UNLV defensive coordinator Dennis Therrell prefers not to view Saturday’s season opener against Sacramento State as a player audition; it’s a football game, and winning is the priority.
But that doesn’t change the fact that there are personnel decisions to be made.
The Rebels still face uncertainty at safety, cornerback and tailback, and the 7 p.m. game at Sam Boyd Stadium could begin to answer some lingering questions.
Both safety spots are undecided.
Junior Alex De Giacomo and sophomore Chris Jones are the contenders at strong safety. De Giacomo signed early out of junior college and has impressed coaches since spring practice. Jones, who moved from quarterback last year, started twice and played in 11 games last season.
Jones, a Shadow Ridge High school graduate, is hungry to show he deserves the spot, saying, “I’ve got to push as hard as I can. This is my time to prove it.”
At free safety, junior Travis Dixon and senior Marquel Martin are listed as even. Neither has ever started. Dixon, like Jones, switched from quarterback before last season, but a right shoulder injury hampered his development. Injuries limited Martin to three games.
The situation at cornerback is a little clearer with sophomore Deante Purvis and junior Quinton Pointer winning starting jobs for at least this weekend. Their backups are junior college transfers Mike Grant and Warren Zeigler.
Though he didn’t arrive until this summer, Grant had an outstanding training camp, practicing with the first team in nickel and dime situations. Because of the number of spread teams that UNLV will face, the Rebels are expected to be in both defenses this season more often than their base 4-3 alignment.
“Sacramento State, by its nature, will put us in some nickel and dime, and as a result of that we will end up playing more people,” coach Mike Sanford said.
At tailback, junior Channing Trotter will start after using a strong camp to take advantage of the time sophomore C.J. Cox missed with a left hamstring injury.
“Now I’ve got the spot, I’m on a mission to prove to everybody I’m not just a fill-in,” Trotter said. “This is to continue to prove I am going to be the guy for the entire season. I’ve got to go out and play my best football and prove to everybody that I’m going to get the job done.”
Trotter could eventually face a battle from Cox, who is finally back to full strength. Coaches continue to ease him back into action, though, and it’s uncertain how much Cox will play Saturday.
He isn’t Trotter’s only competition, either. Behind him are senior Chris Brogdon and freshmen Imari Thompson and Bradley Randle.
“From the beginning, we’ve had five guys,” Sanford said. “They’ll probably all play.”
There is plenty on the line against Sacramento State besides just trying to win, and the competition doesn’t end after this weekend.
But, as Therrell noted, at least on defense, many backups should be a considerable part of UNLV’s game plans.
“We’ve got to have more out of those guys,” Therrell said. “They’ve come along. They’ve proven to us they can play, so they’ve got to go out there and contribute.”
• NOTES — The first 2,500 children 14 and younger at the gates Saturday will receive free sweatbands. … Sanford’s first radio show of the season is at 7 p.m. today on KWWN-AM (1100).
Contact reporter Mark Anderson at email@example.com or 702-387-2914. Read the latest UNLV football updates at lvrj.com/blogs/unlv_sports.