be pared down as the week goes on.

Reserve quarterbacks Lester Ricard and Michael Harrison played the role of Virginia Tech quarterback Grant Noel with the scout team. Both were wearing red jerseys with Noel's No. 11 , and the rest of the scout team was numbered according to their corresponding Hokies.

The Tigers will have a day off on Sunday before resuming daily practices on Monday, the first day of school at LSU. Saban meets with the media Monday to discuss preparations for the season opener.

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