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Liberty Weathers Wet Conditions

April 3, 2008
|  Lynchburg, Va.
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Head coach Danny Rocco runs a defensive drill during a wet Thursday spring football practice.

Head coach Danny Rocco runs a defensive drill during a wet Thursday spring football practice.

Heavy rains in the Central Virginia area didn't stop Liberty from completing its fifth of 15 spring football practices, as the Flames started a string of three-straight days of practice, Thursday night at Williams Stadium.

Temperatures in the Lynchburg area plummeted from the low-50s once the sun went down, leaving the temperatures on the field at 39 degrees when practice ended at 9:15 p.m. Add wind chill into the mix, and the players were feeling a wet 33 degrees.

"I was really glad we were able to get practice in tonight," said head coach Danny Rocco. "The coaches and I were in the office all day preparing for the next three days. I was on the Internet, watching the weather and seeing where the blocks were. We did start practice 30 minutes early, and for the first time started some things inside. We did our team teach, stretch and one other period inside before heading to the field, which worked out perfectly. We hit a window when we got on the field where there was a light rain, helping us start with a good tempo."

Liberty quickly ran through a number of drills during the first 40 minutes of practice. For the third practice in a row, the Flames ran one-on-one tackling drills to try and bolster Liberty's stopping ability. On the north side of the field, two sets of lines were formed at the 10 and 20-yard lines. A defender was placed on his back on the 10-yard line and an offensive player was placed on his back on the 20-yard line.

Once the whistle was blown, both athletes quickly rose to their feet, with the ball carrier trying to get to the end zone. Much like Tuesday, Liberty's offensive players dominated the drill, quickly scampering past their defensive counterparts. Rocco was quick to point out how the defense can't let the weather affect their results.

"I told the defense that they have to be 100 percent under control with their body in these conditions," said Rocco. "You never tell a coach that you slipped. We don't want to hear that. So, we told the guys to have a good base and good balance. We told them to be under control and be in the right position, because it's not how fast you play, but how under control you are. On a night like tonight, every play there is an opportunity to take the ball away."

Practice then moved to 11-on-11, where the majority of the day's work was spent. First, second and third teams ran a combined total of 96 plays, 48 of which were done by the first team. Early on, the first team shined. After a mishap on the first play from scrimmage, a botched exchange between quarterback Brock Smith and center Mike Godsil, the first team quickly put points on the board. Tailback Rashad Jennings took a hand-off 70 yards into the end zone untouched. Jennings added another touchdown run of 73 yards and had only one carry of under five yards.

"I told Rashad that I have never seen him look this good," reflected Rocco. "This is his third spring with us and he looks phenomenal. He is in outstanding shape, lean, strong, fast and explosive. Today he was easily finding creases, cutting back, going against the flow and getting into the open field."

Weather appeared to affect the passing game as the evening went on. Smith completed his first six passes, while Spencer Landis would have completed his first four passes had they not bounced off the hands of intended receivers. As the night went on and the footballs got heavier, the number of incompletions increased.

"I reminded the team that the very first game I coached here was in a monsoon," commented Rocco. "There are a lot of ball lessons to be learned. Ball security is critical in everything you do, whether it's the quarterback and center exchange, or the running back using two hands. I told the receiver that anytime on a night like tonight you have a chance to make a play down field, they have to come up with the football."

Two such plays occurred. The first was a perfect touch pass from Landis to Chris Summers that went for 42 yards before the receiver was forced out of bounds. The second was a Smith to Dominic Bolden 45-yard completion. Bolden was struck by defensive back Patrick Calvary before the ball reached his outstretched hands, but the Orlando, Fla., native was able to hold on for a spectacular grab.

"I like how our spring is going thus far," reflected Rocco. "We are in the midst of three intense days of practice, between film, instruction and on-field execution of the material."

Liberty will return to Williams Stadium tomorrow for a late afternoon practice slated for 4 p.m.

Coach's Corner:
Periodically during this year's spring practice, LibertyFlames.com will be bringing insight from one of the assistant coaches on staff. During this brief one-on-one session, the assistant will preview his position players and what the 15-day practice session holds for his crew.

Today, LibertyFlames.com sat down and chatted with wide recievers coach Charlie Skalaski.

On who has stepped up in the receiving corps this spring:
"We lost two all-conference, four-year starters in Wynton Jackson and Brandon Turner, so we have some big shoes to fill. So far, Dominic Bolden and Jonathan Crawford have done a great job stepping into that role. Those two guys have separated themselves from the pack. After that, it is a dog fight. As a staff we are looking to see who will step up into those third and fourth receiver spots."

On how highly touted receiver Chris Summers is doing after redshirting last season:
"Chris has done well. He has a lot of God-given ability, and he is genetically blessed. He is a freshman who still has a lot to learn and a lot to grow physically, but he will be a special player. It's just a matter of how soon."

On how tonight's weather affects the passing game:
"I thought it was okay. The whole wet thing is a misconception with the passing game. It's actually the wind that affects the passing game. I told our receiver that we don't change our technique, just catch with stronger hands. It was okay, we could have done better, but we will get there."

On efforts of the receivers thus far in the spring:
"As of right now, I am very happy with their effort. I am happy with their tenacity and mental aspect of the game. The young receivers need to execute a little more, but that will come. We still have a long way to go."