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2010 Preview: UNLV Rebels

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UNLV has been a perrenial loser, having losing seasons dating back to 2000. But the Rebels have fired the former idiot withheadset whose name was Mike Sanford and replaced him with a much more defensive minded coach in Bobby Hauck. Hauck's main focus this spring was to improve the defense and ground game - UNLV ranked 116th in rushing last year. The defense also had a very tough time in stopping the run. Hopefully Hauck can turn around a team that went 5-7 in the past two years into at least a bowl team over the next few years.

Offense

UNLV's offense is considered the strength of this team - even though they lost NFL Draft picks OL Joe Hawley and WR Ryan Wolfe to the Atlanta Falcons. They still return some pretty good talent, which includes the 1st team All-MWC receiver Phillip Payne. The offense's running game was where the real weakness was. Any team that finishes 116th in rushing must have some sort of issue. Hauck will try to fix that somewhat in his first year.

Quarterbacks

The QB situation is arguably the best competition at UNLV. Starter Omar Clayton is actually a very capable quarterback of running the option. Clayton has a strong arm and decent accuracy. His decision making isn't perfect, but with Clayton coming into his third year as the starting QB, experience of what decision to make should not be an issue. Another one of Clayton's issues has been injuries, Clayton has had major injuries in each of the past two years.

Junior Mike Clausenbacks him up and has seen considerable time when Clayton has been out with injuries. Clausen's issue shouldn't be experience, it's probably going to be accuracy. Clausentraditionally has been a bit of a step down from Clayton, but that should change in the coming years with much more experience and better mechanics. Hopefully this year is just a tune up year for Clausen, preparing for next year.

Lastly is the QB third on the depth chart - Redshirt Freshman Caleb Herring. When I went to this year's spring game, I was vastly impressed by his pocket presence, decision making and overall maturity. Unlike the other two QB's that Sanford brought in, Herring is more of a pocket passer instead of a dual threat QB. Caleb is more built for Hauck'sstyle of offense, pound the football 60% of the time and pocket pass 40% of the time. Herring shouldn't really do much this season other then improve his talents, not gaining much experience, being third on the depthchart. Depending on how much maturity Herring shows with the first team in next year's spring game, he just might pass up Clausen for the starting job.

Running Backs

As I have mentioned before, UNLVwas a horrible rushing team last year, and most of that issue was with the offensive line, who was tooled to pass protect - not run block. But regardless, the level of talent in the backfield could have been better. This year, UNLVreturns bothif its starting running backs and therefore should have some more experience and depthat the position. The strangest thing though was in the post-spring depthchart, last year's first string starter was put at third on the depth chart - behind Redshirt Freshman Bradley Randle and Junior C.J. Cox.

C.J. Cox won the starting job over Channing Trotter this spring for reasons that I really don't know. Cox doesn't have much experience, backing up Trotter for his first two seasons. Cox doesn't have much speed and worse vision than Trotter. The only thing I can think that would have won the job over for him was his toughness. Cox is more of a hard-nosed runner and seems like he would be built better for the "Pound the rock" scheme that Hauck uses. Cox probably will keep the job in fall camp, he just has to show some sort of experience to keep from letting Trotter gain it back.

Second on the depth chart came Redshirt Freshman Bradley Randle. Randle impressed me in particular at the spring game, showing more experience then came with the label of Redshirt Freshman. He ran the play action well as well as draw plays. He did show some quickness that turned two or three yard gains into five to seven yard gains, that will come in handy when he gets out on the field against a defense like Wisconsin's. Randle shouldn't have much time this coming year unless Cox gets hurt. Even if that does happen, Trotter will probably take Randle's spot because of the experience Trotter has. If he does get some time, don't be surprised if he impresses people by bumping the RB talent level up significantly.

ChanningTrotter, the returning starter for the unit, was put third on the depth chart, much to the surprise of Rebel fans alike. Trotter has shown breakaway speed at times but it is sketchy at best of when he will use it. His vision isn't very good either and that doesn't really help him use the breakaway speed he possesses. If he improves his vision in the fall camp, Trotter just might climb his way back up the depth chart and start against Wisconsin.

Wide Receivers

UNLV's wide receiver corps was no doubt it's best position last year, with Ryan Wolfe, UNLV's all-time best receiver, Phillip Payne, in his junior season after using his electrifying speed to just run right by people and Michael Johnson who had shown promise in the fall and spring camps. Well, Ryan Wolfe graduated as a senior and was drafted to the Atlanta Falcons. Both Phillip Payne and Michael Johnson return, giving speed on either edge and the slot (Johnson is the slot receiver on the post spring depth chart). Sophomore Mark Barefield takes Wolfe's place and probably won't live up to the stats of his predecessor.

Phillip Payne is the best talent on this year's team hands down. Payne has shown a lot of talent from when he first became a starter in 2008, a sophomore. Payne showed quckness, speed and good reads of a zone offense, finding the hole on option plays. Payne will probably be the center point of an offense that will need to produce this year in order to keep the score at least close in most of its games.

Mark Barefield didn't start last year as a True Freshman, but should still provide a somewhat threat. Barefield doesn't show much quckness, but does show flashes of speed. That would probably be the reason why Barefield is on the edge and not in the slot. If Coach Hauck can find a way to utilize that speed at least half of the passing plays during the game, the passing game should have no issues. Expect Barefield to have some spectacular deep balls but not many YAC.

Michael Johnson was put in the slot by Hauck because he does not have the speed needed to be on the edge, instead he has the quickness you need to play in the slot. Johnson has some electrifying moves, one of the reasons he is also the punt returner, and that should get him a lot of open opportunities during the game while the defense is still dealing with the speed of Payne and Barefield. Johnson should get most of his receiving yard from YAC and will probably be the one getting most of the first downs on third and long.

Tight Ends

The Tight End position was going to be considered one of UNLV's strengths this year until Junior Austin Harrington was shown above two year starter Kyle Watkins in the post-spring depth chart. The Tight End position is going to be key for a UNLV squad that struggle in run blocking last season. If they can utilize the Tight End to open up more holes for the running game, then the offense will thrive, stretching the field for a potent passing game.

Austin Harrington hasn't seen much time behind two year starter Kyle Watkins, but that isn't much of an issue to Coach Hauck, giving Harrington the thumbs up to start over Watkins. Harrington is a little bit taller than Watkins, but is also a little bit lighter. From the spring game I couldn't really tell whether he was a better blocker than Watkins but that might have been why Harrington is 1st on the post-spring depth chart. Hauck's style requires more blocking Tight Ends than receiving so with Hauck not having any previous knowledge of the two's talent, he must have taken a liking to Harrington. You won't see Harrington being the one with all the receptions.

Kyle Watkins is more of a receiving than blocking tight end, and that is probably why he finds himself not atop the depth chart at the end of the spring for the first time. Watkins has the speed of a slot receiver and yet can still block when asked to. Hauck likes to use a two tight end formation most of the time, so just because he isn't the number one Tight End, you will probably still see him out there catching passes out of the two tight end formation. This year will not be as productive as lasts, with the scheme requiring less passing and him going to be on the field less often.

Offensive Line

This year's offensive line could be considered experienced or not. Three returning starters are seniors while the newbies are sophomores with practically no experience. Both Tackles and the Center are going into their third season as starters, but have been trained to pass block under Mike Sanford's tenure. Hauck will try to change the philosophy from pass block to run block.

Matt Murphy will probably be a key piece in the blocking scheme, being a third year starter on the left edge. Murphy is considered the best run blocker out of the group while he is still a decent pass blocker. We should see a lot more of the runs to the left edge than the right.

Sophomore Jason Heath takes over the starting Left Guard spot as his first assignment. Heath won the job over Junior Thomas Wren in the spring and expect some healthy competition for the job come this fall. Heath probably will have to worry more about protecting the Quarterback than opening holes for a bad running game.

Senior John Gianninoto will be going into his third season snapping the ball to QB Omar Clayton. With that kind of chemistry, you shouldn't have to worry about bad snaps. Andrew Mack doesn't have much experience, but if he has to take over because of injuries, he should be sufficient, going into his sophomore year. Gianninoto is now more than capable of pass and run blocking for an offensive line that struggled greatly last year.

Sophomore Doug Zismann beat out Redshirt Freshman Daniel Kaanana to start at Right Guard. Zismann doesn't have much experience and that should definitely diminish the line's ability to have chemistry. Zismann should use this year to gain experience to help a line that will be very inexperienced next year.

Right Tackle Evan Marchel will have an advantage against defensive linemen with such giant size. Marchal, a senior, is a 3 year starter that is 6-7 and 320 pounds. Behind him is Sophomore Yusef Rodgers, who would be defenite size reduction - Rodgers is 6-2, 250 lbs. Marchel is going to be able to pass block consistently and bowl over any one in his path when run blocking.

Defense

UNLV finished last season ranked 115th in total defense. It's safe to say that the defense needs a lot of work, but with UNLV not returning much talent on defense, It will probably take another year before Hauck can truly create his swarming defense. The Line lost three of four starters, returning only Isaak Aaitui. The secondary is where the strength will be, we return all four starters and should have a lot of experience at that position. In the Linebacking core we have two of three returning starters. That is a lot of defensive experience, but not much talent.

Cornerbacks

Junior Will Chandler is going into his second year starting at the left cornerback position. Chandler wasn't exactly the playmaker needed at that position. He was basically a fill-in for the previous corner who had graduated. At the time there was no depth at the position and even though he wasn't capable of the starting job at the time, it was thrust upon him. That could be valuable experience when it comes to facing the likes of West Virginia, but his talent is still developing.

Senior Quinton Pointer is considered the second best player on the defense behind Defensive Tackle Isaak Aaitui. He's no Darrelle Revis, but he can cover long enough for Aaitui to get to the QB and record the sack. Pointer was a very fast receiver coming out of high school, but when he made it to UNLV, Sanford thought he would better fit cornerback because of his poor catching ability. Turns out Sanford made a good decision for once, having it work out with Pointer becoming an important part of the defense.

Free Safeties

Senior Mike Grant is coming out of the spring at the top of the depth chart. That's not really a surprise since the only other option was Redshirt Freshman Courtney Bridget. Grant played the position last year and will definitely be considered the starter since Bridget has no experience. Grant didn't play very well last year and that's mainly because he doesn't have the kind of talent that he should, but at least its improved over the last 4 years. Grant should be the starter at the end of the fall, period.

Redshirt Freshman Courtney Bridget shows good talent but obviously has no experience. Bridget should consider this another redshirt year in which he primarily gets better, but don't be surprised to see him playing well out there if Grant gets hurt. Bridget is quick and has good vision of where the ball is going to be going. Bridget shouldn't do much this year, but look out for him next year as he could be a big part of the defense for years to come.

Strong Safeties

Senior Alex De Giacomo came out of the spring atop the depth chart. Just like Mike Grant from the free safeties, it doesn't come much as a surprise with the man second on the depth chart being a redshirt freshman and third down is a Senior without much talent. De Giacomo wasn't the man with experience last year, starting for the first time as a junior, but that experience helps and now being a senior, his talent should be fully developed. De Giacomo should be somewhat better than last year, but his talent level isn't too high.

Redshirt Freshman John Therell is second on the depth chart. He shows some promise, but has zero experience and would be a step down from De Giacomo if he were to come on the field due to injury. Therell was not considered the top recruit, but when you have the redshirt label, your talents are better significantly. Therell should use this year to move towards maximizing his talents.

Senior Travis Dixon was not a bright spot for the Rebels recruiting class - in case you haven't noticed, he is a senior and is third on the depth chart, that has to mean something. Dixon hasn't been the starter his whole career and probably won't because this is his senior year. Dixon never really showed any promise or talent and that would be why Hauck has put him so low on the depth chart. Don't expect much out of this underacheiving recruit.

Middle Linebackers

3 year starter Ronnie Paulo is another bright spot for the UNLV defense. The Senior Middle Linebacker has ample experience and talent to play the position well and will definitely be a key to this defense's success. He has good vision and is quick to stop the run. In coverage he is very good at covering the middle of the field - where opponents usually had their with UNLV last season. Paulo should be an important part of a struggling defense.

Sophomore Travis Trickey will back up Paulo. Trickey is still going to be learning behind Paulo, but that will come in handy when next year he is starting as a junior. Trickey didn't have too much talent when he came to Las Vegas, but he's on his way to maximizing what talent he does have and next year he may be just enough to keep this defense on the right track. Trickey is going to have another learning year to deal with.

Outside Linebackers

On the weakside linebacker position, we have Nate Carter, a junior who is going to be starting in his 2nd year. Carter is also considered a big part of a bad defense, but most would argue it is not his fault. He's mainly a run stopper instead of a coverage linebacker mainly because of his size. Carter should be an important part of piecing together a broken puzzle.

On the strong side we have Calvin Randleman who is going to be starting his first year this year as a senior. You may be wondering why he wasn't starting before, it was mainly because the man ahead of him by a year had more talent and experience then him. Randleman is the opposite of Carter, a coverage linebacker who doesn't stop the run very often mainly because of his size. Randleman shouldn't really be a bright spot for a defense with serious issues a year ago.

Defensive Line

Senior Defensive end Dainel Mareko is a first year starter at the top of the post spring depth chart. He has amazingly small size for a defensive lineman - 6-3 245 pounds. I would assume that Mareko's only weapon would be speed since he has such small size for a defensive end. Mareko might be the key to keeping the offense line working, Aaitui already commands attention and if Mareko can too, then we should be in good shape as far as the defensive line is.

Senior Isaak Aaitui is a three year starter at defensive tackle and is really the focal point of this defense. Aaitui possess huge size, 6-4 315 pounds, and normally commands a double team. Aaitui could have a breakout senior season if someone else also requires a double team. Aaitui should be a force along the defensive line for the Rebels, the question is will someone else step up and free him up?

The other defensive tackle is one with massive size of 6-2 and 350 pounds. Ramsey Feagai is a three year starter along the line and is another huge force for the Rebels. His only issue has really been speed, he's normally able to get around the blocker in 2 or 3 seconds, but then isn't fast enough to get to the QB in time for the sack, so he hasn't been much of a threat. If Feagai can finally find a way to utilize that massive size, then the defensive line could be a real force for the Rebels.

At the other defensive end is yet another Senior in Preston Brooks. Brooks has decent size at 6-3 and 280 pounds, but his real strength comes from speed. Brooks has traditionally been a quick pass rushing defensive end and that definitely helps. Brooks shouldn't be much of a threat against good offensive linemen and that is where the issue will come for the Rebels.

Special Teams

The strangest thing coming out of the spring was that every position on special teams other than kick and punt returners were TBA. The probable reason of this is that the senior kicker Ben Jaekele broke his ankle and they don't know if redshirt freshman walk-on Nolan Kohorst is going to have to carry the whole load or not. Regardless, we do have the ability to talk about the kick a punt returners at the moment.

Michael Johnson is going to be the punt returner for 2010 and that makes perfect sense. Johnson is very quick and can easily turn a fair catch into a 10 or 12 yard return. Now where the issue is going to come in is blocking so that he will at least have time to set up his return. I noticed at the spring game that even on booming punts Johnson was met by the defense almost immediately and just couldn't get any time to return the punt.

Deante' Purvis and Marcus Sullivan will be returning kickoffs this year. For Sullivan it's going to be his only job this year, he is a speedy Wide Receiver that seems to be built for kickoff returns. Sullivan is a True Freshman and will be very into his role as a kickoff return man. Purvis is going into his second year at the position, playing as a junior. Purvis, a cornerback, is a mix between quickness and speed which is why he is made for kickoff returns more than punt returns.

5 Players to Watch

I've already gone through an analysis of each one of these players so I will list their position so that if you want to get an analysis of them again you can just look for their position and find the player.

Phillip Payne

Quinton Pointer

Omar Clayton

Ronnie Paulo

Isaak Aaitui

Best Case Scenario

UNLV goes 7-6 going to a bowl game for the first time since 2000 in Coach Hauck's first year at UNLV.

Worst Case Scenario

UNLV goes 0-12 and we begin wondering why we even hired Bobby Hauck as our head coach.

What Should Happen

I would really love to see the best case scenario play out, but that probably won't happen. Neither will the worst case scenario though as well. I'm expecting a 5-8 or 6-7 season for Hauck's first year. I know that's a little pessimistic, but it probably is what's going to happen with such a tough schedule ahead of them.

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