Liberty is working towards the last couple of weeks of spring practice and is coming off the 2nd scrimmage of the spring season. After the offense got the best of things in scrimmage 1, the defense rebounded this past week as they caused 2 turnovers and had 5 sacks. They also held the offense scoreless on a 1st and goal possession. Juwan Wells was the standout of the day with 2 sacks. The offense still scored 4 touchdowns, but had the turnovers, failed to convert from the 1 yard line, and had 7 penalties.
Several newcomers on Special Teams
In 2017, the Flames had a very experienced special teams unit, but, with punter Trey Turner, holder Spencer Jones, and long snapper Hunter Winstead all moving on, will have to be breaking in several players in these key positions.
At punter, Aidan Alves is a redshirt-freshman from Dillsburg, Pennsylvania who is the leader currently. Coach Gill says he also plans on bringing in another guy in the fall to compete with Alves and kicker Alex Probert is also getting a crack at punter.
“Probert is versatile enough that he has worked in some reps at both kicker and punting,” Special Teams Coordinator Scott Downing said. “(We) might give a little test to his leg in the fall and see if he can hold up and do both jobs.”
Last year’s holder, Spencer Jones, is no longer on the team, and reserve quarterback Landon Brown and Alves are competing to replace Jones. At long snapper, Austin Mock and David King are battling it out to replace Hunter Winstead. King is also in the mix among the top 4-5 linebacker spots, but the coaching staff feels confident that he can do both if needed.
“You got a long snapper that can not only snap it, but has a pretty good chance to go down and make the tackle,” Downing said of King. “If they don’t block him, he’s got a chance to have a free shot on the ball. That’s a big plus he brings to the game.”
More consistency needed for Probert
With 2 years under his belt, kicker Alex Probert is being called on by Coach Gill to be more consistent. In 2017, he was 14-of-20 on field goals with 2 blocked and 38-of-42 on extra points.
“Last year was a solid year, ok year (for Probert),” Coach Gill said. “Hopefully this year will continue to improve – more consistency, hitting every one of our extra points, and inside 42-43 yard field goals, hope we’re in the high 80s as far as making those.”
Out of his 20 field goal attempts last season, 15 of them were from 43 yards or closer. On those attempts, he connected on 13, good for 86.7%, which is right in line with what Coach Gill hopes for. Outside of 43 yards, he was just 1-of-5.
Not going full speed on return game
Injuries tend to happen more frequently in practice in the return game, so it’s not surprising that the Flames aren’t going full speed on either punt return or kick return this spring. Liberty has worked a lot on punt returns, but it has been more in segments, with a blocking segment and then a return segment, without putting much of it together.
D.J. Stubbs looks to be the leading punt return guy while Cephas Reddick is also taking some reps. B.J. Farrow also gives the team a sure handed returner when needing to ensure the catch is made.
“Going into his 2nd year, there’s a little bit more of a sense of security,” Downing said of Stubbs in the punt return game. “He’s a little bit more calm back there making decisions. He has the talent to make people miss. B.J. Farrow is back there and he has always been the veteran. If you’re in a situation where you have to catch the ball, B.J. can go out and handle anything.”
Damian King, who has been a factor in the punt return game in the past, has missed spring practice with a hip injury, according to Coach Downing.
Matthews making an impact in secondary
Malik Matthews, a redshirt-junior from Jacksonville, Florida, is making an impact in the secondary during the spring. He’s played in 13 games over his career, including 2 starts in 2017. He’s recorded 14 tackles and 1 pass break up in his career with the Flames.
“Malik Matthews has improved a lot,” Coach Gill said. “This has, no question, been his best spring and his best play. (He’s) very physical, being able to cover very well. On the back end, I would have him as the standout guy at this point in time.”
Professors visit practice
At Saturday’s scrimmage, Liberty has several visitors who were specially invited by members of the football team. Prompted by assistant coaches Joe Dailey and Kyle DeArmon, Coach Gill asked the players to invite one of their professors to have a behind the scenes look at a Flames’ spring practice session.
“I think we had around 25-30 total people. I allowed them to come on the football field, stand 20 yards back from the line of scrimmage, which allowed a unique view for them,” Gill said. “We had our players introduce who they invited, then showed them around our facility.”
- Keith Best, one of two 3-star recruits that signed as part of the 2017 class a year ago, is still fighting his way back from a knee injury he suffered during his senior year of high school. Both Coach Gill and Defensive Coordinator Robert Wimberly described Best as being a “steal” when they discussed him on Signing Day 2017. Rising senior defensive back Jeremy Peters said before practice Tuesday that Best is “not all the way back yet.”
- Incoming high school tight end signee Mason Yost finished in the top 6 in his weight class in the state of Florida in wrestling.
- Coach Downing said there were two culprits in the Flames’ having multiple kicks blocked last year – protection and low kicks. “Our guys up front are getting bigger. We’re adding more girth, in our new signees and our guys that are veterans are coming back bigger and stronger. The bigger we get up front, the less push-back you get and the less penetration you get, and, hopefully, that will take care of some of the problems we had last fall.”