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With starting QB settled, UNLV depth shaping up in trenches

ELY – UNLV usually has a lot to decide when it brings its football team here to escape the brutal Las Vegas summer heat and train in the 6,437-foot altitude.

At least that was the case the first six times the Rebels made the trip.

The seventh, this time, was different.

UNLV’s starting lineup was mostly settled before preseason practices began Aug. 7 at Rebel Park.

Even the headline position, quarterback, had all the intrigue of a Kevin James movie. Redshirt freshman Nick Sherry ran the first-team offense in the “team” portion of practices, making the announcement he won the job almost anticlimactic.

Coach Bobby Hauck acknowledged more pieces were in place this camp.

“We’ve got more general football knowledge on the team,” he said. “I think part of that is attitude, too. The attitude’s just awesome.”

But, Hauck said, that doesn’t mean questions don’t exist as practices move back to Rebel Park in advance of the team’s opener against Minnesota on Aug. 30 at Sam Boyd Stadium.

“I don’t think you ever have a real good answer about your team, even when you’ve got a veteran team, till you get to October,” Hauck said. “It’s an evolving process for everybody.”

Which leads to answering the questions posed before the Rebels left town.

1. Who will be the starting quarterback?

Hauck ended any speculation Tuesday when he named Sherry the starter for UNLV’s opener.

The Rebels still likely will need junior Caleb Herring, considering the offense is in the hands of a first-year player. Also, the terms “UNLV” and “healthy quarterback” don’t often go together.

2. How will the running back position shake out?

Junior Tim Cornett is the unquestioned starter. The uncertainty is how it lines up behind him.

Sophomore Dionza Bradford figured to make a real run at No. 2 – and he still could – but sprained his right ankle on the first day of full pads. He’s working his way back into the mix, and no one would be shocked if he’s sharing carries with Cornett by the end of the season.

Junior Bradley Randle has an excellent chance to grab a big chunk of playing time early in the season, and he could be a valuable back.

Senior Eric Johnson is a running back/wide receiver who has been set back by injury. But Hauck likes his versatility and play-making ability, so expect Johnson to be a factor.

3. Will the Rebels develop depth on both lines?

UNLV appears to be able to play eight players on the offensive line, which returns every starter.

“That’s our goal is to get to eight,” Hauck said. “I’d love to have 10, to be flat across two-deep, but I don’t think there are that many people in the country that are there, either, at that position.”

Defensively, this could be the Rebels’ deepest line in years. UNLV goes two deep across, and when redshirt freshman Sonny Sanitoa returns sometime during the season from a left knee injury, the line will get an even bigger boost.

4. Will UNLV field an aggressive defense?

Probably not in terms of constant blitzes. That’s not this coaching staff’s style.

But this defense might not need to, if camp was any indication. The Rebels sent plenty of pressure with their base set, which allowed the secondary to spend less time in man-to-man.

“Those guys are getting after it up front,” defensive coordinator J.D. Williams said. “They’re ready to go. We’re beating up on each other. We’re ready to beat somebody else up.”

Contact reporter Mark Anderson at manderson@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2914. Follow him on Twitter: @markanderson65.

 

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