The UNLV football team ran more than 100 plays during Saturday night’s team scrimmage at Sam Boyd Stadium, with the defense generally getting the better of the offense, but after the session coach Tony Sanchez warned against drawing too many immediate conclusions.
“You’ve really got to watch the film,” Sanchez said. “There are some things you get frustrated with right away and some things you really like right away, but you might go back and look [at the film] and see somebody you got frustrated with and actually it was a clean play. Or there are some things you might get excited about, and then you see there’s two or three missed assignments.”
The Rebels played two 35-minute “halves,” alternating the first team and the second team on offense and defense. The goal was to simulate as many live game situations as possible, while giving some of the younger, less experienced players a feel for the speed of a real game.
On the first possession, quarterback Armani Rogers completed a short slant over the middle, but the defense forced a fumble and recovered. The quick turnover didn’t sit well with Sanchez, but he felt the offense generally limited their mistakes throughout the rest of the session.
Without having seen the film, Sanchez gave some credit to the defense for playing fast, but said he wanted to see more consistency.
“There’s no doubt they’re faster,” Sanchez said. “Just by times from the offseason and strength and conditioning, they’re a much faster defense. We’ll see how it all shows up [in the regular season]. They did a good job early and later on in the day I thought they got a little tired and I thought they started giving up some chunks.”
Senior middle linebacker Brian Keyes played most of the first-team snaps at middle linebacker and contributed a solid stop at the line of scrimmage on a 3rd-and-short play. He also made the best defensive play during last week’s live team drills at Sam Boyd Stadium, coming away with an end-zone interception to stop a 2-minute drill.
Keyes knows there are doubters when it comes to UNLV’s defense, but he believes the unit can outperform expectations if they maintain the right attitude.
“I think a big thing on defense is having a swagger about yourself and the team,” Keyes said. “When the defense gets riled up, it’s a momentum change and we can all get after the ball.”
Freshman Farrell Hester also saw some first-team snaps at middle linebacker, and Sanchez said the Bishop Gorman product has been closing the gap with Keyes in practice.
The coach wants to see more spark out of Keyes.
“When we go back and watch film, one of the biggest things we look for is fanatical effort,” Sanchez said. “When we turn on the film, if you’re running with your hair on fire every single play, we know you’re all in and we can trust you and you’re going to give us everything you’ve got. Some guys, they’ve just got to work on their motor. They just don’t get that part yet. I think Brian has to pick that up. He’s got to play fast, and he’s got to do it all the time.”
Hester doesn’t hold back
If there’s one rule that everyone understands at UNLV practice, it’s that quarterback Armani Rogers is off-limits to the defense. The freshman is the future of the program, so he wears a black non-contact jersey to dissuade overhyped defenders from launching at him and torpedoing the season.
Hester either didn’t get the memo, or there was too much adrenaline surging through the youngster when he came in on a blitz and knocked Rogers flat.
Sanchez scolded Hester on the field, but Rogers was fine, so the coach was able to laughed it off — sort of.
“It’s kind of funny, because the quarterbacks in the black jerseys are off limits,” Sanchez said. “So I screamed at him and this and that, and then when I got on the headset to [defensive coordinator Kent Baer] I said that’s a hell of a hit. I don’t want to see it again though.”
After the practice ended, the players gathered at midfield to learn their team captains for the 2017 season. On offense, senior wide receiver Devonte Boyd and junior center Zack Singer were selected, while senior lineman Mike Hughes and junior linebacker Bailey Laolagi were chosen to represent the defense.
Sanchez said the captains were elected via a team vote.