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UNLV Rebels football spring preview: Linebackers

The Rebels have big shoes to fill.

NCAA Football: Jackson State at UNLV Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Ok, it’s time. We’ve got to talk about the subject that fans of Mountain West Conference teams typically cringe over. It’s time to talk about defense.

The 2017 installment of the UNLV Rebels football team is loaded offensively. We told you all about it last week.

It’s a much different story on the defensive side of the ball. Don’t get me wrong, the Rebels have a lot of potential. But if they have any shot at a bowl game this coming season, they’ll have to improve upon the 36.8 points per game they yielded last year, good for 11th in the Mountain West.

And they’ll have to do it without linebacker Tau Lotulelei. That will be no small feat. He went from walk-on in 2012 to All-MWC First Team last season. Give a read to his NFL Draft Profile to find out if he’ll be playing on Sundays.

Jacob Rominger

This is a name to be excited about. Rominger committed to UNLV last November after two seasons at Highland (Kansas) Community College.

The 6-foot-3, 225 pound sophomore linebacker collected 34 tackles, a sack, and two picks last season. He chose UNLV over Louisiana-Lafayette. Sanchez wants to win now and his commitment to recruiting junior college players is indicative of that.

Brian Keyes

Like Rominger, Keyes comes from the junior college ranks and will be expected to play an expanded role in 2017.

Keyes was a teammate of Will Kreitler at Scottsdale Community College before joining the Rebels last year. Second on the depth chart at the middle linebacker position he appeared in 12 games and logged 10 tackles. He should step into the role vacated by Ryan McAleenan.

Gabe McCoy

Among the more athletic defenders on the 2017 UNLV squad, the 6-foot-2, 215 McCoy was moved from defensive lineman to linebacker before last season.

Last season McCoy was number two on the depth chart after a hotly contested battle with Matt Lea in the spring. He’s better for it. Lea is now a graduate assistant at Fresno State, and McCoy will have the opportunity to further showcase what he can do. Expect him to turn into a big time contributor.

Bailey Laolagi

Laolagi was on the field as a freshman, and moved to second on the depth chart behind Lotulelei before last season.

The weak-side linebacker position may end up being the most heavily scrutinized as the season progresses. Fear not, Rebel fans. Laolagi is speedy and experienced, and will play an important part in contributing to the leadership of the UNLV linebacker corps.

The Freshmen

Sanchez has plenty of incoming talent to immediately challenge the above names for playing time, and some didn’t have to travel far.

Keep an eye on Farrell Hester. Sanchez recruited the 6-foot, 235 pound linebacker from Bishop Gorman, his former employer. Hester graduated after last season as the school’s all-time leading tackler.

Also, watch out for David Tate Jr. The redshirt is lifted, and this guy has the athleticism to make an impact on UNLV football for awhile. Rated as a three-star recruit, the Fresno product will add a dynamic to the Rebel defense that Sanchez has not yet seen.