Ask Devonte Boyd how many quarterbacks have thrown him passes during his time at UNLV, and the senior receiver takes a moment to think before counting them on his fingers.
“I don’t know,” he said. “Let me see. Blake [Decker], [Nick] Sherry, [Jared] Lebowitz, Kurt [Palendech], Johnny [Stanton], Dalton [Sneed]. Six? I’d say six.”
Boyd’s recall is accurate (though technically Sherry never completed a pass to Boyd in a game), and while the list doesn’t reach the absurd lengths of the infamous Cleveland Browns quarterbacks jersey, it does illustrate the instability UNLV has dealt with at the game’s most important position.
Last year, injuries and ineffectiveness led to the Rebels starting three different quarterbacks over the course of the season. Now, the hope is that redshirt freshman Armani Rogers can step in and put an end to the QB carousel for the foreseeable future.
Head coach Tony Sanchez is keeping the position open for now, and as of Friday’s spring practice, Rogers, Stanton and Palendech were all still in the running to win the job. Sanchez doesn’t want the battle to linger through the summer, however, so if Rogers can separate himself over the final two weeks of spring practice, he can slam the door on the competition.
Rogers certainly passes the eye test. At 6-foot-5, 225 pounds, the Los Angeles native is a commanding physical presence in a huddle full of other large men. He’s fast and agile enough to run around defenders, and when he flicks his wrist on a simple 7-yard out pattern, his ball whistles through the air with a little more zip than the other QBs vying for the job.
During Friday’s practice, the Rebels devoted 30 minutes to a live scrimmage, with the three quarterbacks taking turns at the controls. Rogers went 3-and-out on one possession, then followed it up on his next turn by hitting sophomore receiver Mekhi Stevenson with a long pass down the middle for a touchdown.
Rogers went to the locker room after practice not thinking about his long bomb, but about the one play he didn’t make.
“I felt like I did some good things, but I also made some mistakes,” he said. “One particular play I messed up and read the defense wrong. It was one high [safety], I was supposed to go one way with the ball and I went the opposite way. We’re going to watch the film later today, hopefully I can correct those mistakes and keep trying to get better every day.”
Boyd didn’t participate in the live scrimmage, as he’s still working his way back from injury and not yet cleared for full contact, but he’s already a big believer in Rogers’ ability. Though he didn’t go as far as endorsing him for the job, it’s clear Boyd thinks the offense would be fine in the freshman’s hands.
“I think he’ll be a great quarterback,” Boyd said. “I think he’s going to dominate. He’s just an athlete. Everything he does, it will probably amaze you. How he runs, how he throws. He’s a real good athlete and a real good football player. My goal is to go out there and make plays for him.”
Stanton isn’t going to make it easy for Rogers to claim the starting job. The senior led the offense to a pair of touchdowns during the scrimmage, including a long TD lob of his own to Brandon Presley. Considering Rogers’ performance to this point and his obvious upside, however, he has to be considered the favorite to get the nod.
Sanchez said Rogers is making consistent progress with the nuances of the position.
“A lot of it is little things,” Sanchez said. “How is he managing the huddle? The way he’s taking plays from the sideline and interpreting them to the huddle. His checks at the line of scrimmage. When things are going faster and the coaches aren’t standing behind you, you’ve got to do a lot of that stuff. He did some good things, he made some mistakes today. The great thing is to get it on film. We’re going to get all of this on film and we’re going to coach it up … This is really beneficial for him to get a lot of these reps.”
There are still seven spring sessions remaining, though one of them will be conducted without pads and one will be the Spring Showcase on April 1, so really Rogers has five practices and one scrimmage remaining to make his case as the top dog.
“I feel like I’ve progressed a lot since the day I got here, just knowing the playbook and knowing the offense,” Rogers said. “I just have to go out there and compete every single play. Off the field, [the quarterbacks] are friends, but on the field it’s a competition. I just have to be more accurate every single time. Fewer mistakes. I have to come out here and try to be perfect.”