Instead putting someone new in at Faulk's middle linebacker spot, the LSU coaching staff decided to take weakside linebacker Bradie James and put him in the middle. This allowed sophomore Lionel Turner, whose playing time had primarily been on special teams, to move into a starting role at weakside linebacker alongside the player who was most familiar with the job.
"It's a big help because he still knows the plays from when he played it," Turner said of playing next to James. "He could help me if I'm kind of confused. I can always lean on him and he'll help me out."
Through three games, Turner has totaled 13 tackles with a game-high six coming against The Citadel. Against Miami of Ohio, he made just one tackle and added one assist but made some unrecorded contributions on pass coverage.
Through the first three games of 2001, James had 34 tackles from the weakside position. Now a team captain on a defense with a number of young players, James sees a bright future for Turner despite the drop-off in production compared to last season.
"You've got to look at it that Lionel Turner and the two ends (Marcus Spears and Marquise Hill) haven't played a full game since high school," said James. "Now they're just in there playing. There are something they just have to learn, and that's what they've been doing."
The primary adjustment for Turner, a strongside linebacker at Walker High School in nearby Livingston Parish, was learning his new assignments at weakside. He now has to read the every offensive player on his side of the interior line, along with the running backs and quarterback, after previously only having to mind the tight end or tackle. His transition went so well in spring practice that he emerged as the hands-down leader at his position ahead of junior Eric Alexander, who was making the transition from strong safety.
But fall practice brought true freshman Cameron Vaughn into the mix, and the Archbishop Shaw product made an impression on the LSU staff from the get-go. Through the first week of full squad workouts, head coach Nick Saban said Vaughn would be a probable contributor in 2002. While the pressure may have adversely affected some players, Turner said he never felt that he was in any danger of losing his starting job.
"It was a help because it made me push myself even more," said Turner. "Some people tend to relax once they get in a (starting) position. But when you have someone who's going to push, you're always going to try to do your best to try to improve day-in and day-out.
Vaughn has been used behind Turner and has made seven stops so far this season. Saban says he plans to continue using both players this season.
Like many of his teammates, Turner struggled through some rough spots against Virginia Tech. He attributed most of his problems to first-game jitters and thinks he has grown much more confident in the past two games. Along with making correct reads, Turner said showing more hustle helped him with his game.
"He played a lot better in the (Citadel) game and that was typical of a lot of guys who were starting for the first time," said Saban. "Lionel's just got to get his intensity, maturity and ability to play well, focus and concentrate on what he's doing. I think that's a lot about maturity. When he wants to play well and is focused and concentrates, he plays very well."
Turner attributes tradition, family ties and proximity as the main reasons for his decision to attend LSU and play football for the Tigers. The cousin of former LSU football players Raion Hill and Ryan Clark says not playing when he first arrived on campus in 2000 was very beneficial to his long-term success.
"I learned a lot my redshirt freshman year," he said. "I learned it's not only about football around here. People think it's just about football around here, but with Coach Saban it's a lot about education. You really get to sit down and learn about education…how to become part of the team."