Familiar whistles were followed by an even more familiar voice.
The LSU football players jogged in lines Tuesday afternoon, an assistant coach chirping a whistle on each side, head coach Ed Orgeron barking encouragements for yet another day of practice.
Yes, it's Week 13 on the Ponderosa — the long-held unofficial nickname for LSU's outdoor football practice field — and if you're aware of the college football calendar, few figured the Tigers would still be out here practicing at this point.
But this is what happens when No. 2 LSU completes its first undefeated regular season since 2011: it earns the right to practice for another week in preparation for the SEC Championship Game against No. 4 Georgia on Saturday in Atlanta.
And if the Tigers win (and even perhaps if they lose) they'll enter the College Football Playoff for the first time since the format began in 2014, with a shot to play in both a semifinal and the national championship game.
That's 15 total games. More than last season, when LSU finished 10-3 with a Fiesta Bowl victory. More than the football program has ever played in one season in school history.
"I feel like we still got half a season left," inside linebacker Jacob Phillips said. "I think the whole team feels like that too."
Oh, it certainly could feel that way.
When the week began, LSU safeties coach Bill Busch told safety JaCoby Stevens: This is Week 13, but for the body, it's Week 15.
Account for preseason camp, and LSU has been practicing since the dog days of August.
Sound grueling? Tiring?
Beneath the shoulder pads of each player, a small electronic device has been keeping track of each player's speed. The LSU sports medicine staff has studied the data and found a surprising conclusion: the players are actually moving faster at this point in the season than they have in previous years.
"You would think you're fatigued," LSU athletic training director Jack Marucci said. "You would think you're worn out. But from a mental and a physical standpoint, we are not."
The solution dates back to 2008.
While LSU was playing out a season as college football's reigning national champion, Orgeron was 90 miles east, in the middle of his one and only season as defensive line coach for the New Orleans Saints.
Fresh off his firing from an unsuccessful three years as head coach at Ole Miss, Orgeron said he was "a little nervous" going into his first NFL coaches meeting.
Saints coach Sean Payton told him: It doesn't matter how you got here. You're here. Now make the best of it.
Orgeron, who spent the previous 23 years in college coaching, studied how the Saints practiced with a limited roster.
The NCAA allows its schools to carry 85 scholarship players, and rosters can swell over 100 with the additions of walk-ons. The NFL limits its teams to 53-man rosters, and professional coaches reduce the harshness of their team's practices in comparison to college practices in order to sustain health.
The experience became valuable, and necessary, once Orgeron became the interim head coach at Southern Cal in 2013.
The Trojans program had been hit with NCAA sanctions, and the football team could only carry 75 scholarship players. Transfers and departures left Orgeron with just 44 available scholarship players by the 2013 Las Vegas Bowl, according to the Los Angeles Times, and he leaned on his experience with the Saints to manage his limited roster.
"So I practiced the same way," Orgeron said Monday. "I've kept that."
Perhaps you've followed LSU's practice reports close enough to notice the routine:
- Monday: a light, helmets-shirts-and-shorts indoor practice
- Tuesday: a heavy, hit-filled, full-pads session Orgeron calls "Competition Tuesday"
- Wednesday: another full-pads practice
- Thursday: a light practice, without pads
- Friday: a brief walk-through
Most practices last around 90 minutes, substantially shorter than when Orgeron first arrived on LSU's campus as a defensive line coach in 2015.
There's no doubt LSU practices were "definitely longer" under former coach Les Miles, said Marucci, who pointed out the Mad Hatter "won a lot of games doing that."
Miles went 114-34 in 12 seasons at LSU, winning two SEC championships and a national title using the tough, demanding practice style he learned as a an offensive lineman and graduate assistant at Michigan under Hall of Fame coach Bo Schembechler.
The LSU sports medicine first started tracking player speed about eight years ago, Marucci said, but it wasn't until Orgeron's tenure that the data was fully received, processed and used.
How does the technology work?
The devices, manufactured by Polar, a sports performance technology company, are attached to a player's skin below the shoulder pads, and they essentially function like a GPS, measuring the player's movement over a plotted map.
The players wear the devices in both practices and games.
Vic Viloria, an assistant LSU strength coach, enters each players' data into a spreadsheet, and over time, the sports medicine staff can tell when a players' overall speed is decreasing.
Orgeron said the staff shares the information, and he makes a decision on how much he'll scale back on a player's workload or even the team as a whole.
But sometimes, Marucci said, Orgeron will act "before we even have to say anything." Orgeron said he's reduced hitting in practice the last couple of weeks — a decision he made before the Tigers clinched the Western Division title.
LSU quarterback Joe Burrow said he's been resting his arm recently, that he doesn't throw a lot on Mondays anymore, that he even picks his spots on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
"Just think about this: we're winning, and (Orgeron's) adjusting practice," Marucci said. "You could always say, 'Well, this is the way we've been practicing and we've been winning. Why make a change? That's where I think his intelligence has been."
Within the speed tracking data, an overall team increase of 0.3 mph over the course of a season would be "pretty good," Marucci said.
When LSU began practicing under Orgeron, Marucci said, the Tigers went up 2 mph as a team.
What does that mean on the field?
More energy. More acceleration for football's fundamental equation: Force = Mass X Acceleration.
"I think that's definitely benefited me to not be super tired, super sluggish on the field," Phillips said. "It gives you that extra ability to make that tackle."