Tigers crisp in final physical practice

The LSU football team went through what head coach Nick Saban termed a good, crisp practice on Wednesday in preparation for their season opener against Virginia Tech.<br><br>It was the Tigers' last "physical" practice before Sunday's game according to Saban, who said the emphasis would now be placed on getting his team mentally ready for the Hokies.

His plan is put the Tigers through lighter workouts over the next two days in order to allow them to recover their stamina for Sunday's game. The team leaves for Blacksburg, Va., Saturday afternoon from Baton Rouge.

Saban reported no significant injuries on his team heading into the weekend. Freshman cornerback Vernon Russell returned to practice Wednesday after missing time with an ankle injury, and senior defensive lineman Kenderick Allen practiced in full pads for the first time in August. Returning from a torn patellar tendon, Allen had been working out in light gear for the past week.

Russell and Allen probably won't play Sunday, and the only player not practicing Wednesday was freshman safety Jeff Cook (sternum).

Saban was asked about the status of senior free safety Damien James, who practiced Wednesday without a no-contact jersey for the first time since injuring his shoulder in the first week of varsity fall camp. Although he is healthy, James apparently has to meet an obligation to Saban relative to team rules. Saban declined to discuss James' status, calling it "an internal family situation that's nobody's business," but added "if he does what he's supposed to do he'll play in the game."

Jack Hunt, the Tigers' No. 2 free safety, has practiced extensively with the first defense this week along with James.

Saban will be making his third trip to Lane Stadium at Virginia Tech as a coach, having first been to Blacksburg, Va., as a member of the staffs at Kent State and West Virginia. He said he has received a number of requests for game tickets from family members in his hometown of Fairmont, W. Va., which is about 3 1/2 hours from Blacksburg.

Virginia Tech's tendency to run the ball with running backs Lee Suggs and Kevin Jones has Saban preparing his team to face a ground-oriented attack. A new twist to the Hokies' game plan is an option package that highlights the athletic ability of backup quarterback Bryan Randall.

First-year offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring came to Virginia Tech from Notre Dame, where the option was a significant portion of the Irish offense. Saban said the Tigers expect to see the Hokies run the option when Randall replaces Grant Noel, who is primarily a drop-back passer. Noel and Randall both played in the Hokies' 63-7 win over Arkansas State and are expected to split playing time against LSU.

"I think the key to any game is to be able to stop the run so that you create some positive down-and-distance situations for yourself so you can makes some plays," said Saban. "They're capable of passing the ball. I think they were effective passing the ball last year, but they're certainly a very, very good running game and that's going to be a key to us having success against them."

Although Virginia Tech pulled most of its starters and main reserves from the game by halftime, Saban said he is not concerned about perhaps not having seen the extent of the Hokies' offense. He feels regardless of which plays Tech runs, they will still try to deceive the Tigers with different formations, motions and shifts.

Special teams continue to be stressed in LSU's practices, and Saban said one of the hardest things to simulate is the speed at which kickoff and punting plays are run.

In his final summary statement about fall practice, Saban said he was pleased with the progress his team made in August.

"I'm just anxious to play the game," he said. "You can sit here and think whatever you want to think, but how we play in this game is going to tell a lot about what kind of football team we have." 

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