Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Lee Sidelined with Minor injury

LSU football coach Les Miles said an “injury of soft tissue” to one of redshirt freshman Jarrett Lee’s legs isn’t serious and shouldn’t significantly affect the preseason competition for the role of starting quarterback.

The injury, which Miles said happened Saturday afternoon, kept Lee from participating in both practices Monday. After the second practice Miles said he didn’t know how long Lee would be off the field.

“It’s not serious, it is not surgical — it is a rest issue,” Miles said, “and it’s in his leg.”

Miles didn’t specify which leg. He described the injury as happening in an unusual way.

“Somebody fell into the guy,” Miles said.

Lee was wearing a green jersey, which LSU quarterbacks wear to remind their teammates they are not to be hit. Players who are injured but able to practice also wear green to note they are limited to noncontact participation.

“The guy’s wearing a green shirt,” Miles said of Lee. “I’d say that that would be unusual at best, but those things happen.”

Miles stressed the injury isn’t serious.

“It is not a severe anything, so we feel like we’ll have him back in really short order,” Miles said. “Don’t know exactly what length of time short order is.”

True freshman Jordan Jefferson took more snaps in Lee’s absence, alternating with sophomore Andrew Hatch, but Miles said he didn’t expect Lee’s injury to keep Lee from challenging for the starting job.

“Only if it slows his progress,” Miles said. “He was having a great day on Saturday, so I don’t know. I would not suppose that it would hinder him in pursuing the job.”

Given a second chance to speculate on a timetable for Lee’s return to the practice field, Miles said LSU’s medical staff has been giving him optimistic reports about the tissue.

“Honestly, they keep upgrading it,” Miles said. “There’s little swelling. Everything feels pretty good. It’s really precautionary.”

Movin’ on up

At least while Lee is out, Jefferson will be LSU’s second quarterback.

“He’s getting a lot more snaps just because Jarrett’s watching,” Miles said.

“He made a nice little scramble in this ‘go’ that we just had, probably for about 30 yards and a score,” Miles said after the afternoon practice. “Nice play.”

Jefferson isn’t a legitimate contender to be the starter for the Aug. 30 season opener vs. Appalachian State, Miles confirmed. That race continues to be between Hatch and Lee, both of whom have been in the program a full year longer than Jefferson.

“I would think that the guys that have been in the offense a little longer certainly have an advantage, so that advantage is kind of what you’re seeing,” Miles said, “and yet if he continues to make exceptional plays and can grow in his learning, then …

“The opportunity for him to start in the first game? Not likely, OK? The opportunity for him to be ready somewhere down the road? It’s not unforeseen.”

Miles hinted there are ways Jefferson could help the offense early in the season, and LSU has to plan and prepare him for a number of possibilities. As he matures his opportunities for playing time should increase, the coach said.

Other health issues

Two seniors, center Brett Helms and defensive tackle Charles Alexander, again missed practice with what Miles has described as minor injuries.

“I think they’ll be back maybe in a couple days,” Miles said. “I don’t know exactly how long for Helms, but I know he’s chomping at the bit, running around here. One thing we want to do, especially when we have time: We want to get them healthy.

“I think it’s precautionary. I think probably both could play if we were playing a game today.”

Francois disciplined

Miles said redshirt freshman safety Stefoin Francois’ absence wasn’t health-related.

“Stefoin Francois is facing some disciplinary problems with team,” Miles said without specifying what team rules Francois may have broken.

“Currently, he’s not practicing, and we’ll have to look into how we’ll go from here.”

Miles stopped short of calling it a suspension.

“I’m not ready to say that just yet,” Miles said. “I’m looking at what I have there.”

Odds and ends

Miles said Brady Dalfrey and Josh Jasper could take turns punting this season. Miles said he might pick Dalfrey if he had to pick a leader Monday. … The defense is “a little ahead” of the offense, Miles said, but the offense is improving. … He said LSU will run about 20 plays per team in a mini-scrimmage today that will feature live tackling.

Celebration penalty?

Miles said he was glad to see highlights that included at least one of Jacob Hester’s first two touchdowns for the San Diego Chargers, but Miles was slow to believe reporters who told him the former LSU running back spiked the ball after his first score.

“I’m going to write his mother,” Miles deadpanned. “That’s not right.”

Miles acted as if those reports had to be false.

“He didn’t do that,” he said as if trying to reassure himself.

“He did this too?” Miles asked, waving a hand in front of his face in the “you can’t see me” manner popularized by his players last season.

Ole Miss DE to miss time because of Fractured foot

Ole Miss’ depth along the defensive line took another hit Monday when junior standout end Greg Hardy was lost to foot surgery. Hardy, who was named to the preseason All-Southeastern Conference First Team earlier this summer, could miss up to eight weeks of action after team doctor Ed Field inserted a screw into Hardy’s right foot.

According to Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt, the surgery to repair a stress fracture in Hardy’s fifth metatarsal was successful and the prognosis for a full recovery looked good. There was no definite timetable set as to when Hardy could return to practice, but even the most optimistic return date would be in the Rebels’ second game against Wake Forest.

“(Hardy) was out here running looking like a million dollars the first five or six days. Then one day before we put on the pads, (injured foot) just flared up on him. We thought it was just a bruised side of his foot. Then when you do an X-ray, it showed a little bitty crack in there,” Nutt said of Hardy, who had 10 sacks and 17.5 tackles for loss in 2007. “He’s had a crack in that other (foot) where he’s snapped it. So it’s maybe not that severe right now, hopefully. Dr. Field said (surgery) went well and I’m really excited about what he had to say after surgery. You just don’t know when he’ll get back because everybody heals different. We do have about 18 days and we’ll see what happens after that.”

Nutt may have some time to decide when Hardy sees the field again, but he doesn’t have any more healthy bodies to add to a defensive line rotation that is already without the services of tackles Peria Jerry and Ted Laurent.

“The defensive line has got a bad bug. We’ve got to change that karma, we’ve got to change that feeling,” Nutt said about the injured players.

Until Hardy gets back into the swing of things, Nutt is looking for other ends like Kentrell Lockett, Chris Bowers, LaDerrick Vaughn, Emmanuel Stephens and converted basketball player Jermey Parnell to get more reps in practice. Junior Marcus Tillman, who has played both end and tackle during his career, is still expected to practice in the middle of the line with Jerry and Laurent out.

“Right now we’re going to keep Marcus inside,” Nutt said. “Hopefully Stephens, Bowers, LaDerrick Vaughn, Jeremy Parnell and Kentrell Lockett will keep coming.

“(Parnell) is getting reps right now, but he’s just so far behind. You wish you had him a couple of years ago where you could have developed those fundamentals. It’s just a long process, but boy, he does some things that just catches your eye,” Nutt said about what Parnell brings to the end position. “It’s like teaching a first-grader how to write. It’s not easy, but again because of his body, because of his size and because of quickness, there are some things he does very naturally. We still have time and there may be a package for him.”

Injured players return

There was some good news to report on the injury front for the Rebels as safeties Johnny Brown and Kendrick Lewis both returned to practice Monday after missing some time last week.

Linebacker Allen Walker, who also missed time last week, is getting closer to returning to practice, while Nutt said wide receiver Mike Wallace was still suffering from a strained hamstring. Wallace caught a touchdown pass in the Rebels’ first scrimmage Saturday but left practice immediately after the score, which took Nutt by surprise.

“I told him ‘you catch a touchdown pass and you go to the training room.’ I don’t understand that,” Nutt said. “I’ve been kidding with him that maybe he’s not used to getting into that end zone enough. You shouldn’t be hurt after a big play.”

Scrimmage review

Saturday’s scrimmage was reviewed on tape by Nutt and his assistant coaches over the weekend and the results seemed to be positive considering it was the first one of the preseason.

“The first thing we did was grade them on technique and effort. Do they know what to do? How hard did they play? And then how hard they did their technique,” Nutt said. “For the first scrimmage, it wasn’t too bad, but we still have to get better. A lot of the freshman’s heads are still spinning, but I like the way they’re listening and trying to get better.”

Freshman to get more reps

A position that is expected to utilize some freshmen during the season will be at running back and Nutt said that players such as Enrique Davis, Brandon Bolden and Devin Thomas will get more practice time over the next few days because junior running back Cordera Eason will miss time due to a dental procedure on Wednesday morning.

“Cordera is going to have a tooth taken out, so those freshman will just keep getting more and more reps. We’re going to put a little pressure on them to see how they respond,” Nutt said. “A couple of them had too many fumbles today. That happens at the end (of practice), but you just can’t do it. So I’m excited to see how they respond over the next two or three days because we’re going to put more on them.”

Monday’s practice

The early tempo at Monday evening’s practice pleased Nutt, but he said the team didn’t do a good job of finishing the workout strong.

“We had about nine, 10, 11 good periods and then we went into that sluggish mode. We’ve got to get a little bit tougher, we’ve got to finish, we’ve got to play for four quarters,” Nutt said. “People were executing. They were crisp and coming off the ball and blocking who they were supposed to block. The defense was chasing the ball. Everyone was throwing and catching. And then it just fell off.

“You can’t have seven or eight play on offense. You’ve got to have 11 and it

Beckett Silences White Sox Bats

Just as parts of the rotation are crumbling - health for Tim Wakefield, ineffectiveness for Clay Buchholz - Josh Beckett has chosen this point in the season to reassert himself. He hadn't been struggling, exactly. No, he has "just been off just a click," as Jason Varitek put it.

He hasn't been the Beckett of last season, when he almost won the Cy Young Award, or the Beckett of the postseason, when he was better than any pitcher had any right to be.

So his timing is perfect now. More than any other time this season, as the August doldrums set in, Beckett the ace is needed.

"You can't predict turning the corner, but I think he's got a lot left in the tank for whatever we have left," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "He looks strong. He's locating. And we will need him to do that."

But as good as he was last night, he needed some help from the offense. Against the White Sox' John Danks (7 innings, 2 hits, 2 runs, career-high-tying 9 strikeouts), that wasn't exactly easy. Not until the sixth inning did Boston get a baserunner, and it wasn't until the seventh that the team got its first hit. It was in that inning, though, that the Red Sox scored two, propelling Beckett to a 5-1 win in front of 32,634 at U.S. Cellular Field for a split of this four-game series.

"The way Danks was throwing, you don't want them to spread out or get an extra run, because his stuff was so good," Francona said. "Everything was working. He was throwing changeup, he was throwing fastball, cutter, curveball, he had everything working. But Beckett kept him to 1. Gave us a chance."

Francona called Danks "the best we've seen" - a high compliment considering the scintillating performances of Justin Duchscherer and John Lackey this season - and it looked as though he might finally be the guy to put together a no-hitter against the Red Sox. It wasn't until Jacoby Ellsbury was hit by a fastball in the rear end with two outs in the sixth inning that someone reached base. And he didn't make it to second, as Coco Crisp grounded out to end the inning.

Then Kevin Youkilis, sore shoulder and all, came up with one out in the seventh. On a 95-mile-per-hour fastball, Youkilis sawed his bat off at the hands, leaving him with just a nub in his grasp - and a single to center field. Danks stood on the mound and rubbed his sweaty forehead in frustration, knowing exactly what that single meant.

"I knew it when I hit it," Youkilis said. "When it came off the bat, I knew I had a hit out of it. Just the way it came off, just kind of stayed through it, kind of floated over into center field. It probably helped me. If I had hit it harder, might have gone to the center fielder."

It meant even more than the breakup of the no-hitter when J.D. Drew blasted a double to left-center, sending home both Youkilis and Mike Lowell (who had walked after the single) to put the Red Sox up, 2-1.

It happened so fast. They had nothing, then they had a runner, then they had a hit. And a walk, and a double, and the lead.

"Game's hard to figure out sometimes," Francona said. "The good part of it was it was a 1-0 lead. You always feel like you're a hit or a walk [away]."

And once the Red Sox scored, once they broke up Danks's chance at history, Beckett pushed back at the White Sox even harder. He allowed one runner in the seventh and one more in the eighth, both coming with two outs.

Beckett's only miscue came in the third, as Nick Swisher led off with a single to left field, followed by a single by Juan Uribe. Two fly outs to center field - the first moving Swisher to third, the second sending him home - marred the evening for Beckett. It was his second straight dominant outing, the other coming in a win over the Royals last Tuesday.

"Tonight it was just staying pitch to pitch, not getting too far ahead," Beckett said. "I wasn't thinking about the 0-and-2 pitch when I was 0-and-0. Sometimes it's easy to do that, you start thinking about the result. Maybe that corrupts the process. I think I'm staying good with staying with the process."

And it was the third time in four outings that Beckett has come close to being himself. Other than a disaster of a start against the Angels - eight runs (seven earned) in 5 1/3 innings - Beckett has given up just four runs in 21 2/3 innings in those other three.

"To turn things around here, we need to start with pitching," Varitek said. "He was clean today with his delivery. Balls were going where he wanted them to. He's had to fight that quite a bit throughout different parts of the year. No better time than now to figure it out."