While the UNLV Rebels will kick off the 2017 season with explosive talent at the “skill” positions it may end up being the offensive line that ties everything together.
Tony Sanchez will need impressive performances all season long from his front line if he’s going to protect prized recruit, freshman quarterback Armani Rogers. If the Rebels are going to reach their first bowl game since 2014, it will everything to do with how Rogers performs under center. His performance will have everything to do with his protection.
Based on the strength of this offensive line, the Rebel faithful can allow themselves to dream of a trip to the just the fifth bowl game in school history. It’s a talented group, but more importantly, it’s a veteran group. Here are the five names you should know.
Saxelid is a fifth-year senior left tackle and the leader of the Rebels offensive line. At 6-foot-6, 290, Rogers is a lot better off with this guy at starting at left tackle for the first year of his UNLV career.
He’ll also help pave the way for the talented stable of UNLV running backs we covered in our preview last week. Saxelid is only getting bigger and better. Between years two and three he put on twenty pounds. Not long ago, the Rebel offensive line was a major liability. As Sanchez puts it, “We would have taken anybody out of the student section the first year.” Today Saxelid has played an important role into turning the Rebel line into one of its top strengths.
Acosta is a 6-foot-1, 305 pound junior college transfer from Riverside Community College. He’ll be tasked with helping fill in at center for Will Kreiter, lost to graduation. That will be no small feat, Kreiter was UNLV’s best lineman last season, and arguably one of the best in the nation.
So far, so good for Acosta. Saxelid is impressed, and at practice Sanchez went out of his way to make clear that Acosta isn’t walking in like a dewy-eyed freshman.
“We have a great group of guys right now that we feel we can lean on. And Sid’s an older guy, too. It’s not like he’s a freshman being inserted into it, he’s a junior college transfer just like Will Kreitler was, and Will was our best lineman for two straight years.”
Justin Polu returns to the Rebels after starting on the UNLV offensive line as a freshman last season. The Henderson, NV product was rated as the number five Nevada recruit when he arrived at UNLV in 2015.
And he’s a tremendous talent. At 6-foot-4, 325 pounds, he’s as tough and as physical as they come. It took one spring practice in his UNLV career for Polu to be named number one on the depth chart. Barring injury, that looks unlikely to change anytime soon.
Junior right tackle Nathan Jacobson was starting games as a freshman when he arrive at UNLV. As a junior he’ll be the everyday option at that position, and like all Rebel offensive lineman, he’ll need to be in top form while Acosta is learning the ropes.
There’s no reason to think that Jacobson can’t be as successful as his line-mates. 6-foot-5, 280 pounds, and a smart player. UNLV fans can feel good about the right guard position.
Like Acosta, Chevalier was at one time a junior college transfer. He went from San Diego Mesa College to UNLV and immediately claimed the starting spot.
But it may no longer be his. Jaron Caldwell looks to be the go-to option at right guard for the 2017 Rebels. Caldwell as 25 pounds on Chevalier and is the more athletic player. That said, the leadership of Chevalier is a quality that should not go ignored. Keep an eye on these two moving forward, as right guard should be one of the most hotly contested positions for the Rebels.