Updated 

It's time for Rebels' line to shine


ELY - A standard definition: The state of endurance under difficult circumstances, which can mean persevering in the face of delay or provocation without acting on annoyance/anger in a negative way; or exhibiting forbearance when under strain, especially when faced with longer-term difficulties.

Boy. I”;m pretty sure that Webster fellow never had to coach a young offensive line.

That”;s a whole other world of patience.

Bobby Hauck knows it well, and it”;s the hope of UNLV”;s head football coach that all the mistakes and injuries and missed blocks and growing pains of the last three seasons will now form into a more cohesive, productive, successful front.

That what has been a major weakness for the Rebels proves itself a definite strength.

“You would assume as these guys grow up and spend more years in the weight room and more years practicing, the better they become,” Hauck said. “You”;re not going to be overly physical or technically sound as a lineman early in a career. Playing guys who are freshmen in college against fifth-year seniors each week isn”;t a very good matchup in any way.

“But we lived through it, and hopefully, this year, we can begin reaping some of the benefits. It is what it is. You can sit around and allow yourself to be frustrated with it daily or you can go hard and steady and try to make it better.”

UNLV still doesn”;t include a senior among its top offensive linemen, but what it has are players who have learned and matured as they have been beaten and bruised at the major college level the last few seasons.

Nick Sherry is the sophomore quarterback those linemen are entrusted with protecting, and it”;s true that in those times he struggled last year, part of the blame went to a kid who held onto the ball too long and part to a line that simply wasn”;t up to the task physically of keeping his uniform clean.

But there are positive signs of what the Rebels could be offensively if its line plays better on a weekly basis. Despite being slowed by injury late in the 2012 season, Sherry”;s 2,544 passing yards ranked fourth in league history for a freshman, and his 16 touchdown passes were the most by a UNLV quarterback since 2008; senior running back Tim Cornett has a good chance of becoming the school”;s career rushing leader this season. The Rebels scored a least 27 points on six occasions last season.

“The more we play together as a line, the better we”;ll be by holding each other accountable every play as a unit and individually,” junior tackle Brett Boyko said. “If you love football, it”;s easy to stay dialed in even during the tough times. Things have definitely been frustrating for us (as a line), but you have to take any positive you can and use it as motivation.

“It”;s a process. Obviously, we”;ve had some bumps in the road, so now it”;s on us to bounce back and push forward and work together to make the guys behind us look the best they can.”

Hauck liked the look of one line in particular this week during fall camp — Boyko at left tackle, junior Cameron Jefferson at left guard, junior Robert Waterman at center, sophomore Nick Gstrein at right guard and sophomore Andrew Oberg at right tackle.

Among the group is included 79 games of experience and a player in Gstrein who made the switch from tight end during spring practice. This is what you do when things haven”;t gone smoothly at a specific spot — look for help elsewhere.

“(Gstrein) is a big guy at (6 feet 4 inches, 285 pounds) and we felt like we needed some more competition at guard and center,” Hauck said. “The strength of his game is the run game. He”;s had a really nice camp.

“Those guys up front have to work together and execute together. They get a lot of repetitions this time of year in spring and now fall camp before the season, so we can mix the lineups up and find those who work best together. If we can stay injury free to a degree, we should be a lot better up front.”

The time for patience, no matter your definition, has passed.

The time for using youth as a reason for inadequate play shouldn”;t again be uttered when it comes to UNLV”;s offensive line.

It”;s on those up front to inflict pain on others for once.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on “Gridlock,” ESPN 1100 and 98.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.

 

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