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Camp Begins with Season's First Practice

July 31, 2008  Lynchburg, Va.  RSS
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Newcomer Paul Young takes a snap as part of a punting drill during Thursday's afternoon.

Newcomer Paul Young takes a snap as part of a punting drill during Thursday's afternoon.

The Southeastern portion of the United States might have wanted Liberty's training camp to open sooner, as for the first time in several weeks, the Lynchburg area saw rain drops fall from the sky early Thursday afternoon.

But the intermittent rain showers weren't enough to dampen Liberty's spirits, as the Flames began defense of their 2007 Big South football championship with their first practice during August training camp.

This afternoon's two-plus hour workout was light in nature, as the NCAA sets limitations on collegiate programs during the first four days of training camp. Under its regulations, the first two practices are to be in just helmets, followed by a pair of practices in helmets and shoulder pads. Liberty will have its first full pads workout Monday afternoon, starting at 2:20 p.m.

Liberty opened the practice session with two segments focusing on the running game. Those in attendance got to see Big South Preseason Offensive Player of the Year Rashad Jennings don a No. 23 jersey for the first time, moving from the No. 3 jersey he wore his first two years at Liberty.

Head coach Danny Rocco transitioned to passing game drills during the middle sessions of the afternoon practice. Three different signal callers took snaps during a 7-on-7 drill period, as Brock Smith, Spencer Landis and Mike Brown rotated throughout.

The first eight passes were completed to six different receivers, before Matt Lambros slipped and fell on a pass that was a bit behind the wide receiver. All in all, Liberty's quarterbacks successfully found wide receivers on 13-out-of-16 routes.

Between the squads mid-practice break, the Flames worked out portions of their special teams units. Three different players rotated punting duties, as returnee Wes Cheek and newcomers Paul Young and Mike Larsson booted balls down field.

Liberty had Big South preseason all-conference honoree Patrick Calvary downfield snagging punts out of the air, along with fellow return specialists Dominic Bolden and B.J. Hayes.

Rocco closed out the opening practice of this year's training camp by running three "Team" sets, giving on lookers their first glance at full 11-on-11 controlled scrimmage situations. Each "Team" set contained 15 non-contact scripted plays, with the final set allowing some of the squad's rookies to showcase their talents for the first time in Liberty garb.

The team's day got off to an early start, as the squad took to the turf for its annual post-summer workout conditioning/running test at 7 a.m., under the direction of strength and conditioning coach Bill Gillespie. The coaching staff was very pleased with the results, as roughly 93 percent of the squad passed the test, thanks to one of the most successful summer workout sessions in program history.

Liberty returns for its second "Helmets Only" practice tomorrow evening, taking to Williams Stadium for a practice under the lights. The practice opens at 6:45 p.m. and will run to approximately 9 p.m.'s Countdown to Kickoff coverage will continue tomorrow when the web site releases the 2008 Flames football media guide. Be sure to check back to get a glimpse at the 180-page publication, giving Flames fans all the materials they need to prepare for the upcoming campaign.

Coaching Insight – Post-practice quotes from Head Coach Danny Rocco
"I think today went pretty well. Today is always a hard day for these kids, as we bring them in very early in the morning and we do their conditioning test. Not only is it a physically demanding test, but it is also emotionally draining.

"The players stress out about the test, staying up most of the night thinking about the alarm going off. But the test went well, and we are certainly very pleased with the results as most of the players passed with flying colors.

"I was very impressed with the way that our big kids ran. Our offensive and defensive linemen are in the best condition that I've ever seen those kids in, by far, since we have been with the program.

"As we moved into the afternoon meetings, it was very obvious that this is our third year together. Coach (Tom) Clark and Coach (Scott) Wachenheim had a pretty aggressive installation. There are a lot of things that we taught and repped today that two years ago we wouldn't have even considered doing on the first day. There seems to be a lot of recall from these kids, as we have a lot of senior leadership.

"Practice was a little sloppy here and there, but basically, with Brock Smith, Rashad Jennings and Zach Terrell there were enough good-looking plays out there to show that we know what we are doing.

"Over the next few days without pads, we are going to do the same thing that we have done over our first two years with the program, focusing on the fundamentals of the game. It is always about going back to the basics.

"This is one of those years we have really high hopes and expectations and some might think that we might do something different. But I think we really just need to go back to the basics. If there is ever a year to go back to the basics, trust me this is the year.

"This team needs to understand they have not earned anything yet. Everything that we accomplished last year was earned last year. This year is a brand new year. As I said last week at Big South Media Day, every team is at the starting gate right now and we are all even as we open the year.

"You've got to go back to the basics and that is what we do these first few days. The focus is on the tempo of practice, the fundamentals, the techniques and the execution, giving us a place to build upon over the next several practices."

Several members of the media were in attendance at today's practice, including WSET Channel 13 (ABC) who grabbed a few moments with Coach Rocco during a break.

Quarterback Brock Smith was one of several signal callers to take snaps throughout the first practice of training camp.

Senior Zach Terrell catches a ball in the flat
and finds a few holes downfield.