Offensive transformation begins

Quarterbacks have plenty to think about, from reading defenses to avoiding blitzing linebackers.

But simply taking a snap shouldn’t be a cause for concern.

When a quarterback has been in the shotgun for so long, though, it’s easy to take the snap for granted. New UNLV offensive coordinator Rob Phenicie said he wants his players to work on the center-quarterback exchange before spring practices begin March 15.

It’s the start of the Rebels’ offensive transformation from the shotgun spread employed by former coach Mike Sanford to a multiple-scheme offense that will allow UNLV to run everything from a power two-back, two-tight end look to a spread-the-field, four-receiver set.

"We’re going to find out who’s tough and who wants to play football the way we feel it’s supposed to be played," Phenicie said.

Phenicie spent the past seven years at Montana under new Rebels coach Bobby Hauck, and it took the Grizzlies three years to complete a similar transformation from a shotgun offense.

Montana ranked second among Football Championship Subdivision schools with 35.8 points per game last season.

Phenicie has watched videotape of UNLV’s final four games from last season and is impressed with the returning talent from an offense that finished in the middle of the Mountain West Conference, averaging 351.2 yards and 24.8 points.

He is especially pleased with the quarterback situation. The Rebels return starter Omar Clayton and veteran Mike Clausen and add touted redshirt freshman Caleb Herring to the mix.

Clayton is not guaranteed to retain his starting job, but Phenicie said he has the early edge.

"Experience counts for a lot," Phenicie said. "It’s a matter of adjusting to a new system. I’m not going to go in and say it’s wide open. I imagine on the first day of spring ball Omar’s going to take the first snap. I don’t know that because we have to go through all our evaluations."

On the defensive side, coordinator Kraig Paulson hasn’t spent as much time watching replays of last year but said he would after the Feb. 3 signing day.

Paulson also is impressed with some returning players. Veterans such as linebackers Starr Fuimaono and Ronnie Paulo, tackle Isaako Aaitui and safety Alex De Giacomo will be back. The base defense will again use four down linemen.

Last season, the Rebels ranked last in the conference in yards allowed (456.2) and second to last in points allowed (32.4).

The defense seldom took chances. Paulson said UNLV’s new style will depend on the opponent, that in some games the defense will be aggressive and blitz.

His Montana defense found the right mix last season, leading the FCS with 37 takeaways, including 26 interceptions.

"We’re trying to have enough stuff in our package (to do both)," Paulson said.

Paulson will make the calls on game day, but he and J.D. Williams — the assistant head coach and pass defense coordinator — will share responsibilities in assembling the plan.

"I’ll have a little input there, too," said Hauck, whose background is on defense. "That’s how good staffs work."

• NEW DIGS — The Rebels no longer have the worst locker room in college football, as Sanford referred to it after his firing. UNLV installed 115 7-foot tall wood stalls — 3 feet higher than the previous ones — and new carpeting. South Point owner Michael Gaughan and his staff were largely responsible for the project, which cost more than $100,000 and began before last season, well before Sanford made his remark.

Contact reporter Mark Anderson at or 702-387-2914.

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