We are 24 hours away from the Nevada Wolf Pack’s 15th-and-final practice of the spring football season, which is wrapped up with the Silver and Blue game Saturday. It will be televised on Nevada Sports Net.
Here are three storylines I am looking out for ahead of the contest:
1. Which signal caller steps up behind Strong?
Starting quarterback and reigning Mountain West Player of the Year Carson Strong will not be play in Saturday’s scrimmage because he is still recovering from offseason knee surgery.
The four other quarterbacks on the Wolf Pack roster are: Nate Cox (Senior), Jake Barlage (Jr.), Jonah Chong (Soph.) and Hamish McClure (Jr.).
The two most likely to get the most reps are Cox and Barlage, who were second-and-third on the depth chart last season. Although they hardly saw the field because of the dominant, injury-free 2020 season that Strong had — there’s still competition for the backup quarterback spot. Cox, a former Garden City Community College transfer, attempted just two passes last season while the former three didn’t receive a single snap.
2. The newcomers in secondary
EJ Muhammad, arguably Nevada’s top corner in 2020, graduated. But head coach Jay Norvell was quick to fill the void in the secondary via the transfer portal. The Pack brought in South Florida transfer Bentlee Sanders, Wake Forest transfer Isaiah Essissima plus William and Mary transfer Miles Hayes.
Though he played just two years with the Demon Deacons, Essissima is eligible to play in 2021 because of the NCAA passing the one-time transfer rule. He has recorded just six career tackles in two years — all coming as a freshman in 2019.
Over the last two seasons, Sanders has recorded 65 tackles, seven tackles-for-loss, seven pass breakups, three interceptions and two sacks. Sanders adds value as a kick returner too — a spot where he earned All-Conference honors in 2018 — although it’s unsure whether Nevada deviates from Jamaal Bell and Isaac Jernagin in that role.
Though the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) didn’t play games in 2020, Hayes recorded 46 tackles, 1.5 tackles-for-loss, five pass breakups, three interceptions and one forced fumble in 2019.
Sanders, Essissima and Hayes could potentially thrust themselves into starting roles, joining All-Mountain West honorees BerDale Robins and the team’s second leading tackler in Tyson Williams.
3. Who stands out at receiver behind Doubs and Cooks?
It’s no secret that Nevada’s receiving corps are among the best — and deepest — position groups in the Mountain West Conference.
Doubs, a first-team All-Mountain West honoree, had a transcendent breakout campaign. Cooks, despite missing all but one half of the season due to shoulder surgery, returns after a dominant 2019 campaign and is still penciled in as a top-two receiver on this team. Like Strong, Cooks won’t play Saturday because he’s still recovering from the surgery.
That begs the question: Who steps up behind them?
For this exercise, I won’t include Cole Turner because he’s technically a tight end — although he’s the most feasible player to list.
That leaves to a few names: Melquan Stovall, Tory Horton, Jamaal Bell, Justin Lockhardt and Jernagin.
Though Stovall currently holds the crown, any of those former four aforementioned names could breach their way into becoming the third-best receiver this season. As I discussed in my season review for the offense, the Wolf Pack receiving core is an embarrassment of riches and opposing secondaries are going to be forced to pick their poison. Strong was willing to spread the wealth, and it might be generous to say that he will have a lot of options to choose from in the slot in 2021.