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A Spring Practice Look at Liberty's Offense

March 28, 2011  Lynchburg, Va.  RSS
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SirChauncey Holloway (No. 24) and Mike Brown (No. 10) will play a large part in Liberty's offensive success during the 2011 season.

SirChauncey Holloway (No. 24) and Mike Brown (No. 10) will play a large part in Liberty's offensive success during the 2011 season.

Once again, one of the strengths of Liberty's program for the upcoming 2011 season will be its offense. The Flames return eight of 12 players who started in various roles during the 2010 season, one that saw Liberty finish in the upper echelon of FCS offenses.

En route to an 8-3 record, the Flames finished the year by averaging 36.45 points per game, a figure that ranked No. 3 nationally in scoring offense. In fact, the Flames have finished inside the Top 20 in FCS offense the last four years, including three out of the four years ranking third or better.

"Once again, we put together an outstanding season statistically in 2010," stated head coach Danny Rocco. "We obviously don't want to make too many dramatic changes from something that has been successful, but our offense does have a few areas we need to focus on this spring."

Seven of the eight previously mentioned starters are skill position players, giving the Flames great depth in an offense that has proven to be potent. However, the area of focus for Liberty this spring will be developing its talent on the offensive line, a segment that returns only one starter from the previous season.

Returning Starter:

Mike Brown (R-Sr., 6-0, 205)
Player to Watch:
Tyler Brennan (R-Jr., 6-3, 220)
Gabe Henderson (So., 5-11, 195)
Brian Hudson (R-So., 6-3, 215)

For the second year in a row, Liberty returns the reigning Big South Offensive Player of the Year in quarterback Mike Brown. The rising senior had an outstanding 2010 season, one that landed him a spot on the Walter Payton Award watch list.

Any time you have your quarterback coming back, that is a good thing for a program," commented Rocco. "Especially when that quarterback is a two-time Player of the Year in your conference. The quarterback area is obviously one of the strongest areas in our program."

Brown finished 2010 ranked No. 1 in the country in total offense, averaging 346.36 total offensive yards per game.

He was Liberty's leading rusher and passer, as he ran for 854 yards and passed for another 2,956 yards. He was responsible for 32 of the team's 47 touchdowns (68.1 percent) and finished his season ranked No. 4 nationally in points responsible for (17.45 per game).

His 3,810 total offensive yards shattered Liberty's previous record of 3,127 yards set by Phil Basso in 1984. Brown also finished the year ranked No. 8 in passing yards per game (268.73), No. 11 in total passing yards and No. 7 in passing efficiency (149.63).

The Flames also return Tyler Brennan, a junior who played in all 11 games in 2010. With Brennan in the game, which Rocco hopes to do even more in 2011, the Flames were able to be more versatile and use Brown's athleticism as a running back or wide receiver option.

Liberty also has two underclassmen quarterbacks who give this position great depth in Brian Hudson, a player that Rocco says is "emerging", and Gabe Henderson.

Henderson spent most of last year as a wide out option, catching 10 passes for 127 yards as a true freshman. This spring, Henderson will spend more workout time with the quarterbacks, following a very similar career path that has led Brown to this position's starting spot.

Wide Receivers
Returning Starters:

B.J. Hayes (R-Sr., 5-9, 195)
Pat Kelly (Jr., 6-2, 190)
Chris Summers (R-Sr., 6-4, 210)
Players to Watch:
Chase Barnett (R-So., 5-7, 180)
Jimmy Eden (R-Jr., 5-9, 170)
Ervin Garner (R-Sr., 5-9, 165)
Greg Pratt (R-So., 5-8, 160)

Chris Summers had a breakout season in 2010, one that landed him on multiple All-America teams. The rising senior set new program standards with 1,081 receiving yards and 15 receiving touchdowns, doing all this in 10 games. The standout suffered an injury in the Coastal Carolina contest that kept him from playing in the season finale against Stony Brook.

"When you look at our wide receiver position, you will quickly see that an awful a lot of production is coming back," commented Rocco on this deep group. "Chris Summers is our returning All-American at wide receiver and has proven that he is one of the most talented players in the country at his position."

Hayes, a versatile player for the Flames at slot receiver, earned second-team all-conference honors in 2010, as he finished with 546 receiving yards and one touchdown.

With Summers being out of the line-up at Williams Stadium on Nov. 20 against Stony Brook, Pat Kelly had a chance to showcase his talents. The rising junior set a new program record with 235 receiving yards and two scores, allowing the emerging outside receiver to finish 2010 second on the team with 635 receiving yards and four scoring receptions.

"Pat Kelly is an underclassman that really started to show his value last year, especially stepping up late in the year against Stony Brook," stated Rocco.

Ervin Garner will look to use the spring training season to get back into his playing shape after missing five games in 2010 due to an injury. When he was in the line-up for Rocco, Garner showed he could be a top receiver, spotlighted by a 106-yard, one-touchdown performance at Robert Morris.

Another wide-out option that will be looking for spring 2011 to be part of his comeback process will be Jimmy Eden. The speedy receiver, who was slated to be one of Liberty's key return specialists in 2010, had to sit out the entire season following complications from an appendix surgery just prior to training camp last August.

"Jimmy is back healthy, and hopefully he will be able to show us this spring what he is capable of doing and why we brought him here to be a part of our program," said Rocco. "Jimmy has the potential to be a ‘go-to guy' and a key possession receiver."

Two additional players that Rocco and his coaching staff will be watching this spring will be Greg Pratt and Chase Barnett. Pratt, a transfer from Troy, saw minimal action in his first year with the program, but Rocco says he has "great speed and I'm hoping he shows well this spring."

With the depth at running back for Liberty this upcoming season, the coaching staff is going to give Barnett a look at wide receiver this spring. He played in five games in 2010, rushing for 141 yards and a touchdown.

Running Backs
Returning Starter:

SirChauncey Holloway (R-Jr., 5-7, 200)
Players to Watch:
Aldreakis Allen (So., 6-0, 230)
Korrey Davis (R-Jr., 5-11, 205)

Last season, the Flames came into 2010 with no legitimate returning experience at running back. Korrey Davis had redshirted the year prior after transferring from Massachusetts, plus Aldreakis Allen had left the school and was no longer with the team.

SirChauncey Holloway did finish the season with seven rushing touchdowns, but only carried the ball 54 times in eight games.

"We kind of threw some guys into the fire in 2010 at running back," reflected Rocco. "Now this year, they are all back, plus we've added Aldreakis back into the mix. All three players have returned in better shape and are ready to show improvement."

According to Rocco, Holloway has had a "magnificent offseason," and he looks more physical and strong. As the Flames' primary rushing option in 2010, outside of quarterback Mike Brown, Holloway finished last year rushing for 524 yards and 10 touchdowns.

"Korrey Davis looks much better this spring, as he needed that year under his belt to get back into the mode of being a running back," added Rocco. In his first year with the program, Davis rushed 58 times for 201 yards and one touchdown.

Allen returns to the program, as he reenrolled at Liberty this spring semester and Rocco says he "has a chance to be very good, as he has great focus and a renewed work ethic." Allen pushed himself forward as a running back frontrunner in 2009, rushing for a team-best 530 yards on 118 carries, to go along with nine touchdowns.

Strength and conditioning coach Bill Gillespie recently informed Rocco that the running back position made the most marked improvement in the weight room during the offseason.

As previously mentioned and with having all of its running backs returning for the next two years, the Flames coaching staff is looking to possibly move Chase Barnett to a wide receiver. However, when the 5-7 redshirt sophomore is not in the flat catching passes, he will be working out at his more familiar position as a running back.

Returning Starter:

Peter Gagliardi (R-So., 6-2, 240)
Player to Watch:
Elliot Dutra (R-So., 5-8, 195)

One of the keys to Liberty's ability to successfully rush the ball for more than 2,000 yards six out of the last nine years has been the play of its fullbacks.

The unsung hero position was held down by a newcomer last season, as Buffalo transfer Peter Gagliardi started all 11 games for the Flames at fullback.

"We will play Peter mostly at fullback this year, but because of his size and blocking ability, he could also see some time at tight end," commented Rocco. "He has a very bright future for us and he really did well for us in his first year with the program."

Another transfer that Rocco and his staff will look at this spring at fullback is Elliot Dutra, who comes to the Flames from Marion. "I have a feeling that Elliot might shine this spring, either at fullback, running back or in the kicking game. He is certainly one of the guys we are going to have a close eye on this spring."

Tight End
Returning Starter:

Tommy Shaver (R-Sr., 6-6, 280)
Players to Watch:
Steven Wilkes (R-Jr., 6-6, 270)
Brandon Apon (R-So., 6-4, 250)

One of the keys to Rocco's offensive schemes since arriving at Liberty in 2006 has been the extra blocking ability of his tight ends.

Although Liberty's tight ends do not pull in future NFL Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez-like numbers, their efforts have not gone completely unnoticed. Until last year, Liberty's starting tight end had received first or second team All-Big South honors each year dating back to 2005.

Tommy Shaver did the same "yeoman's type work" as his predecessors last year in his first full season as the starter at the position, but the rising senior did not receive the traditional conference accolade. He did manage to catch eight passes for 104 yards in 11 games for the Flames.

"Tommy Shaver is really coming into his own and has had a very good offseason," stated Rocco. "He has been a starter for a year or year and a half, depending on how you want to break it down. He is a big football player that can run and block."

Backing up Shaver and challenging for playing time this spring will be Steven Wilkes and Brandon Apon, two underclassmen who have started to develop inside the program.

"Steven offers some very legitimate relief at this position with his big body," continued Rocco. "Brandon is another very good-looking player that is developing into a solid option for us at tight end."

Rocco has said that because of the versatility of his student-athletes, Liberty could interchange some of its tight ends and fullbacks at times during the upcoming 2011 season.

Offensive Line
Returning Starters:

Malcolm Boyd (Jr., 6-3, 275)
Players to Watch:
Aaron Brown (R-Sr., 6-3, 320)
Mitch Hanson (R-Fr., 6-5, 285)
Stan Herring (R-Jr., 6-4, 285)
Aaron Lundy (R-Jr., 6-4, 320)
Andre Mondor (R-Fr., 6-3, 345)
Greg Ray (R-Fr., 6-4, 320)
D.J. Sellman (Fr., 6-4, 325)
Mark Tomlin (R-Sr., 6-3, 280)
Jay Weatherington (Jr., 6-4, 280)
Toney White (R-Sr., 6-5, 285)
Kevin Widener (R-Fr., 6-4, 260)

Unlike the previously mentioned five skilled positions where depth abounds, Rocco is going to use the spring season to evaluate multiple options on the offensive line to find the right starting five linemen for 2011, despite having four of five starters currently penciled in.

"When it comes to the offense this spring, where you are looking at the greatest level of emphasis this spring is the offensive line," commented Rocco. "We only have one senior returning on the offensive line in Toney White, plus Mark Tomlin, who transferred from VMI."

The 2010 season saw the graduation of four starters on the offensive line – Justin Vargas (LT), Matt Camire (C), Alex Stadler (RG) and Soeren Wendland (RT). Three of the four received accolades for their efforts from the Big South, as Stadler and Vargas were first-team all-conference honorees with Wendland getting a second-team nod.

"I'm really excited about our rising junior class and our redshirt freshman class on the offensive line," continued Rocco. "This rising junior class has four really good players in Aaron Lundy, Malcolm Boyd, Jay Weatherington and Stan Herring."

The coaching staff has made the decision to move Weatherington to center, after spending most of the 2010 season behind Stadler at right guard. Additionally, Rocco has shifted Lundy to right guard, after he spent most of last year backing up Camire at center.

"Right now I feel pretty good that four of our five spots on the offensive line are pretty much solidified on the offensive line," added Rocco. "Stan Herring is slated to start at one tackle, Lundy and Boyd at the guard positions and Weatherington at center."

The largest battle to watch this spring according to Rocco will be at right tackle, where White and Tomlin will vie for the final starting role.

Several players will be looking to impress the coaching staff this spring and push for playing time, starting with D.J. Sellman and Aaron Brown.

"D.J. is a player that was part of our program two years ago, but had to leave school for some personal reasons," stated Rocco. "He will certainly add some depth and competition at tackle. Plus, we will be looking at Aaron Brown at a guard or tackle position."

The next group that excites Rocco when it comes to the offensive line is four freshmen that were redshirted for the 2010 season – Mitch Hanson, Andre Mondor, Greg Ray and Kevin Widener.

"Andre Mondor is a giant. He is just a big man and like any young player, needs to work on his strength and conditioning," commented Rocco. "But he certainly has the size and athleticism to be a very good lineman for our program."

Mondor is slated to back up Lundy currently at right guard, while Ray, another "big body," will follow behind Boyd at left guard. Widener, who was a tight end in high school, has been moved to center and has started to add the necessary weight and strength to play center. Finally, Hanson gives the Flames four solid newcomers and will battle for time at left tackle.