Jalen Mills is back.
The senior defensive back will likely play his first game of the season Saturday against No. 8 Florida, LSU coach Les Miles said during his post-practice news conference Wednesday.
Mills required surgery after injuring his ankle during preseason camp Aug. 19. He dressed out and participated in pregame warmups before the No. 6 Tigers defeated South Carolina last Saturday, but he did not play.
“Jalen Mills practiced the whole week. I’d be surprised if he doesn’t play,” Miles said. “He looks pretty good. He was never in a cast. He was constantly working out everything that he could work out while he was rehabilitating his leg. I think he’ll see the field.”
Mills, who started every game of his career before the injury, returns to a unit ranked 39th nationally in pass defense. He has 186 tackles, 13 pass breakups and six interceptions in his three-year career.
“He gives you experience and the ability to make checks, and he’s comfortable with adjustments,” Miles said.
The senior will step in at nickelback or safety, Miles said, though he didn’t elaborate on how Mills’ return will affect personnel in the secondary. Junior safety Rickey Jefferson filled in for Mills through the first five games, and junior cornerback Dwayne Thomas has been the Tigers’ nickelback.
True freshman Kevin Toliver has excelled as the No. 2 cornerback in the nickel, which LSU has used on more than 90 percent of its defensive snaps.
Miles isn’t concerned about Mills’ return disrupting the chemistry in the secondary seven weeks into the season. The coach acknowledged Mills probably won’t be in midseason form, but he still expects the senior to play well.
“The great thing about Jalen is he never lost his presence with the team,” Miles said. “When a lot of guys get injured, they’re not around. They’re rehabilitating, they’re at class. Jalen has class and rehabilitation and these meetings, but he’s involved.”
Miles confirmed during the SEC coaches teleconference Wednesday that sophomore fullback JD Moore will not play against Florida.
Sources told The Advocate on Tuesday that Moore injured a ligament in his left knee against South Carolina. Miles speculated Moore will return following LSU’s open week at the end of the month but said “it would be super” if the fullback could return against Western Kentucky on Oct. 24.
Moore’s immediate backup is true freshman Bry’Kiethon Mouton, who entered the game following Moore’s injury. True freshman David Ducre, the No. 1 fullback prospect in the Class of 2015, is the second backup.
Redshirt freshman Tony Upchurch was the No. 2 fullback in preseason practice, but he’s now working at wide receiver and on special teams. Miles said he won’t move a tight end over to fullback instead of using his young fullbacks.
If not for Jerald Hawkins, things could have been worse for freshman running back Nick Brossette.
The junior left tackle recovered Brossette’s fumble deep in LSU territory during the fourth quarter against South Carolina. Miles removed a frustrated Brossette from the game following the fumble.
“I was blocking and just saw it in my peripherals,” Hawkins said laughing. “ ‘Uh-oh, I’ve gotta get to it.’ So I just did the first thing possible and tried to dive for it.”
Wrong place, right time
LSU wide receiver Travin Dural said he was in the wrong place at the right time when he caught a 62-yard touchdown pass from Brandon Harris in the victory over South Carolina.
Dural told reporters Monday he was supposed to be outside of the numbers, but he found himself on the inside when Harris’ high throw for 6-foot-5 tight end DeSean Smith, who was running a deep curl, went off the fingertips of a leaping Smith and into Dural’s waiting arms.
When asked what the coaches thought of his wrong-place, right-time “mistake,” Dural said they didn’t say anything and laughed.
“But DeSean said, ‘You’d better say thank you,’ ” a smiling Dural said.
A replay of this week’s LSU-Florida game will air at 12:30 a.m. Sunday on ESPNU and again at 3 a.m. on ESPN. ... Fans can view and take pictures with the College Football Playoff national championship trophy at two Baton Rouge Walmarts this Friday: at 10200 Sullivan Road from 1-3 p.m. and at 10550 Burbank Drive from 4-6 p.m.
Advocate sportswriter Sheldon Mickles contributed to this report.