Liberty football opened spring practice last week with the first two of 15 practices during the spring that will culminate in the spring game on April 15. This is the first time new head coach Jamey Chadwell and his coaching staff will have the opportunity to see their new team go through personal and team football drills.
“Most of us, being new, we’ve been told who we have, who’s good and who’s not good. We really don’t know,” said Chadwell. “Seeing what we do have and what we have to work with, seeing where we probably need improvement and help. It’s a great time for us. I know the players are excited about it because they have been tired of just lifting and running and conditioning. They get a chance to get out there and get better.”
The new coaching staff will get to learn from first-hand knowledge about the members of the team, and the players will also get to learn about their new coaches and what their expectations are for them. In addition to getting to know each other, Chadwell also hopes to instill some of the base packages in both the offense and defense as two new systems begin to be installed.
“You’re not going to put everything in, especially being brand new,” he said. “We’re just trying to get down and master our base things.”
For Chadwell, this spring is about a lot more than just installation. He wants to test and challenge his team and coaching staff to begin to set the true identity of the type of football team he wants.
“We want to be a physical and mentally tough football team. You have to practice that,” Chadwell explained. “I want to put our team in as many adverse situations as possible to see who we are and how we’re going to respond. If we can find out how we’re going to respond now we won’t have to wait until fall to find out.”
The Flames also hope to be able to begin to solidify a depth chart. Up to this point, the depth chart that has been put together has been based on previous experience under a different coaching staff. This spring, the returners as well as several newcomers, will begin to put tape together for their new coaches and a new depth chart will begin to emerge.
There will be position battles all over the field this spring, but there are a few positions that will definitely have Chadwell’s attention. This includes quarterback, wide receiver, and linebackers as the team attempts to build some depth and hopefully have some leaders emerge.
“We’ve got to get some depth at wide receiver, so we brought some guys in, how does that shake down,” said Chadwell. “Linebackers is a big deal. We lost a lot of guys from a portal standpoint, we don’t have a lot of guys returning that played a lot. So, who really takes over there I think is going to be a big deal.”
At quarterback, Liberty returns Johnathan Bennett and Kaidon Salter, who each started games for the team last year. Nate Hampton, who gained some valuable experience as a backup last season, also returns. Southern Miss transfer Trey Lowe also brings some experience and competition to the unit under quarterback coach an co-offensive coordinator Willy Korn.
“We’ve got to have somebody that is underneath that center that this team wants to run through a wall for,” Chadwell said of what he’s looking for at quarterback. “You’ve got to be the guy who wants to be the leader, the guy that puts extra time in, that will do everything possible to put the best foot forward. That’s what we’re challenging our quarterbacks with. They all have talent, but it’s more there. It’s the character that goes with it, the work ethic and their desire to lead a bunch of men to something those guys don’t think they can accomplish.”
On multiple occasions since being hired, Chadwell has stressed the desire to have one quarterback emerge as the leader of the group and also team. He doesn’t want to have two-three quarterbacks at the top of the depth chart. He’s hopeful that can happen this spring.
“It would be awesome if we could name a starting quarterback at the end of spring practice,” he said. “That means somebody wants this job, they’ve mastered it. Then, you go forward with that. I don’t know if that will happen, I’m using that as an example, but I want to see if some guys can take the next step.”
Under Chadwell, Liberty hopes to continue its streak of four straight bowl appearances and four straight eight-win seasons. The Flames will also be moving into Conference USA and looking to compete for the program’s first ever conference championship in 2023. The road to those goals begin now during 15 spring practices.
“Our whole focus this spring will be in identity, really developing our fundamentals, getting better there from a fundamental standpoint,” said Chadwell. “See who we have and what they’re capable of and where we know we’re going to have to improve so we can see that with our own eyes and try to hopefully fix it after spring.”