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Big South’s automatic playoff berth gives LU more incentive in spring workouts
After each practice during Danny Rocco’s tenure at Liberty, the team breaks the huddle with the words, “Big South champs!”
For the first time, though, that chant will have added meaning. As the Flames open spring practice late this afternoon at Williams Stadium, they’ll begin their pursuit for what has been an elusive FCS playoff berth.
Liberty came close to earning at-large bids in each of the last two seasons. This year, Liberty controls its playoff hopes. Win the Big South, like the Flames have done outright in two of the past three seasons, and Liberty will make a trip to the playoffs for the first time.
Here’s a quick look at five issues the team will address during spring practice, which begins at 5:15 p.m. today and culminates with the 1 p.m. spring game April 17:
w It’s Brown’s time. Rocco was adamant at the end of last season that junior Mike Brown, the reigning Big South offensive player of the year, was the team’s quarterback of the future. There may still be a rotation at the position, with Tyler Brennan getting some QB reps. But Brown will take the majority of the snaps and will be the team’s starting quarterback Sept. 4 when Liberty opens at home against St. Francis (Pa.).
Brown spent all of last spring working at quarterback before South Carolina transfer Tommy Beecher arrived on campus. In a move that got both Brown and Beecher on the field, Rocco put Brown at receiver and Beecher at quarterback on most possessions.
The one game that Brown played exclusively at quarterback — a 19-13 win at Lafayette — Brown was electric. He completed 29 of 36 passes for 242 yards and a touchdown and ran for 88 yards and a score.
w Thin up front. Guard Alex Stadler (ankle) and tackle Justin Vargas (shoulder) will miss the entire spring while rehabilitating from offseason surgeries. That leaves the Flames thin on the offensive line until the freshman class arrives in the fall. The spring will give Rocco an opportunity to evaluate his depth up front, including sophomores Malcolm Boyd and Jay Weatherington, both of whom played as freshmen.
w Running back logjam. Former Heritage standout Korrey Davis, a UMass transfer, becomes eligible this year, as is Troy transfer Greg Pratt. Aldreakis Allen, B.J. Hayes and SirChauncey Holloway return from last season, and Chase Barnett is back after missing last year due to injury. The spring might at least establish a pecking order at the position heading into fall camp.
w Other injuries. Tight end Eric Fath and nose guard Greg Schuster will also miss spring practice while recovering from knee injuries. Both are expected to be ready to go in the fall.
w Stadium work. Because of the ongoing press-box construction on the west side of the stadium, Williams Stadium will be closed for most of the spring. Those interested in attending practices will only be able to watch the sessions at the grass practice field in front of the football operations center.
For the spring game, the east-side stands will be open. The press box is expected to be complete in time for the season opener.
By Chris Lang, Lynchburg News Advance