UNLV quarterback Herring ready for a fight

UNLV quarterback Caleb Herring knew he had to get rid of the ball quickly before the pass rush collapsed on him.

His only open option, running back Tim Cornett, was 8 yards away -- lying flat on his back.

"I couldn't sit there and wait for him to get up," Herring said. "I had to hit him where he was."

That's what Herring did Monday, making something positive out of a play that seemed destined to end badly.

Herring was sharp throughout the first day of spring practice.

The sophomore showed he won't give up the offensive reins without a fight, after Rebels coaches tried to upgrade the quarterback position by bringing in early junior college signee Sean Reilly.

"It lights a fire under me," Herring said. "Nothing is going to be handed to me in this program."

Reilly was signed largely because UNLV needed depth at quarterback. No one is close to claiming the job, but for now at least Herring is ahead of Reilly and redshirt freshman Taylor Barnhill. Freshman Nick Sherry will join the competition in August.

The 6-foot-3-inch, 190-pound Herring signed with UNLV in 2009 after leading Citrus Hill High School in Perris, Calif., to consecutive 14-0 seasons and California Interscholastic Federation titles.

The Rebels ran a spread offense under coach Mike Sanford at the time, and Herring seemed to be a nice fit. Now Herring quarterbacks a more traditional offense under coach Bobby Hauck.

"I think this spring is big for (Herring) in terms of how to play consistently good," Hauck said.

Herring spent last season backing up Omar Clayton, who kept the position even though UNLV struggled to a 2-11 record. Many first-year coaches might have gone with a complete youth movement, but Herring said he wasn't surprised by how sparingly he played.

"I wasn't going to let it bother me because in my situation, as a redshirt freshman, not a lot of guys see any playing time," Herring said. "I was in a good position last year, and I learned from it."

Herring played in eight games, completing 28 of 56 passes for 365 yards. He often entered in hopeless situations, and all four of his touchdown passes occurred in the fourth quarter. Three times he threw the only touchdown the Rebels scored.

"Your backup quarterback has to be one of your best students of the game," offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Rob Phenicie said. "When I talk about being a leader and jumping into the offense, he did that last year.

"He wasn't perfect. But he exhibited a little bit of maturity and leadership."

■ NOTES -- Senior wide receiver Phillip Payne spoke to the media for the first time since his two-game suspension last season for criticizing UNLV coaches on Twitter. "It was a reality check," said Payne, a Western High graduate. "I learned to keep my mouth shut." ... Redshirt freshman Taylor Spencer, a Bishop Gorman High product, moved from safety to wide receiver. Junior Aaron Reed, a Silverado High graduate, moved from wide receiver to tight end. Senior Chris Jones, from Shadow Ridge High, worked at safety and linebacker. ... Defensive lineman Kjelby Oiland transferred to Montana, and safety Courtney Bridget left the team. ... Senior linebacker Nate Carter, a Las Vegas High graduate, will wear the "Battle Born" No. 36 jersey.

Contact reporter Mark Anderson at manderson@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2914.