Mike Larsson is one of the many skilled special teams players that will be returning for the Flames for the 2011 season.
The final week of Liberty's annual spring practice schedule has a unique focus, as designed by sixth-year head football coach Danny Rocco. Entering the week, Liberty has 11-of-15 slated practice sessions in the books, giving the Flames' coaching staff the opportunity to evaluate its talent and to start to prepare for the soon approaching 2011 season. This week's practice plan turns away from the basic "x's and o's" of the game and focuses on more unique game situations. Because of these adjustments, LibertyFlames.com's coverage of spring football practice is going to take a different approach for the final three workout sessions leading up to the program's annual spring game on Saturday at 1 p.m. The web site's reports for today and Friday are going to focus on Liberty's special teams units, including interviews with Rocco (today) and special teams coordinator Marshall Roberts (video interview on Friday). On Thursday, Nick Pierce of the Flames Sports Network will sit down with Rocco for an audio interview where the two will talk about Liberty's special teams and preview the spring football game on Saturday.
Today's Special Teams Focus: By design, Rocco does not run "live" special teams drills during spring practice, as the three-time national coach of the year candidate describes these types of drills as "the most violent types of plays in football." "We do elements of the different types of returns which force you to learn the techniques of the return game and how to protect the punter," continued Rocco. "We don't go live because these plays are so violent, which increases the probability of suffering injuries." Rocco's coaching style rather is to breakdown the different components of the returning game and begin the "installation" process into the game plan through smaller segments. Each day's practice game plan calls for at least two different segments where the Flames focus on kickoff and punt returns, plus a field goal kicking unit that normally wraps up each practice. Prior to spring practice opening on March 24, Rocco did not list any individual players on his depth chart at kickoff or punt return, as he wanted to evaluate his potential talent during the next three weeks that followed. LibertyFlames.com had a chance to catch up with Rocco following Tuesday evening's practice to get an update on the players that could fill these roles when the Flames open the 2011 season against N.C. State on Sept. 3.
Rocco's Thoughts about his Potential Special Teams Kick Returners: "One of our big areas of emphasis this spring has been to determine who is going to be back deep for us. We started Jimmy Eden early out there at punt return, but Jimmy still has not recovered well enough from his illness (last August) and he has been pulled from the field for the remainder of spring practice."
"Now, we are focusing on Pat Kelly and B.J. Hayes, and both of these players look like they are capable of handling the punt return job and can do it at a high level. Both of these players had some experience last year returning punts."
"We are also looking at Ryan Ferguson, Desmond Rice and Ervin Garner as potential players that could add depth. I think we have enough guys to fill these return roles, but if we had to play a game today, I would probably be leaning toward B.J. Hayes or Pat Kelly."
"In terms of our kickoff return potentials, we've got some bigger body guys that we are looking to use. We've got Aldreakis Allen back there, and I think Aldreakis has a chance to be very good for us this year. Also, Elliot Dutra, Korrey Davis, B.J. Hayes and Greg Pratt could also see some time in our kickoff return game."
"For kickoff returns, you really want a bigger-bodied player. There is the potential that player has to be the back-side blocker for the actual returner. However, that player also has to have the speed to move down the field, if he is the ball returner."
"I feel good about where we are at in terms of our return game. I feel we have more experienced candidates at this position this year than we had last season. I think we will be in good shape back there and could be very explosive."
A Glance at Liberty's Special Teams Kicking Units Returning Starters: KO/PK – Matt Bevins (Sr., 6-2, 205) P – Mike Larsson (Sr., 5-10, 190) LS – Richard Wright (R-So., 6-1, 260) H – Mike Brown (R-Sr., 6-0, 205)
Liberty returns two of the best kicking specialists in program history in Matt Bevins and Mike Larsson, plus returning long snapper Richard Wright and holder Mike Brown. "Matt made almost every All-America team out there last year and has won a lot of football games for us in the past three years," stated Rocco. "He could set some pretty impressive school records during his senior year, and we are excited to see what he is capable of doing once again come 2011." Bevins earned first-team All-America honors from Walter Camp Foundation and the Sports Network, plus second-team All-America accolades from the Associated Press. Bevins finished the season ranked No. 1 in the country in field goals per game (1.82) and was one of only two FCS kickers with 20 field goals in 2010. Overall, Bevins finished the year by knocking down 20-of-27 field goal attempts, including his last 13 tries in a row. Bevins also was the nation's top scoring kicker, as the junior finished the season with 105 points scored. He connected on 45-of-46 point-after attempts on the year, helping him surpass the 100-point mark for the second season in a row. In just three seasons at Liberty, Bevins has already rewritten several of Liberty's kicking records. He is the program's all-time leader with 54 field goals and 268 points scored. Due to Liberty's prolific offense, Larsson, Liberty's starting punter for the last three years, does not get the opportunity to accumulate as many punts as most starting punters. In fact, Larsson does not meet either the Big South or NCAA standard of average punts per game to qualify for rankings (averaged only 3.6 punts per game). Had his numbers been eligible for consideration, the rising senior would have led the league and ranked No. 13 nationally in average yards per punt. However, when called upon in 2010, he did put up his most impressive numbers since joining the program. He finished the year averaging 41.7 yards per punt (33 punts for 1,376 yards), including a 43.9 yard average in Big South games, helping him capture Big South first-team all-conference honors. "Mike is certainly coming off his best year for us in 2010," stated Rocco. "He is a senior with a lot of game experience, which is only going to help him get stronger for his final season."
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