The positions were pretty well solidified when UNLV went to Ely last year. Not this time.
Battles are taking place throughout the lineup, and the picture begins to become a little clearer when the Rebels go into full pads at 4:30 p.m. today in the Eastern Nevada city.
It’s a two-man race between juniors Blake Decker (6 feet 2 inches, 205 pounds) and Nick Sherry (6-5, 235).
Sherry was the starter two years ago and at the beginning of last season before losing his job because of a problem with turnovers. If he can clean up that area — Caleb Herring’s renaissance last season should provide inspiration — then Sherry could take back the job.
Decker, a junior college transfer who went through spring practices, is a better fit for the spread offense because of his ability to use his feet and arm. Coach Bobby Hauck said, however, the system is designed to take advantage of both quarterbacks’ strengths.
Both were particularly sharp during Friday’s practice, hitting on a number of deep passes. Should the race remain tight, the decision on the starter for the Aug. 29 game at Arizona could come down to game week. The Rebels also scrimmage Saturday in Ely, and one player could emerge.
“Our intention would be to name a guy when we feel good about it,” Hauck said. “I could joke around and say we’d go to pregame warm-up (at Arizona). I’d hate to do that, but if we deem that the most productive thing to do, then that’s what we will do. I don’t see that being the case.”
Even with Adonis Smith transferring to Arizona, this is a crowded position. Junior David Greene (6-0, 210) and sophomore Keith Whitely (5-9, 185) are atop the depth chart in the media guide, but the Rebels also return senior Shaquille Murray-Lawrence (5-8, 190) and bring in junior college transfers George Naufahu (6-0, 215) and Jamal Overton (5-9, 205).
“That’s a really good competition,” Hauck said. “Whitely and David Greene are doing a good job. They’re the guys that have been here. We’ll see about the rest.”
Greene emerged as one of the favorites after moving from safety late in spring.
“That helps a lot,” Greene said of when he made the switch. “With the offense being new, I had to take some time to pick it up.”
The return of junior Ron Scoggins (6-3, 335) makes this an even more competitive position. Scoggins started 19 games the past two seasons, so he figures to be in the mix even if he doesn’t start.
Also in contention are sophomores Charles Howard (6-5, 330) and Eric Noone (6-2, 300), junior Nick Gstrein (6-4, 295) and senior Brian Roth (6-5, 300).
“That will be a good battle,” Hauck said.
Most of the losses were at the tackle spots, but UNLV is addressing the entire line. That was made clear this week when junior end Sonny Sanitoa (6-3 260) lined up inside and senior end Josh Shirley (6-3, 230) transferred from Washington.
UNLV also has signed three JC linemen and brought in senior Brandon Willis (6-2, 300) from UCLA.
“On the defensive line, we’ve got to have eight that can play and be able to roll them,” Hauck said. “I don’t think anybody on defense — let alone defensive linemen — can play every play. So we have to have depth there. Otherwise, we get guys fatigued and we get guys hurt.”
The media guide lists only the middle spot as being up for grabs, with sophomores Iggy Porchia (6-2, 225) and Ryan McAleenan (6-2, 230) competing. Hauck, though, said there’s competition at all three positions. Sophomore Tau Lotulelei (6-1, 220) on the weakside and sophomore Trent Langham (6-2, 210) on the strongside are listed No. 1.
Even though Lotulelei is the only one with starting experience at any of the three spots, Hauck likes what he’s seen from the linebackers.
“They’re smart, they can run and they’re all pretty good tacklers,” he said.
Contact reporter Mark Anderson at email@example.com or 702-387-2914. Follow him on Twitter: @markanderson65.