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Plenty of question marks punctuate Rebels’ training camp experience in Ely

ELY — UNLV broke its eastern Nevada training camp Tuesday morning and headed back to Las Vegas with plenty accomplished and plenty to be hopeful about.

The Rebels also take home plenty of lingering questions and concerns, which need to be addressed before the Aug. 30 season opener against Utah State at Sam Boyd Stadium.

Coach Mike Sanford was more pleased than disappointed with the team’s third annual trip to Ely.

"I think we’ve improved as a football team," he said.

In particular, Sanford cited improvements on run defense and special teams.

The Rebels need to upgrade their run defense to have a chance of improving on last season’s 2-10 record. They were seventh among nine Mountain West Conference teams, allowing 183.6 rushing yards per game.

There are promising signs. UNLV’s defensive line shined in camp, just as it did in spring practices, and the unit appears to have depth, unlike in previous seasons. The starting linebackers also have shown promise but could suffer from a lack of depth.

UNLV’s special teams were among the worst in the conference last season, and the Rebels have worked a lot to improve in this area.

The kicker and punter jobs remain open, but Bonanza High School graduate Ben Jaekle has been booming kickoffs into the end zone. Michael Johnson has shown flashes of becoming a standout return man. But whether UNLV can properly cover a kickoff or punt return remains to be seen.

The Ely trip has brought the team closer.

"Our team really enjoys being together much more than any year since I’ve been here," Sanford said.

Tailback Frank Summers agreed. After a year in the program, he said he feels more comfortable cajoling a teammate or getting on his case to help move the team forward.

"I’m a say-what-I-see kind of guy," Summers said.

It’s plain to see that many questions remain for the Rebels.

In addition to kicker and punter, UNLV has many undecided positions, such as the backup tailbacks. Channing Trotter, C.J. Cox and Imari Thompson will play, but who gets the bulk of carries behind Summers remains to be seen.

"We may go into the season like that and see what happens in games," Sanford said.

It’s the same at wide receiver, where spots three through six need to be filled. Candidates include Rodelin Anthony, Phillip Payne of Western High School, Johnson, Jerriman Robinson, Tate Knutson and Gerold Rodriguez.

Tight end has been hard to judge because of injuries. Ryan Worthen of Palo Verde High has been working as the starter, with only Kyle Watkins behind him right now because of injuries to backups Luke Plante (concussion), Alex Young (shoulder) and Austin Harrington (leg).

"We haven’t been able to look at the whole group," Sanford said. "We’ve got to determine who our (Nos.) 1, 2, 3, 4 are there."

At safety, Daryl Forte is the clear starter at one spot, but the other one is not as secure. Wiselet Rouzard is the leader based on experience, but he’s being pushed by newcomers Terrance Lee and Chris Jones, a Shadow Ridge High graduate.

"I think I did pretty good," said Jones, who switched from quarterback. "I had one week to learn the entire playbook. I don’t know the entire thing in and out yet, but I’m definitely on the path to get that done."

The starting cornerbacks are Geoffery Howard and Quinton Pointer. But Pointer has a dislocated left elbow and Sanford won’t know until next week whether he will be available for the season opener.

Pointer has missed almost the entire camp, so even if he plays, he might not be in top physical condition. Will Chandler, Deante Purvis and Ryan Tillman are competing to take Pointer’s place.

Purvis would be the most intriguing choice. He walked on after getting his academics in order, and Sanford is convinced he stole a Pacific-10 Conference-type recruit because UNLV stayed patient while Purvis became eligible.

"He’s a fast, quick guy," Sanford said.

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

CAMP REPORT

TEMPERATURES AT 9:20 A.M.

ELY LAS VEGAS

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