It’s no secret that Liberty’s offensive line in 2021 was not the strength of the team. A lot has been made of the team’s 52 sacks allowed, and, yes some of that blame should reside with the front line, but other parts of the offense are to blame as well.

Still, 52 sacks allowed in 13 games was more than Liberty had given up in the first two years under Hugh Freeze, when the Flames surrendered 50 sacks total in 2019 and 2020. Freeze knew that he had to go back to the drawing board during the offseason to ensure his offensive line was operating at peak performance.

After offensive line coach Sam Gregg left to become the offensive coordinator at Southern Miss, Freeze quickly tabbed Chris Klenakis to fill that position. Most recently a Quality Control Analyst at South Alabama, Klenakis also had stints at Florida A&M, Louisville, Nevada, Southern Miss, Central Missouri, Arkansas, and Iowa State.

“I’ve interviewed Coach Klenakis twice on my head coaching career,” Freeze said. “The one thing that I knew both times is the guy was passionate and had great energy. He’s working our OLine extremely hard. That’s what we need. They have to be the front line. They have to lead the way. I think he takes great pride and confidence that he builds in them I think is going to be big.”

The energy Klenakis brings to the team and offensive line has been apparent during his time on the field during spring practice. His efforts early in his tenure at Liberty led Freeze to give him a raise earlier this month.

In addition to the coaching change, the Flames also went to the transfer portal to add depth and experience to the offensive line. Colorado State transfer Cam Reddy, Kentucky transfer Naasir Watkins, and JUCO transfer Reggie Young are all expected to compete for starting positions immediately.

They will try to help ease the loss of Tristan Schultz, Thomas Sargeant, Damian Bounds, and Bryce Mathews. That group combined to play in 189 games and make 124 starts during their time at Liberty. Sargeant and Schultz had each started 41 or more consecutive games for the Flames.

In addition to the transfers, Coach Klenakis and the Flames do have several returners with significant amounts of playing time back for 2022. LG Jacob Bodden, RG Brendan Schlittler, and RT Cooper McCaw are all returning starters. McCaw is missing the spring as he recovers from postseason shoulder surgery.

Andrew Adair is developing at center behind Cam Reddy who looks to take over for Sargeant. John Kourtis, who spent the past few seasons behind Sargeant at center, has moved to guard where he could factor into the rotation.

“He’s one of the tougher kids we have and stronger kids we have, but seemed to play a bit tentative and slow with the ball in his hand,” Freeze said of Kourtis. “I’m just trying to find him a position where he can contribute because he cares. I think taking the ball out of his hand, hopefully, will allow him to play a little faster.”

Some younger linemen could also step into prominent roles. Jonathan Graham could slide in at either tackle or guard. Chase Mitchell has developed the past couple seasons and could see some increased playing time this coming fall. Brian Hannibal was a highly rated prospect out of high school, but he has yet to see that matriculate into playing time on the field. Harrison Hayes saw some limited action as a true freshman in 2021.

“I think Chase Mitchell and Brian Hannibal have probably taken two of the bigger steps forward, so far,” Freeze said. “Harrison, I think is going to be a really good player. Pleased to this point, they are blocking what I think is a really good defensive line, it’s going to make us better.”