The UNLV defense has been the weakness of the Rebels for some time, and opponents have exploited it in every which way. When Mike Sanford was the head coach of UNLV, he payed no attention to defense and as a result, UNLV's offense thrived in his spread system while the defense was absolutely atrocious. Hauck has made it clear from day one that fixing the Rebels defensive woes would be one of his main priorities. The problem is that in order to do that, he's going to need to bring in some personnel, not just change the schemes.
Last season, UNLV's defense was simply horrible. The Rebels gave up an average of 39.7 points per game and 450.5 yards per game. UNLV gave up 2,961 yards through the air as well as 2,895 on the ground. It's pretty easy to tell that offenses toyed with UNLV in every which way, but that could change in the near future.
When I say "change" I don't mean an immediate improvement into a lockdown defense, but rather some major improvements in places where UNLV had major weaknesses last season (pretty much everywhere). You see, when Coach Hauck took the head job last season, he got a late start in recruiting and thus was not able to get his kind of players to commit to the Rebels.
This time around, Hauck got in a full recruiting class and got some talent in key positions on the defensive side of the ball. The Front Seven for UNLV was lacking in size and strength last season, something normally found in a front seven. This past recruiting class, Coach Hauck recruited many Junior College players with size and who are ready to start almost immediately, particularly along the front seven. Depending on how quickly these players move through the ranks, they may be able to make an impact in run defense quite soon.
One player in particular that just joined UNLV this past recruiting class that could make a considerable impact would be OLB Princeton Jackson. Jackson came from Blinn College (Yes, the same college that Cam Newton won the JC National Championship with), and was a three and a half star prospect. Jackson became a favorite among fans with this statement:
"We went to basketball game against New Mexico on my visit and I saw how passionate those fans are there," said Jackson, a three-star prospect by Rivals.com. "When we start winning, they'll have the same passion for football.
I have to say that I would agree with that statement. Las Vegas is very much a fairweather fan town. Most people quite simply aren't going to follow a team if they aren't relevant. Winning, and winning consistently over the next few years, would definitely create some passionate UNLV football fans. That is totally open for discussion in the comments by the way.
As far as the secondary goes, they weren't much better than the front seven last season. As was previously mentioned, UNLV gave up 2,961 yards through the air last season and that quite simply won't get the job done. If UNLV is to win more games than they did last season, they are going to have cut that amount down considerably. Luckily, they get back Quinton Pointer after having miss all of last season after an injury in fall camp of 2010.
Pointer is a cornerback who has been thought of as NFL-level talent by many and hopefully that shows up on the field this season when he returns. Along with Pointer, Will Chandler returns for his senior year. Chandler had five interceptions and a fumble recovery last season. If he can even just recreate the kind of help he gave at cornerback last season, it would be a big help to the Rebels.
While the cornerbacks may be the best they have been in a while, the safeties aren't exactly there yet. Last season, there was a flurry of players who started at a safety position and it really hasn't been cleared up as to who exactly will be starting. The frontrunners heading into fall camp, Tajh Hasson and Eric Tuiloma-Vaa, sure won't have much experience, as Hasson is a redshirt freshman and Tuiloma is a sophomore. The safety position definitely will be a weak point for the Rebels this season as they most likely won't have the talent or experience to matchup with their tough schedule this season.
Unless UNLV's safeties and interior defensive line are able to grow up in a hurry, expect more deep passes to go over the Rebels' heads and expected more between-the-tackles runs to go for big gains. With some good talent looking to replace the seniors at defensive end, cornerback, and linebacker, UNLV's defense could be much better in 2012 than it was in 2010, but for 2011 expect some minor improvements overall.