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Defense is Lights Out in Final Night Practice
The two-plus hour session accounted for Liberty's final full practice of the spring prior to Saturday's annul spring game. The squad will use Friday afternoon's time on the field as more of a pre-game walk through practice, hitting the turf without pads for practice No. 14. Friday's practice is schedule to begin at 4 p.m.
"I think the biggest thing tonight was that our offense was flat," commented head coach Danny Rocco. "We put the ball on the ground four times during our first drills and that is something we never do around here. I do think the defense played with a little bit more energy tonight and tempo. It really showed in certain situations."
The Flames' defensive unit completely dominated the first time through 11-on-11 drills. Quarterback Brock Smith was 0-for-3 during his first plays under center, while ball carriers Rashad Jennings and Zach Terrell were stopped, before getting to the line of scrimmage during the first team's time on the field.
The practice segment continued to be controlled by those in blue jerseys, including a forced fumble on a Terron Lawrence run. The defense also added three sacks, including soon-to-be senior linebacker Nick Hursky getting to Terrell on a trick play, when the running back took the ball and dropped back to pass down field.
Two defenders nearly recorded interceptions during the drill time. Larry Clairborne was one of three defensive backs down field on deep pass, when the freshman nearly picked off a Spencer Landis at midfield.
Kevin Richard kept things rolling for Tom Clark's defensive unit, when the defensive end stepped in front of an attempted pass by Mike Brown, only to let the near turnover drop to the ground.
The Flames' offense looked a bit sharper the next time it took to the field for an 11-on-11 session, moving the ball with more ease down the field. The practice segment ended with a six-yard touchdown run by Jennings, as the reigning Big South Offensive Player of the Year burst through the line to the near side of the press box.
During one of Flames' final ball moving drill, the offense continued to show signs of life, including a picture perfect sideline pass from Landis to Danny Broggin, as the wide out caught a 40-yard pass and scampered another 25 yards for a touchdown.
According to Rocco, the Flames are game-day ready just two days prior to the conclusion of spring practice with the annual spring game. "In theory, we could come out and play a full game on Saturday," stated the coach, who is concluding his third spring at Liberty. "We are pretty much where I wanted to be and expected to be at this point."
"I was a bit disappointed in the lack of focus on the part of the offense," continued Rocco on his team's performance tonight. "But usually, when that happens, they come out and really shine on the weekend. That has been the history, when a group is down today, the next day they come out and really dominate."
Head coach Danny Rocco wasn't the only Rocco in the house on Thursday evening, as former Liberty wide receivers coach and current Liberty Christian Academy head football Frank Rocco, Jr., could be seen at Williams Stadium. Rocco, Jr., and his family watched many players practice during the two-hour session, but paid particular attention to No. 14, Chris Rocco, his son.
Although the first 11-on-11 drill was dominated by the defense, there was one shining moment for the players in white jerseys. Mike Brown threw a pass several feet high above Terron Lawrence's head, but the running back made an acrobatic catch with one hand, hauling in the reception and finding 15 yards of open ground, before a whistle called the play dead.
During the Flames seven-on-seven sessions, Liberty's offense focused on offensive line protection, while the blue-jerseyed unit was keyed in on pass rushes.
During the later part of the two-hour practice, the Flames practiced driving the length of the field, starting at the goal line. The coaching staff kept each group on the field for 12-straight plays, simulating a game-type environment.
"The drives helped up focus in on substitutions and substitution patterns," commented Rocco on the drill, which mixed up the drive with plays ranging from 1-and-10 to red zone situations.
The team installed the final parts of its playbook during the evening practice, working on end-of-half and game-ending plays, including jump ball situations. The unique plays were rehearsed during Liberty's two-minute drill practice session.
As previously mentioned, tomorrow's practice will be lighter in nature. Rocco has cut back on the schedule, following his most successful spring practice since coming to Liberty in December 2005.
Following tomorrow's afternoon practice, the Flames will quickly hit the showers and reconvene at the Kirkley Hotel for the program's annual awards banquet.