UNLV’s offense did not perform well in Saturday’s intrasquad scrimmage. But for one play, one Rebel appeared to be unstoppable.
During a goal-line period, junior quarterback Armani Rogers lofted a high lob to the back corner of the end zone. Despite being well-covered, sophomore receiver Randal Grimes turned, leapt and contorted to pluck the ball out of the air above the overmatched defensive back.
It was the kind of play that hasn’t been made much by UNLV receivers in recent years, but the type of catch Grimes considers routine.
“I try to be fast, physical, and play big like I am 6-foot-4, 215 pounds,” Grimes said after Tuesday’s practice. “I just try to play up to my size and body out a lot of guys that I know can’t get to the ball before me.”
Grimes was a 4-star recruit when he came out of Desert Pines in the Class of 2017, and big things were expected when he committed to USC. But after two unproductive seasons — two catches as a freshman, none last year — he put in for a transfer.
He briefly committed to Minnesota before reconsidering and pledging to hometown UNLV in May. The NCAA granted a waiver to make him eligible immediately, and now Grimes is making highlight plays in training camp on a regular basis.
Head coach Tony Sanchez believes Grimes will play a key role for the Rebels this season, because even when a play breaks down or coverage is tight, the 6-foot-4 wideout can simply make something happen with his size and athleticism.
“I expect him to be one of the most explosive players in the Mountain West,” Sanchez said. “There’s a reason why he was recruited as highly as he was and he went to USC. We’re very fortunate to have him here because I think he can add a physical presence in that receiving corps that is a little different than what we’ve had in years past.”
UNLV did not have a true No. 1 receiver on offense last season; slot receiver Brandon Presley led the team with 35 catches and 434 yards, while deep threat Tyleek Collins paced the Rebels with six touchdowns. Grimes has a chance to be a high-volume pass-catcher capable of working at all levels of the field, and with his large frame he has also earned praise from Sanchez for his blocking ability.
Basically, Grimes will be on the field for a ton of snaps in all kinds of down-and-distance situations.
“He does a good job of catching the ball over the middle,” Sanchez said. “He also has the ability to stretch the field. He’ll be an outside guy, he can catch the ball in space, he can catch the ball inside. Very, very gifted guy.”
Grimes said he has been putting in the effort to acclimate to the team, including extra work with Rogers.
“I’m still getting used to it, me being the new guy on the team,” Grimes said. “Me, A-Rod, the linemen, the other receivers in the room, [receivers] coach Cedric [Cormier], I feel like we’re moving in the right direction.”
“Me and Armani, we’ve been working on a lot of stuff like the fade ball, basic routes like slants. I feel like we’re really connecting.”
One area where Sanchez would like to see Grimes improve over the final two weeks of camp is his determination. Sanchez has seen Grimes make too many mistakes due to exhaustion, and he wants his potential No. 1 receiver to battle through and continue making splashy plays despite the situation.
“There’s not a lot of mistakes,” Sanchez said. “One of the things he’s got to learn to do is be a little bit of a grinder and work through it. I don’t know if he’s ever been pushed this hard and been held accountable as much as we hold guys accountable out here. He’s handled it really well and he’s got a great attitude about it, but sometimes you’ll see a dropped ball or a missed assignment, and it’s not that he doesn’t know what he’s doing, he’s just fatigued.”
It’s a valid concern, because Grimes is going to be targeted a lot in 2019. If he can handle the volume without slowing down, he could finally give Rogers a true No. 1 receiver and take the Rebels’ passing offense to new heights.