ELY — UNLV’s first-year coordinators came to this town with plenty of questions about their players.
They left here Wednesday with many more answers, saying most of their top priorities were met as the Rebels returned to Las Vegas.
Offensive coordinator Timm Rosenbach said the improved depth pleased him most, and defensive coordinator Tim Hauck said his side of the football picked up the system to the point there was more acting than thinking.
The coordinators won’t know for sure exactly whether their expectations were met until the Rebels open the season Aug. 29 at Minnesota.
At least going into that game, Rosenbach feels confident about being able to play a healthy number of offensive linemen. He figured he could go seven or eight deep if the Rebels had a game today.
“You’d like to have a solid 10, but you’ve got to have seven, eight, nine guys who can play,” Rosenbach said. “We feel like we’re getting pretty close to that number.”
He also liked the depth at running back and wide receiver and how the quarterbacks performed.
At running back, the competition remains fierce for the third back behind senior Tim Cornett and junior Adonis Smith. Freshman Keith Whitely and junior Shaquille Murray-Lawrence are expected to play, with Whitely probably beginning the season only on special teams. Another back, freshman Henri Jussila, could play but most likely will redshirt.
Receiver is a position that goes well beyond juniors Devante Davis and Marcus Sullivan. With the infusion of players such as freshman Kendal Keys and senior Jerry Rice Jr. and with the return of sophomore Anthony Williams, that unit could go as many as seven deep.
“When you can call the same plays for the twos that you call for the ones (starters), that’s a step in the right direction,” Rosenbach said. “You don’t have to call something that’s maybe not as complex.”
As for remaining concerns, he said the young players still need to prove they can transfer what they’ve learned in practice to game situations.
“There’s going to be an adjustment period for those guys that play,” Rosenbach said. “But we feel good about it. I think the young guys that end up playing for us will perform.”
Hauck has a similar question about carrying over the promising play from practice but likes the tempo his defensive players displayed.
“I think the guys feel very comfortable in what we’re doing, and they can execute it and play fast,” he said. “That’s extremely important. You can’t have them not knowing what they’re doing and playing half speed. Then you’ve got problems.”
The defensive line, Hauck said, has improved the most. He said the front is close to going two deep all the way across.
“I think their experience and the fact that they’ve played a whole bunch, they’ve kind of taken a leadership role on this team, which has been absolutely awesome,” Hauck said. “They’re the ones that are creating emotion and energy for this defense.”
One of those defensive linemen, junior tackle Asten Koki, was one of two players Hauck singled out among those who impressed who weren’t with the team in the spring. The other was senior safety Frank Crawford.
Depth throughout the defense, however, remains an issue.
Hauck said he felt comfortable with 16 players being able to produce, and he was hoping six more eventually would be added to the list.
The linemen will substitute fairly freely to keep those players fresh, but starters elsewhere might be asked to go long minutes.
“We’ve got some question marks we’re still trying to answer,” Hauck said. “It’s getting close for them to get on that plane, so we’ve got to get those answered in a hurry.”
Contact reporter Mark Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2914. Follow him on Twitter: @markanderson65.