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Defense Dominates Friday Practice
After drying out and thawing out from Thursday evening's cold, rainy practice, the Liberty football team returned to the Williams Stadium gridiron Friday afternoon for its sixth practice this spring. The Flames' defensive unit owned the day, forcing three turnovers and controlling the simulated third-down situations during 11-on-11 play.
Senior cornerback Patrick Calvary set the tone for practice the first time the offense and defense were paired against one another. After stretching was completed, the Flames' wide receivers ran routes versus one-on-one coverage by the defensive backs.
Calvary lined up on defense on the very first play and recorded a pass breakup. The next time Calvary's turn came around, he picked off a pass intended for Chris Summers.
"Today was probably the first practice we've had where one of the units dominated practice," noted head coach Danny Rocco. "Our defense dominated practice today. Most of the practices up to this point have been somewhat balanced. I thought the defense played very well—played fast and played physical."
Redshirt senior nose guard Jay Coady pounced on a fumble during the first of two 11-on-11 sessions, marking the defense's initial takeaway. The team's defensive secondary then starred during the second 11-on-11 session, simulating various third-down situations.
Chris McAlister and Kent Hicks both came up with interceptions during the final 30 minutes of the two-hour practice, while Chuck Duffey nearly joined them. He had his hands on a pair of pass attempts.
The third-down plays were Liberty's first of the spring practice season. Rocco stated, "Today was the first day we got into third down. Third-down football is very unique. It's one-down football. We got a lot of good work in on the third down."
It must be noted that the offense was playing a bit short-handed. "Offensively today, we made a decision to take [senior starting center] Mike Godsil out of the lineup," explained Rocco. "He's still recovering from an ankle injury and surgery he had after the Gardner-Webb game (last year's season finale). He's been practicing the first five days, but we just decided today he needed a couple days off, so we pulled him out. We also held Brock Smith out at the start of practice and gave him a little rest today.
"Our offense was just a little bit out of sync today. Some of that had to do with the quarterback-center exchange. We're just looking for someone to rise up and be a spark on offense when Brock isn't going to be that spark."
The Flames' offense was able to produce some highlights on Thursday. Junior signal-caller Spencer Landis took a number of snaps with the first-team offense during the first part of practice. On his second play, he eluded a hard rush by Trey Jacobs and hit Zach Terrell with a pass in the right flat.
During the third-down simulations, redshirt freshman quarterback Mike Brown displayed some nice resiliency. Immediately after being intercepted, Brown made some nifty moves on a quarterback draw, running for a first down on the ensuing third-and-10 play.
Smith returned to action for the third-down sequence and was able to connect with redshirt senior wideout Jonathan Crawford for a pair of nice completions.
The Flames will practice for the third time in as many days, Saturday morning at Williams Stadium. The team's seventh of 15 practice sessions is scheduled for a 10 a.m. start.
The first Liberty players to take the field Friday were kickers David Drake and Ben Shipps. The duo had to deal with the afternoon's most significant weather obstacle, a strong, steady south wind. Drake and Shipps opened practice kicking field goals into the wind at the sound end of Williams Stadium.
Dominique Jones, wearing No. 85, was another of the early arrivers. He played basketball for the Flames during the 2005-06 and 2006-07 seasons. Now, Jones is practicing with Liberty's tight ends.
Senior fullback Joey Sandvig, a local product from Appomattox High School, was called upon by head strength & conditioning coach Bill Gillespie to lead the team in jumping jacks at the conclusion of the pre-practice stretching routine.
Redshirt sophomore defensive lineman Soeren Wendland, who stands 6-8, wreaked havoc during the 11-on-11 sessions. The native of Cuxhaven, Germany leaped up to knock down a pair of passes on the afternoon.
For the past two seasons, Liberty fans got used to seeing Stevie Ray Lloyd running all over the field in his No. 11 jersey. Another Flames linebacker has inherited No. 11 this season, redshirt freshman Michael Connolly. One of his plays on Friday would be sure to make Lloyd smile. Using perfect timing, Connolly bowled receiver Aaron Hewlett over just as Mike Brown's short pass in the flat arrived.
Several times during the afternoon, No. 5 was defending No. 5 on pass patterns. How does that happen? Liberty has three double numbers on its roster this spring—Nos. 5, 30 and 59. So, freshman transfer Brandon Saunders was matched up defensively with receiver Danny Broggin.
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 associate head coach/tight ends coach Pete Sundheim.
On how the tight ends have been performing this spring:
"We've got a good group. They're working hard. Just like everything else, you always want to get better and make corrections. We've had a good attitude and good leadership by Corey Rasberry, our redshirt senior coming back."
On Corey Rasberry, the team's most experienced tight end:
"We expect a great year from him, in terms of leadership, blocking at the point, running crisp routes and catching the football for us. If he stays healthy, I think he can have a great year. He's worked hard."
On the possibility of increasing the tight ends' role in the passing attack:
"I think the key to everything you do is to set up an offense where you throw to who the defense gives you. Every play, there's a certain read progression the quarterback goes through. If our tight ends are open, he's going to hit us. I don't think it's specifically by design. If we're open, he'll hit us. If not, he'll move on to his next read."