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LU Breaks out the Pads for Saturday Session

March 29, 2008  Lynchburg, Va.  RSS
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Liberty's offensive and defensive lines tangle during practice.

Liberty's offensive and defensive lines tangle during practice.

Following two days in shells, the Liberty Flames took to the football field for their first practice session of the spring in full pads, Saturday morning, at Williams Stadium. The morning practice brings to a close Liberty's first week of spring football, marking the squad's third-straight day of practice.

Head coach Danny Rocco deemed today's practice "spirited", with the group focusing on a review of first and second down plays. Offensively, the coaching staff added a toss sweep play, helping the Flames combat some blitzed and man pressures Liberty has seen over the last two years.

The defensive side of the ball had its first infusion of new material outside of its base packages, when Liberty's defenders started to work on numerous blitz options.

"I liked what I saw out here today," commented Rocco on his physical squad during their first day in pads. "These kids are anxious to go out there and show us what they can do. Everyone truly understands that they have to perform every day to keep their spot. I've challenged these guys to be at their best at all times."

During the seven-on-seven periods, Liberty worked on offensive and defensive line pass protection and pass rushes. On the north end of the stadium, the quarterbacks worked with their receivers, trying to quickly find the wide out on a slant route.

Defensive coordinator Tom Clark led his blue-jerseyed defenders on the south side of the field, walking the unit through the drill near Liberty's old field house.

A point of emphasis during the morning workout session was blocking and tackling. About an hour into practice, Rocco had the offense and the defense line-up on opposite sides of the harsh marks, spanning 20 yards either side of midfield.

Six different stations saw an offensive player block for a running back against a single defender. The goal simply was for the defensive player to break free from his offensive counterpart and tackle the on-rushing back.

Following 10 minutes of the breakout session, Rocco pulled his team together at midfield for a challenge. With the entire squad surrounding the Liberty Flames logo on the 50-yard line, the drill continued with just three players.

After running back Rashad Jennings found a hole to avoid his would-be blocker on the first play, the defensive players rallied and won the drill, getting to six out of the next 10 ball carriers to claim victory. Kevin Richards and Pat Bannon were standouts during the session, getting by their blocker and standing up the charging running back.

Following two days off, Liberty will turn the lights on again at Williams Stadium for its second of seven night practices during the spring football season. Liberty will host its fourth practice of the 15-day spring session under the lights, beginning at 7 p.m.

Flames Facts:
The Flames got to experience one of the joys of the Central Virginia area with a near 30-degree temperature change from yesterday afternoon to this morning's practice. On Friday, the temperature hovered around 70 degrees, giving Liberty and a small group of on lookers near-perfect condition. When Rocco and his squad took to the field on Saturday morning, air temperature was in the lower 40s.

The morning practice session opened with Liberty scripting out its placekicking plays. Duties were shared during the drill by David Drake and Be Shipps as kickers, Dan Pope and Tommy Shaver as long snappers and Chris Rocco and Spencer Landis as holders. Drake and Shipps consistently knocked down 20 to 30-yard field goal attempts.

Running backs coach coach Frank Hickson spent time with his deep collection of backs, working on footwork drills today. His group ran numerous patterns in and around tackling pads, while continuing to maintain possession of the football.

The Flames continue to make wise use of their secondary practice field with the grass turf adjacent to the Williams Football Operations Center. For the second day in a row, the defensive backs scampered over to the grass for individual workouts during the two-hour practice.

Fans in attendance during today's practice session had an opportunity to watch athletic events on both sides of the Williams Stadium press box. While the football team practiced on the turf, the men's and women's track and field programs hosted their first home outdoor meet of the year, wrapping up competition in the Liberty Collegiate Invitational.

The second half of practice saw the Flames work on their punt protection skills, with Wes Cheek catching the snaps as Liberty's punter during spring practice.

Senior quarterback Brock Smith continued to look sharp during practice, completing 8-of-8 pass attempts during 11-on-11 drills. Smith's favorite target on the afternoon was wide receiver Jonathan Crawford, hooking up with the redshirt senior five times.

The nicest run of the afternoon during 11-on-11 drills came on the final drill run by the first-team offense during the first set of plays. Brock Smith handed the ball to Terron Williams and the redshirt junior burst through several holes to distance himself from any defender.

The Flames will have a light workout following today's practice, while taking Sunday off. The squad will return for a full weight lifting session on Monday, to go along with team video, before return to the turf on Tuesday for practice.

Rocco is certainly pleased with the progress of his team, saying "we have more offensive and defensive plays in place following our third practice this year, than we did following our 15th practice during our first year."

Rocco's parting words to his team following their third practice were "I'm pleased but not satisfied. Without hesitation, I can say that this is going to be a good football team, but I don't want a good football team. I want to be a great football team"

Coach's Corner:
Periodically during this year's spring practice, 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, sat down and chatted with linebackers coach Robert Wimberly.

On what the linebackers are going to focus on this spring:
"Our main goal right now is to make sure that we get the fundamentals taught. We have got a younger group of guys and we have got to get them ready to play very quickly. It is tough any time you lose linebackers like Vince Redd, Stevie Ray Lloyd and Brandon Duke that had experience. We have some younger guys with a lot of talent, but we need to make sure they understand the basics."

On who might lead a young group of linebackers next year:
"I am really counting on Ian Childress and Nick Hursky. Those two young men have the most experience and they are doing a great job training our guys. They are training the likes of Pat Bannon, Mike Connolly and Doncel Bolt, trying to help these young men to be ready to play."

On who among the younger players could step up next year:
With regards to starting position, Kyle O'Donnell, Pierre Tinsley and Chad Brown are battling inside. We are also grooming Doncel Bolt and we are pleased where he is at right now. At the outside position, you have Pat Bannon and Derek Lisko, who came back to us and continues to impress us each day. Mike Connolly is coming along as well, after sitting out last year as a redshirt."

On the possibility of changing defensive concepts with such a new group:
"No, we are definitely going to stick with the core. The big thing I keep telling my guys is competition. Competition builds character or competition displays a coward. As a young man comes in and he is really to play, Coach Rocco will tell him ‘be ready to strap it up'. But if he is not, than we know we are building a foundation now for the future."