Coach John Robinson was calling student body right and defensive coordinator Mike Bradeson was ordering safety blitzes for Jamaal Brimmer the last time UNLV fielded anything close to a decent defense.
That was a long time ago, the early 2000s, and now the idea of a quality Rebels defense seems as unimaginable as living without smartphones and HD television.
Coach Bobby Hauck, who spent his career on the defensive side before taking over as Montana’s head coach in 2003, wants UNLV’s defense to catch up to the times. He knows the Rebels, who open spring practices today, must do so if they are to turn around the program.
Or at least give their offense a chance.
Hauck changed coordinators, promoting J.D. Williams to take over for Kraig Paulson, who remains on staff as the outside linebackers coach.
Whether there will be any significant stylistic changes remains to be seen. Williams said he wants to be aggressive when appropriate, but is more concerned about returning to basics.
“Keeping things simple so they can play fast and really putting it on us to become better teachers,” Williams said. “We’ve got some good coaches in that room, but ultimately it’s what’s showing up on film. If what we’re teaching is not showing up on film, we’ve got to go back and evaluate what happened, starting with us first and see where we can go from there.”
Williams has quite a project on his hands trying to improve a defense that allowed per-game averages of 40.4 points and 443.2 yards last season. The Rebels hadn’t given up that kind of scoring average since allowing 45.9 points in 1996.
The Rebels have allowed more than a 30-point average in every season except one since 2004, and they’ve given up more than a 400-yard average the past four.
Hauck and Williams aren’t under the illusion that the defense will make a dramatic improvement this season. Not after years of struggles. Maybe, though, there will be some noticeable steps so that if even if the defense isn’t an asset, it’s not a major liability, either.
UNLV must replace end James Dunlap, linebacker Nate Carter and defensive backs Quinton Pointer and Daniel Harper. Key returning players include junior tackles Tyler Gaston and Nate Holloway, senior linebacker Princeton Jackson, junior linebacker Tani Maka and junior cornerback Sidney Hodge.
Redshirt freshman cornerback Fred Wilson showed promise in training camp last season. Senior safety Dre Crawford, who originally signed with Minnesota, should be cleared to play after being ruled academically ineligible.
“It takes time to put it all together,” Hauck said. “I’m tired of saying we’re a young football team, but look at the depth chart. Facts are facts. But I like the guys we’ve got coming back on defense.”
■ NOTE — UNLV will practice Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at Rebel Park, with most practices from 3:45 to 6 p.m. The spring game is April 20 at 5 p.m. at the practice fields. Practices are open to the public, but cellphones cannot be used.
Contact reporter Mark Anderson at email@example.com or 702-387-2914. Follow him on Twitter: @markanderson65.