Due to the wholesale change in coaching staff this offseason, ushering in new schemes, UNLV is probably more profitably studied not for what will be different in 2010, but what will be the same. Remember, outgoing head coach Mike Sanford was the offensive guru who learned the spread at the feet of Urban Meyer, but couldn't make it work in Las Vegas. Incoming coach Bobby Hauck is a defensive guy, who prefers to keep the ball (a) on the ground, (b) as long as possible, and (c) to take it away from the other team as often as possible. Flashy? Not really; but Hauck would rather line up the ws then wows, even though both have been lacking in Las Vegas for longer than the Wimple dares remember.
But first Hauck and his coaches (predominantly fellows who followed him from Montana) had to line up athletes for this year's freshman class. They worked the Nevada schools diligently, signing eleven Nevada players, including local star Taylor Spencer, and also four Texans, including Houston speedster Tim Cornett and D/FW quarterback Taylor Barnhill. Because no freshman stood out this spring, the first fall question will be: which of these freshmen may see playing time in 2010? TE recruits Jordan Sparkman and Anthony Vidal hope to see the field more than they might have under Sanford's spread; Hauck's new OC Rob Phenicie like to use tight ends to bolster his ground game. Which bodes well, as well, for incoming freshmen Vandrell Sullivan, Dionza Bradford, and Tim Cornett, each of whom ran the ball in high school. Of the three, only Sullivan is early enrolled (?). C. J. Cox still leads the depth chart after spring ball, ahead of Brandon Randle and Channing Trotter.
The second gnawing question in Las Vegas this fall will be: Can UNLV's new coaches develop defensive players? Sanford's crew's inability to do so resulted in their ouster. They bequeath to the new staff a senior-heavy defensive roster. If Kraig Paulson (the DC) can get the team to perform at even just a slightly better level, UNLV may be the MWC's surprise of 2010. Paulson likes LBs Starr Fuimaono, Ronnie Paolo, senior Calvin Randleman (right), DT Isaako Aaitui, and safety Alex De Giacomo. They'll be the core returners in 2010. Hauck says the team needs more athletes on defense, however. Multi-year starter DT Malo Tuamua may be done for his career, having torn his ACL at the end of spring. JUCO Transfer Nate Holloway may press Ramsey Feagai for first-team snaps, if he can get into better football shape by fall drills.
Finally, the Rebels are trying to master a different style of ball; the tight ends and runningbacks love it-- they get to tote the rock a lot more than they would have under Sanford's spread. That C.J. Cox tops the depthchart going into fall might trouble Rebel watchers, however. Trotter appeared to have more oomph last season than Cox, and sophemore Bradley Randle just hasn't performed to match the hype that attended his signing last year.
Senior Omar Clayton and Junior Mike Clausen seem to be adjusting well to the new schemes; they have (so far) maintained the top two spots on the depthchart at QB. Michael Johnson (right) has emerged opposite Phillip Payne as a go-to wideout.