UNLV’s defense must have thought it was trying to stop quarterback Colin Kaepernick and UNR in the first week of spring practices.
The Rebels’ offensive players produced bunches of big plays, much like the Wolf Pack did the past two seasons against their archrival.
But now, in Week 3 of the four-week spring session, UNLV’s defense at least looks as if it knows what it is doing. Players are consistently in place to stop screen passes, force difficult throws downfield and mostly bottle up the running game.
“The terminology is simpler, and it gives the chance for guys to fly around,” senior linebacker Starr Fuimaono said.
Defensive coordinator Kraig Paulson said keeping the system simple makes it easier for the players to adjust under a new staff.
“If you’re lined up right and you stay lined up after the snap,” Paulson said, “you’ve got a chance.”
Coaches have done more than effectively teach the system. They made changes during last week’s spring break, switching junior Chris Jones and senior Calvin Randleman from defensive back to linebacker, senior Mike Grant from cornerback to safety and Fuimaono from strongside to weakside linebacker.
The changes created a faster and more athletic defense, an issue that has plagued the Rebels, especially against speedy offenses.
Paulson and coach Bobby Hauck said their goal is simply to put the best players on the field at the same time while also developing quality depth.
“We’re not going to have a safety playing noseguard,” Paulson said. “But when you talk about a general area on the field, like a coverage linebacker and a safety, they’re not that far apart.
“The other thing about defense is injuries are part of the game. You’re going to need numbers.”
But how much can coaches really accomplish this year? Their first recruiting class arrives in August to join a unit that has struggled badly in recent seasons, and it might take another class or two for the defense to go from a liability to an asset.
The Rebels allowed more than a 30-plus-point average five of the past six seasons, including 32.4 last year.
UNLV’s defense reacted rather than acted, seldom challenging opposing offenses with anything other than some zone blitzes.
Defenders were routinely out of place, especially against Kaepernick and UNR, which over the past two seasons scored a combined 112 points, including last year’s 63-28 drubbing in which the Wolf Pack gained 773 yards.
The Rebels see Kaepernick & Co. again Oct. 2 at Sam Boyd Stadium.
It’s a long time between now and then, but in early April, UNLV defensive players at least seem to know what they’re doing.
“You can see it from the way guys chase the ball,” senior linebacker Ronnie Paulo said. “They won’t even be in the play, and they’ll be chasing the ball. Guys just want to make plays.”
Contact reporter Mark Anderson at
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HELMET STICKER: Redshirt freshman tailback Bradley Randle had a 67-yard touchdown run and a 45-yard gain.
NEWS AND NOTES: Among the more notable players practicing with the first-team defense were senior linebacker Calvin Randleman, senior safety Mike Grant and senior cornerback Warren Zeigler. … Redshirt freshman safety Courtney Bridget (ankle) returned to practice. Senior defensive tackle Malo Taumua (illness) did not practice. … Former UNLV tailback Frank Summers, now a fullback for the Pittsburgh Steelers, attended practice.
COACH-SPEAK: “I think we’re making progress. I like the work the guys are giving us. I still think we’ve got a long way to go. Now, if we’re going to own up to our schedule, we’ve got vast improvement to make. It’s a fact of life for us. We’ve got to face that fact. We’ve got to keep grinding.” — Coach Bobby Hauck
WHAT’S NEXT: UNLV returns to Rebel Park at 3 p.m. Friday for a scrimmage.