First-year UNLV defensive line coach Andre Patterson knew he wasn’t in the NFL anymore when his players began showing up in his office on off days to watch videotape.
“They ask intelligent questions to let you know they’ve bought into what you’re teaching,” said Patterson, an assistant for five NFL clubs between 1997 and 2006. “I know it has shown out here on the field.
“I’ve been 11 years away from college football, and it’s been refreshing to be around guys that are eager to learn and listen to every word that comes out of your mouth and are begging you for more.”
The defensive linemen have turned Patterson’s words into action. Coach Mike Sanford said that unit’s play has been the highlight of the spring.
But the line has an advantage going against an offensive line without three key members who are injured.
“They’re playing fast, and they’re playing hard, and they’re getting off blocks, and they’re hard to block,” Sanford said.
That kind of play was underscored in last Friday’s scrimmage when sophomore tackle Malo Taumua earned the black jersey for being the top performer, and nominees included senior end Thor Pili, senior tackle Jacob Hales and sophomore tackle Isaako Aaitui.
Hales has won the black jersey a team-high three times.
• CLEARER PICTURE — The three-man quarterback race has become a two-person battle with sophomores Omar Clayton and Travis Dixon separating from redshirt freshman Mike Clausen.
Dixon started the first seven games last season before giving way to Clayton, who started the next three before breaking his right hand.
“I think that Travis Dixon has improved, and I think it’s a very, very close competition,” Sanford said.
• INJURY UPDATE — When redshirt freshman defensive lineman Justin McCrory wobbled around the field at the scrimmage, it looked as if he had a concussion.
Turns out, he injured his neck. Still, doctors feared he had spinal stenosis, which means a narrowing of spaces in the spine. Sanford said it is narrow in two areas but not so severe that McCrory can’t return. He could be back next week but might miss the rest of spring.
• ANOTHER SCRIMMAGE — The Rebels practice at 6 p.m. today, then conduct an open scrimmage at about 7 at Rebel Park.
Contact reporter Mark Anderson at email@example.com or 702-387-2914.