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UNLV football defense stocked, hopefully loaded with new talent

Updated February 25, 2019 - 11:21 pm

Vic Viramontes isn’t trying to sneak into the background and quietly work his way into a major role for UNLV next football season.

He posed as “Vegas Vic” on the Dec. 19 signing day, making it clear that he planned to make a name for himself.

Maybe Viramontes, a prized three-star recruit out of Riverside (Calif.) City College who had several Power Five conference offers, will live up to his own hype. “We’re expecting him to be as good as he says he is,” coach Tony Sanchez said of the middle linebacker.

UNLV, which opened spring practices Monday at Rebel Park, needs more than Viramontes to produce on defense. A look at the high number of newcomers wearing defensive red practice jerseys made that clear.

Of the seven junior college transfers, five were on that side of the ball. Of the five freshmen who enrolled early, four are defensive players.

The Rebels allowed 37.2 points and 454.2 yards per game last season, which of course isn’t a new problem. They haven’t given up fewer than 30 points and 400 yards per game since 2007.

Many efforts have been made to improve the defense since then, including a year ago when Tim Skipper was hired as coordinator. Now coaches hope the influx of these new players, as well as those who redshirted last season and the returning veterans, will make the difference between going to a bowl and sitting out the postseason.

The 6-foot-2-inch, 230-pound Viramontes said he’s ready for the challenge.

“I think we have a lot of talent on this defense,” he said. “We got day one done. We’ve got to continue through all these practices, get in the weight room (Tuesday), but this defense has a lot of potential. The defensive staff here is going to coach us up and get us in the right plays.”

He is one of three new players competing at linebacker this spring, joining freshmen Kyle Beaudry and Jacoby Windmon. Beaudry played at Liberty High School.

The Rebels’ most pressing need is in the secondary, where they gave up 267.6 yards passing per game and 29 touchdowns. Opposing quarterbacks also completed 59.1 percent of their throws.

“Last year, one of our biggest Achilles’ heels was giving up some big plays,” Sanchez said. “If we’re better in the back end, we’re going to be a better football team.”

There is hope for improvement, with seniors Jericho Flowers at cornerback and Evan Austrie at safety having combined for eight pass breakups last season. Junior Drew Tejchman converted from wide receiver to safety, making a late-season positive impression there.

“He’s a strong, explosive kid, and he looked really good back there today,” Sanchez said of Tejchman.

Junior college transfer Aaron Lewis is competing for time in the secondary, particularly at nickel back.

“I feel like this team is very competitive, which I like,” Lewis said. “I just hope to get better. For the first day, I felt like we did good overall. We were fast to the ball as well.

“For me personally, (coaches) just tell me to go out and work hard. There’s no guarantee for me. I’m going to have to work hard for everything. Nothing’s going to be handed to me.”

Contact Mark Anderson at manderson@reviewjournal.com. Follow @markanderson65 on Twitter.

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