Liberty Flames Football Practice 01

Head Coach Hugh Freeze during a Liberty Flames football practice at Liberty University in Lynchburg, VA, August 4, 2019.

Liberty defensive coordinator Scott Symons said he was “sick of this taste in my mouth and I want to find guys that feel the same way that I do” after the Flames gave up 593 yards of offense in a 35-14 loss at Louisiana.

Symons addressed it with his unit following the game in the locker room, and the Flames coach Hugh Freeze also brought it up following Sunday’s film review. Each message focused on wanting to see more passion from the players, plus how the coaches can help develop the players to better play their positions.

“I think there’s enough in that room for us, if we can stay healthy, to win some games,” Freeze said Monday. “I think there’s a few that need to evaluate where they are. That’s one of the things that I talked about yesterday: Are you really passionate about what you do or are you just merely a little concerned? We’re looking for those that are really passionate.

“We’re going to make a move with [true freshman cornerback Tayvion Land] this week to another position defensively, to that nickel spot, and see how that goes and open up a little competition. I wish he were a little bigger, but also wish that Mike Hilton was a little bigger when I recruited him and he started for me [at Ole Miss] for four years and started yesterday for the Pittsburgh Steelers. He’s 5-foot-8 and 1/4 and was the best tackler I ever coached.

“We’re going to open up some of that, but we want to find guys that love Liberty University and want to be here and they want to compete like crazy on every single down. That’s what I think Scott’s saying. Scott’s also sick of things he could have done better. This is not just a player issue. We’ve got depth issues, we’ve got injury issues, we’ve got maybe lack of attention by some players, and then we’ve got to coach better, too. If your kids don’t understand it and you have too many calls on third down, then get rid of some. That’s something we’ve got to look at first from our side of things.”

Land, the program’s first four-star recruit out of Virginia Beach, has not played in the season’s first two games. He has dressed for both and traveled with the team to Louisiana.

Fellow freshman Kei’Trel Clark, along with junior college transfer Emanuel Dabney, have backed up starters Bejour Wilson and Jimmy Faulks.

Injury update

Freeze listed eight players on this week’s injury report, though only one player has been ruled out for this weekend’s game against Buffalo.

Wide receiver Noah Frith remains out with a fractured left foot, and the original diagnosis has him returning as early as the Sept. 28 home game against New Mexico.

Running back Peytton Pickett did not play until the fourth quarter against Louisiana because he became ill and was dehydrated, according to Freeze. Pickett was feeling better Sunday.

And the remainder of the injury report came on the defensive side with either concussions or high ankle sprains.

Freeze is optimistic rover Elijah Benton will be cleared to play against Buffalo after missing last weekend’s game with a concussion. Linebacker Waylen Cozad and safety Rion Davis both suffered concussions against the Ragin’ Cajuns, and they are questionable to play against the Bulls.

“Hopefully Elijah will be back from the concussion because we started the protocol last week and his symptoms are way down,” Freeze said.

Linebacker Brandon Tillmon did not travel to Louisiana after suffering a high ankle sprain. A pair of nose guards — Ralfs Rusins and Elisha Mitchell — each suffered high ankle sprains against the Ragin’ Cajuns.

“We desperately need to get some people healthy to have a chance to be in this game in the fourth quarter and have a chance to win,” Freeze said.

JaVon Scruggs is listed as the projected starter at free safety after sustaining an A/C joint sprain in his right shoulder during the third quarter against the Ragin’ Cajuns. He returned and played in the fourth quarter.

“Those are the issues we’re facing defensively that we’re already thin at some of those spots,” Freeze said. “We’ll pray and hopefully Barry [Finke] and his staff will have great wisdom in treatment his week and we can get some of those guys back to certainly help us on that side.”

When is Freeze back on the sidelines?

Freeze stood for his entire 25-minute press conference Monday after sitting in a wheelchair for the first two weeks. He used a walker for assistance to get to the podium and used the wooden podium as leverage to stand up straight.

It was another step forward for him in his recovery from back surgery for a staph infection on Aug. 16.

The next step is returning to practice, which Freeze has anxiously worked toward since being released from the University of Virginia Medical Center not long after his surgery.

“Me and Dr. [Dilan] Ellegala haven’t talked about that one yet,” Freeze said. “I have a plan in my mind. I certainly don’t want to be set back, I want to be healthy. I’ve about had enough of sitting at home.”

Freeze said he showered on his own Monday morning, a first for him since the surgery.

And the medical chair which he used in the coaches’ booth against Louisiana has been set up in the home coaches’ booth in case he needs to use it against Buffalo.

“Our administration has gone above and beyond in dealing with my adversity better than I could have ever dreamed,” Freeze said. “ … I’m kind of tired of having to ask them to accommodate me in any way and ready to get back to full speed as soon as possible.”

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Damien Sordelett covers Liberty University athletics and local golf for The News & Advance. Reach him at (434) 385-5550.

Damien Sordelett covers Liberty University athletics and local golf for The News & Advance. Reach him at (434) 385-5550. Follow him on Twitter: @DamienSordelett

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