LSU’s open week does little to alter Tommy Moffitt’s carefully calibrated calendar inside the Tigers’ weight room.
No, the longtime strength and conditioning coordinator doesn’t turn squat racks into torture chambers, but the lighter practice schedule allows him to conduct routine maintenance.
So when in Moffitt’s four-week training cycle does LSU see a breather?
“That actually falls on the week of the Alabama game,” Moffitt said Wednesday.
Eleven days before No. 13 LSU travels to tangle with the top-ranked Crimson Tide, these seven days are a pit stop under caution for the program’s trainers, nutritionist and conditioning staff. Cutting back to three practices isn’t enough to cure all ills, but just enough to mend nicks, adjust diets and work out different muscle groups on the eve of what has amounted to a Southeastern Conference Western Division title clash.
“It’s more of a long-term approach to stuff that’s lingered and kept guys a little bit under a hundred percent,” said Andy Barker, a senior associate athletic trainer. “You get that time now to slow down. You’re not pushing really hard to getting them back into practice.”
Unlike last season, when a wave of injuries devastated the offensive line, LSU’s depth chart has remained largely free of alterations.
Left guard Josh Williford suffered a concussion in fall camp, one that ended his career, while wide receiver Avery Peterson went down with a broken ankle. Yet the Tigers haven’t been dealt a season-ending injury, even if nine starters have suffered a range of minor setbacks, including safety Craig Loston’s groin strain at Georgia and right guard Trai Turners ankle sprain against Auburn.
Jack Marucci, who’s in his 18th season as LSU’s director of athletic training, takes little credit for beds in a figurative sick bay staying empty.
“It’s luck, as much you hate to say it,” Marucci said. “I don’t know if we’re doing anything outrageously different this year.”
Nine seasons into his tenure at LSU, coach Les Miles said he’s adjusted the structure of off weeks to condense workouts, leaving Sundays and Mondays off along with the weekend. With the “advent of needing to recruit and evaluate and freshen the team, we’ve kind of settled in on this schedule,” he said.
“It’s really been productive. I don’t remember us coming out of a bye week where we weren’t healthier or had fresher legs and really on our game plan.”
Still, there’s a risk with youth scattered around the LSU starting lineup, which features seven underclassmen and 22 in the two-deep. The veterans they replaced, such as Barkevious Mingo, Sam Montgomery, Bennie Logan and Kevin Minter, all redshirted — a year where they could add weight and adjust to college football.
“It’s just the reality now,” Marucci said. “Maturation is the biggest reason for weight gain. When they hit they’re junior year, that’s when you see the natural transformation.”
Moffitt and Marucci’s staff consult to a degree about the best course of action to speed that process along.
Upper body areas, such as the shoulders and back, are isolated, and the mending process for injuries aided by high-rep, low-weight sessions — a flip on the usual routine.
“You want to create as much blood flow to the proper area as you can,” Moffitt said. “You do auxiliary exercises and train above and below the joint or affected area.”
Carried in those blood cells are the proteins and nutrients from the diet fueled by up to 4,000 calories a day and outlined by Jamie Meeks, who’s in her first season as LSU’s sports nutrition coordinator.
Meeks’ duty is in large part counseling. During training table meals, held at The 5 dining hall on the northwest corner of campus, she oversees waves of players filing into pick out options she marks with green tabs for healthy options — see Tuesday’s choice of a pulled pork sandwich, rotisserie chicken or salmon — and red for unhealthy fried offerings.
“You don’t want them to get in a bind midseason where they’ve gained a lot of weight, they don’t know what to eat and don’t know how to lose it,” Meeks said.
In the past, Meeks has even strolled the aisles with LSU’s players at grocery stores to parse nutrition labels for proper purchases.
“It’s really funny, a little me with linemen and their shopping basket,” Meeks said. “They’ll show me what they get, and I’ll tell them, ‘Let’s substitute with this.’”
The planned addition of a nutrition center, a $10 million project slated to serve all athletic programs, should help down the line when the final dollars are raised to build the structure at the rear of the current football practice facility.
“We’re going to be able to hire a chef that’s familiar with the student-athlete and the stresses they go through,” Meeks said. “They’ll know the difference in preparation for what an elite athlete needs. That quality will show up in the menu.”
The adjustments this week are minimal, Meeks said. Sometimes, it doesn’t matter how many meals, snacks or smoothies a player consumes, Marucci said.
“We have some kids that are skinny,” Marucci said. “You could pump all the calories into them you wanted, and it’s not going to make much of a difference.”
The NCAA’s bylaws and protocols limit the options in terms of supplements Meeks and Moffitt can offer up, too. For example, Moffitt said, any smoothie, shake or meal replacement drink can’t contain more than 30 percent protein, and the choices don’t deviate much from fruits, nuts bagels and the homemade trail mix made by Meeks.
“I wish we could give them more options,” Moffitt said. “We can’t give them fish oil, Chondroitin or Glucosamine.”
Outside of time in the ice bath or tweaking lifting regimens, Barker said the biggest facet of the week is escaping the “mental grind preparing for a game,” whether that’s cramming in film or dealing with the hassle of securing tickets for family descending upon Baton Rouge.
Add in the fact that Miles and his staff are keen at looking over their depth chart to “see this guy might be out today and shuffle it,” and Marucci said LSU’s roster is refreshed just in time to see the Crimson Tide.
‘They understand it’s not life and death,” Marucci said. “They have a good understanding that Mother Nature can do the best healing.”