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Flames Open Final Week Under the Lights
Entering the final week of spring practice, the Liberty football team maximized its time under the lights on a crisp Tuesday evening at Williams Stadium. The Flames ran through eight different 11-on-11 situations during their action-packed 12th practice session of the spring.
Both the offensive and defensive units took turns shining during the two hours on the field, leaving head coach Danny Rocco pleased with what he saw.
"I think things went well tonight," stated Liberty's third-year coach. "We got an awful lot done and were able to run a lot of different plays."
Early on in practice, the Flames' offense and defense played versus "show" units, simulating different looks Liberty will see this coming season. Explained Rocco, "First, our offense continued its work against the ‘show' team. They played against a 4-3 defense and some of the coverages we'll see this season—ones which our own defense does not play.
"Then, we put in a special package against four-wide receiver sets, something we hadn't worked on all spring."
The white-shirted Liberty offense accomplished some nice things versus the 4-3 sets it faced. During the first grouping of plays, both Rashad Jennings and Terry Williams burst through seams on the left side of the line for big gains.
Later, the Flames' trio of quarterbacks focused on beating the 4-3 defense with long passes, a theme which continued throughout the practice. Twice, they were able to connect for 50-yard touchdowns. Brock Smith hit Dominic Bolden down the middle of the field on his very first downfield pass play of the evening. Mike Brown then hooked up with Danny Broggin on his second long pass attempt.
Meanwhile, the defense held its own against the various four-wideout formations it faced. Chuck Duffey picked off one pass and later broke up a deep ball intended for Jonathan Crawford. During the defense's second grouping of plays, a pair of linebackers stepped up with key plays. Kyle O'Donnell tipped a Smith pass, nearly leading to a Chris Rocco interception. On one of the final plays, Michael Connolly was able to put pressure on Brown, forcing the redshirt freshman to tuck the ball and run.
The Flames closed out practice with four more sets of 11-on-11 situations, focusing on first and second-down calls, third-down plays, red zone situations and finally, two-minute drills.
Crawford stood out during the latter sessions. The redshirt senior made a pair of first-down catches on third-and-long situations, came up with a remarkable sliding catch to kick off the red zone drill and hauled in consecutive passes to help the Flames convert their first two-minute drill into three points.
The Flames also connected for two more long completions during the two-minute drills. With time quickly running out on the second unit, Spencer Landis found Chris Summers open for a 40-yard completion along the sideline. Then, Smith opened the last two-minute drill with a 50-yard pass to Bolden.
"At this point, everything is in, minus a little special teams stuff," noted Rocco. "We could play a game this weekend if we really had to. As I told the guys at the end of practice, there will be no more installation from here on out. We will continue to review what we've learned and hope to look sharp on Saturday.
"I'm pleased with where we're at right now," Rocco summarized.
Liberty will return to the field for its 13th spring practice at 7 p.m. on Thursday. The session will be the Flames' final one under the Williams Stadium lights this spring.
Rocco noted that his team really only has two more opportunities for extensive work this spring—on Thursday and during Saturday's Spring Game. Friday's practice will be light, and the players will go without pads.
The Flames spent a considerable amount of time during Tuesday's practice working on special teams. One of the new faces returning kicks was redshirt sophomore running back Terry Williams.
The offense practiced a number of misdirection and reverse plays on Tuesday. The practice paid off during the first and second-down group of plays, when Dominic Bolden broke a big gain on a reverse around the right end.
The defensive unit quickly answered, when defensive lineman Tim Smith pounced on a fumble.
A sunny, pleasant, cloudless day rapidly turned chilly when the sun went down and a north wind ripped through Williams Stadium. As a result, only a few hearty fans were on hand for Tuesday evening's practice.
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.
Tonight, LibertyFlames.com sat down and chatted with assistant coach – defensive line/special teams Chad Wilt.
On how the special teams have been looking this spring:
"I'm pleased with the development of our young guys. Every year, people graduate and move on. We're looking to fill some of those gaps. We certainly have enough talent and ability on our roster to do so. We're just trying to find the right young guys to fill our needs."
On some of the new faces expected to make an impact on special teams this season:
"We expect Jonathan Crawford to see a lot of action on punt returns and Dominic Bolden to be a primary kick returner. We're trying to find another player to go with Bolden on the kick returns. Other young players on our special teams will be Chad Brown, Pat Bannon, Pierre Tinsley and Mike Connolly, who has a chance to do some really good things. We are giving him a lot of jobs on punt coverage, kickoffs and kickoff returns. As for the kicking game, we did sign an incoming freshman. However, David Drake and Ben Shipps are getting plenty of opportunities this spring to show us what they can do."
On the strengths of this year's special teams unit:
"We would like to duplicate the success we enjoyed this past season. We were eighth in the nation in punt returns and 10th in kickoff returns. We expect to be in the top 10 again. You have to expect to be the best in every area. Then, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. We have a lot of players who are buying into the belief that this phase of the game can be a difference maker for us. Special teams can radically affect the momentum of a game."