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Countdown to Kickoff: Flames Conclude Training Camp with Special Teams Practice
Saturday afternoon's practice signified Liberty's next step during their "Good2Great" campaign, as the Flames brought preseason training camp to a close. The squad spent the entire practice session, which was held on the turf at Williams Stadium, working on special teams plays and unique game situations.
During the first 90 minutes of practice, Liberty worked on all phases of its special teams game, including punts, kickoffs, punt returns and kickoff returns. In addition to the four basic special teams plays, the Flames also worked on fake plays, reverses and special situations, like kicking out of the end zone, kicking off and returning kicks after a safety, all of which was under the supervision of officials.
Liberty's coaching staff was much more pleased with the team's effort during this year's heavy special teams training camp practice session. Last year, head coach Danny Rocco deemed the practice one of the worst during training camp.
"I think things went pretty well today," commented Rocco. "Last year, this practice session was very frustrating personally to me, because the guys just didn't do as well as I wanted. However, this year, the kids were focused and they seemed more organized.
"Our players have a better understanding of the special teams-type plays and I was pleased with their effort. Obviously, we will make necessary adjustments, but overall, I thought we looked solid today.
"I like this type of practice because it breaks up the routine and monotony of training camp," continued Rocco. "Historically, it is a day where you have to poke and prod the guys along, but I liked our tempo, as the guys really seemed to stay focused."
After a dinner break, the full team will return to their meeting room to review today's practice footage, where the coaching staff will break down all the special forces plays.
Although no positions have been "officially" secured, Rocco did say after practice that if he was heading into a game week, senior Zac Kolegue would handle the punting duties and transfer Noah Greenbaum would get the call for most of Liberty's field goal situations and all of the kickoff duties.
At the close of camp, who will be handling extra points is yet to be determined, but Rocco hopes to nail down the decision shortly.
This year, all NCAA football programs will experience a bit of a change on kickoff plays, as the NCAA moved the kickoff starting line back five yards to the 30-yard line.
Liberty excelled last year in special teams situations. The Flames finished the year ranked No. 3 in average kickoff return yardage, and Liberty was the only team in the nation to return three kickoffs for a touchdown.
Individually, Wynton Jackson posted the second-best punt return yardage figure in program history (298) and his 11.5 yards per punt return ranked fourth best in the school's record books and No. 20 nationally. Dominic Bolden averaged 22.6 yards per kickoff return and was one of only three players nationally to return two kickoffs for a touchdown.
With Liberty's stellar special teams play last year and the new rule change, Rocco believes the Flames will see quite a change this year in how opponents approach the Flames' potent return squad.
"I think people are going to start to get a bit more creative against us," stated Rocco. "If you don't have a guy who can consistently bury it inside the 10-yard line, I think you are going to see a lot of bloop and squib kicks to keep the ball out of our return specialists' hands."
Liberty's special teams are under the direction of defensive line coach Chad Wilt, who brought special teams coaching experience with him from both Central Connecticut State and Virginia when he joined the program last year.
"Chad is very well organized when it comes to special teams, and he understands what he needs to cover with our guys," added Rocco. "I have a lot of trust and faith in his knowledge of this area of the game. He covers things well with our guys and is a good teacher with a lot of intensity."
Special teams is often the area where younger players make their mark, and this year is no exception to the rule. Rocco is very pleased with the play of several underclassmen, including Chad Brown, Derek Bishop, Kyle O'Donnell and Pierre Tinsley, who seem to have solidified their spots on the special teams squad.
"These guys not only add value to our defense, but bring intensity and enthusiasm to our special teams play," stated Rocco.
The squad will not practice tomorrow, as the team will host local members of the media at Williams Stadium for the program's annual Media Day, starting at 3 p.m. For a full schedule of events, which is open to the general public as well, please click here.
Liberty officially opens classes on Monday, and Rocco has moved the squad's practice sessions to the evenings to allow the players to get acclimated to the school setting.
"In my past experience, the first day of class has typically been one of the worst practices of the year," reflected Rocco. "The kids' focus is all over the place. The freshmen are on campus for the first time, looking for classrooms, and it's just a bizarre day overall.
"We will lift on Monday and practice Monday and Tuesday nights, before giving the guys the day off on Wednesday. They need to learn to be students, and then we can get their attention at nights."
Today's practice might have brought a close to the squad's training camp, but it has not ended LibertyFlames.com's Countdown to Kickoff coverage. The web site will continue to bring you daily information leading up to the home opener against Tusculum on Sept. 1.
LibertyFlames.com will be out on the turf at Williams Stadium tomorrow afternoon covering Media Day, bringing you sound bits from several different players. On Monday, the web site will provide a special feature, as we delve into what a two-a-day practice is like for the entire program.