UNLV Football: Three Questions For Spring Practice

UNLV Football: Three Questions For Spring Practice

The Rebels begin a new coaching era with some key problems they’ll need to solve in order to take the next step.

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Big questions abound.

The UNLV Rebels kicked off their spring practice season today, marking an on-field beginning of sorts for Barry Odom and his new coaching staff.

Despite some key defections through the transfer portal, expectations will be high for Odom’s squad right away as they look to finish the job that Marcus Arroyo could not. What are the big questions that need answering in order to meet the new benchmark?

Can the defense continue developing impact players?

New defensive coordinator Michael Scherer has had a relatively quick rise to this position, but his unit has a wealth of potential after a 2022 campaign in which the Rebels were often promising but also inconsistent.

One big question, assuming he’s healthy, is what role Scherer envisions for Brennon Scott, who looked every bit like a rising star in 2021 but missed all of last season with injury. Will he play the edge with his hand in the turf or play more of a Drew Sanders-type role farther from the line of scrimmage? Determining who will replace Austin Ajiake at linebacker is another, though better news is that the UNLV secondary is stocked with seasoned veterans like Jerrae Williams, Johnathan Baldwin, and Cameron Oliver. If Scherer can turn one or more of those athletes into all-Mountain West-caliber performers, watch out.

Who will step up to help the offensive line reload?

There may be a couple of starting jobs open for competition in the trenches this spring, so even though Preston Nichols, Amani Trigg-Wright, and Tiger Shanks all return with starting experience, how well the holdovers mesh with new challengers will go a long way toward determining whether the Rebels reach their ceiling this fall.

Graham Keating spent last year’s as Leif Fautanu’s backup at center, so with Fautanu gone to Arizona State through the transfer portal, it seems likely he’ll get a long first look at claiming that role along with Buffalo transfer Jack Hasz. Alani Makihele only saw 16 snaps in two early non-conference games, but he might push for more playing time on the interior, as well. Jalen St. John and Jayden Ahboah, who transferred in from Arkansas and Fort Lewis College, respectively, also figure to push the incumbents.

Who is the new number one pass catcher (and do the Rebels even need one)?

When he was healthy, Kyle Williams made the Rebels passing game go. The former Mountain West freshman of the year transferred to Washington State, though, while Nick Williams graduated, meaning UNLV will need a new primary slot receiver and someone to play outside.

Ricky White seems like the obvious choice to take up the WR1 mantle, but he cooled off considerably after a hot August/September and finished the year with a 15% drop rate, mustering a single-game high of just 64 receiving yards and only one touchdown in conference play. Jeff Weimer played in only seven games because of injury and he, too, struggled occasionally with a 18.8% drop rate. Both demonstrated plenty of explosiveness, as did Senika McKie, and that trio could be expected to take on more responsibility with more targets likely on the horizon.

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Story originally appeared on Mountain West Wire