UNLV’s starting defense continued its excellent spring, shining in this morning’s scrimmage at Rebel Park.
Safety Travis Dixon recorded one sack, and defensive end Isaako Aaitui and defensive tackle Malo Taumua combined for another. Several defenders broke up passes.
“I thought our No. 1 defense played very well today,” coach Mike Sanford said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do with our No. 2 defense. As we know from last year, there are times when guys go down, and we’ve got to have guys that step in and step up for them. That’s something we’ve got to improve.”
Sanford said he was pleased to see the No. 1 defense win a third-down competition against the second-team offense, and the first-string offense beat the No. 2 defense on the same drill.
Rodelin Anthony came on strong at the end of last season when fellow wide receiver Phillip Payne went down with a second concussion, and Anthony showed he is ready to compete for more playing time.
He caught three passes for 63 yards, including a 12-yard touchdown from quarterback Mike Clausen.
“The competition is crazy right now,” Anthony said. “We have tons of great receivers. Even the young guys are stepping up tremendously, faster than what we all even anticipated.”
Despite another subpar scrimmage by statistical standards, Clayton is having an excellent spring. Scrimmages are hard to read because certain areas might receive extra attention that can skew numbers, and Clayton completed 2 of 9 passes for 25 yards during the gamelike part of the practice. Later in the controlled part of the scrimmage, he completed a 50-yard scoring pass to Payne.
Clausen was 5 of 9 for 72 yards and a touchdown.
Numbers aside, Clayton said this spring has a different feel to it for the entire team.
“We’re closer to being game-ready than we were last year,” Clayton said. “I definitely feel since we’ve been out here, even from the get-go, if we needed to we can go and play a game. I feel like we’ve only improved since then.”
PUSHING FOR TIME
Chris Brogdon moved past Channing Trotter into the No. 2 spot at tailback, but Trotter showed he isn’t ready to cede any ground on one 17-yard tackle-breaking run.
C.J. Cox, who sits at No. 1 on the depth chart, let it be known he didn’t plan to go anywhere with a 16-yard touchdown run.
“We’ve kind have got a fluid situation at running back,” Sanford said. “All those guys got chances with the ones, they got chances with the twos, and they got chances with the threes today.”
The position will becoming even more crowded in August when freshman Bradley Randle arrives.
CORNERING THE SECONDARY
The Rebels usually use safeties as nickel backs, but they could have a healthy number of quality cornerbacks next season. Though Terrance Lee, a safety last season who can play cornerback, is the nickel back now, Sanford said he expects to use cornerbacks to play the nickel and dime positions often.
Sanford also pointed out the new coaches at New Mexico and Wyoming run spread offenses, so his team will be in nickel and dime defenses more often.
“You can conceivably have four corners in the game at once,” Sanford said. “And the more corners you have, the more flexibility it gives you as far as the matchups on spread teams.”
Will Chandler and Warren Zeigler are having excellent springs, and Deante Purvis shows promise as well. Quinton Pointer hasn’t practiced this spring because of shoulder surgery, and his return in August will be a major boost. The Rebels also welcome junior college transfer Mike Grant and freshmen Charles Childers and Courtney Bridget.
“I think we’re probably going to end up three-deep at corner, which is what you need to be,” Sanford said. “You can be close to being four-deep on one side.”
IN THE BLACK
Guard Joe Hawley (offense) and tackle Martin Tevaseu (defense) wore the black jerseys for being the standout practice players on Wednesday. The nominees were offensive tackle Matt Murphy, linebacker Jason Beauchamp and Chandler.
TO THE HIGH DESERT
Graduate assistant coach Andy LaRussa had his last practice today. He will join Northern Arizona’s staff on Sunday.
The Rebels are off next week for spring break. They return April 13 at 4 p.m. for the final week of spring drills. The spring game is April 15. All practices are open to the public.