Rebel Football Expectations

With spring drills in the past and summer conditioning programs in full swing, it won't be long before Rebel newcomers begin reporting for fall camp. The departures of some very key performers from last year's squad added extra importance to this off-season. How would the Rebels rebuild a running game that was 13th in the nation last year? Would it be possible to replace a receiver who made over 50% of the team's total receptions?

With spring drills in the past and summer conditioning programs in full swing, it won't be long before Rebel newcomers begin reporting for fall camp. The departures of some very key performers from last year's squad added extra importance to this off-season. How would the Rebels rebuild a running game that was 13th in the nation last year? Would it be possible to replace a receiver who made over 50% of the team's total receptions? Who will replace a unanimous all-league offensive lineman? Will the heart beat as strongly in the defensive backfield? Last but not least, will the kicking game go from stellar to the cellar? These questions cannot be answered completely until the end of the season opener against the Arkansas Razorbacks, but some glimpses were provided in the spring scrimmage.

Jabari Johnson strengthened his hold on the number one tailback position with a fine performance. Johnson rushed for 77 yards on eight carries. Joe Haro had his moments, as well, grinding out 52 yards on eight carries, including a 15-yard scoring scamper. In a day dominated by the run, third-string TB Royce Boone found enough gaps to squeeze 70 yards into nine carries, while Johnny Graham tallied 49 yards on 10 tries. The fullbacks also got into the act with Steven Costa gaining 25 yards on three attempts and George Gordon scoring on his only carry from three yards out. Quarterback Jason Thomas chimed in with a couple of carries for 11 yards and a score.

While Johnson and Haro seem to be 1-2 for the number one spot, neither will be able to carry the kind of load that Robinson would require of a featured back, so it will be a "rush committee," so to speak. Most Rebel observers agree that one of the freshman running backs expected in the fall, either local standout Dyante Perkins or California record-setter Dominique Dorsey, will have to step up and be productive for the running game to have anywhere near the success of a year ago. Fortunately, the offensive line is strong.

Troy Mason has definitely taken the lead in the battle to be quarterback Jason Thomas' favorite target, even though he only had one catch this day. Mason continues to show improvement in being able to get behind the defense and maintain his concentration in making the tough catch. Robinson stated that Mason and fellow smurf Bobby Nero will be the keys to the Rebel passing game. Both are fast and very quick in traffic. Nero had the big receiving day, hauling in four balls for 64 yards and a score. Michael Johnson (3, 32) had a solid spring and could be in for a breakout year. Charles James, who had three catches for 18 yards and a TD, was looked at to be a deep threat, but has since left the team in a mutual decision. His position was filled by juco transfer Derrick Barnes. Still, the question of who will be the tough, physical receiver for the Rebels has yet to be answered. Perhaps the arrival this fall of ballyhooed freshman Earvin Johnson will shed some light. In any event, expect the passing yards to go up this year as the Rebels become more aerial.

The offensive line only lost two players (one starter) and should be a decided strength. Juco transfer Matt Williams and redshirt freshman Jimy Zoll will continue to battle for the number one spot at right tackle. Right guard is set with Tony Terrell, who received some postseason notice last year. Pete Tramontanas is back at center, stronger and heavier than ever. Returnees Greg Hulett and Shane Wagers, both of whom saw starting action last year, are fighting for the starting left guard spot, while Brandon Bair is expected to be challenged by incoming juco transfer Sheddrick Mitchell (6-7, 325) for the left tackle position. Bair was sidelined with a knee most of the spring but is expected to be fine by fall. The tight end position will look much the same, with DeJhown Mandley at the head of the class, but Trevan Sorensen closing the gap. Throw in Brad Osterhout, who missed all of last year with injuries, and the position, which Robinson wants to utilize more this year, should be solid.

Look for CB Kevin Thomas and last year's leading tackler, FS Sam Brandon, to lead the secondary. The strong safety position appears to belong to Ross Dalton at this point, but Derek Olsen is not far off. Jamaal Brimmer, who had the only interception on the day, and Toby Smeltzer have also made their presence felt at the safety positions this spring. Jamal Wynn has the edge for the corner spot opposite Thomas. Watch out for youngsters Ruschard Dodd-Masters, Joe Hunter and Sean Mackey, though. Those guys are fast and can hit. Incoming juco transfer Chamieon Sutton will challenge for a starting spot, as well.

Dietrich Canterberry has moved into the number one nose tackle spot, but early juco enrollee Garrett Brassington is providing stiff competition and quality depth. Ahmad Miller anchors the tackle spot for another year but, as has become the usual case, there's just not a lot of depth there. Phil Reed made a nice case for himself, though, with nine tackles, including two sacks.

The same can't be said of defensive end, where last year's five-man rotation returns intact. With Anton Palepoi leading the way, Ahmad Briggs (sidelined in the spring), Steve Newton, Adrian Watson and Scott Parkhurst should continue to harass enemy quarterbacks. Parkhurst is expected to see duty as a linebacker this season in hopes of getting him on the field more. In the mold of NFL star Kevin Greene, Parkhurst expects to play backer or standup end, at times, covering a back or tight end, and other times a down lineman. The result should be unpredictability and greater production from Parkhurst.

The knee injury, then re-injury, to James Sunia clouds the middle linebacker picture somewhat. He may play a partial season or seek a medical redshirt. Ryan Claridge, who gained valuable experience last year after Sunia went down, is there if Sunia isn't, and Adam Seward has shown very good progress. Shanga Wilson and Tosh Burrus will contend for one outside starting berth, while LaMar Owens, whom Robinson called probably his most improved player, will vie for time with Parkhurst at the other outside spot.

A big question mark on special teams will be the punting. No punts were attempted during the scrimmage. Ryan McDonald doesn't have the leg strength of the departed Ray Cheetany. Robinson notes, though, that McDonald's punts have excellent hang time and that, while the gross punting numbers will be down, net punting should remain about the same. Kicker Dillon Pieffer showed good leg on his PATs at the scrimmage, including one that was, essentially, a 37-yard field goal. It should be noted that his kicks were still high, straight and he got them off quickly

When the scrimmage was just about over, before the crowd adjourned to the picnic area for a barbecue catered by Big Dogs, Robinson made a final pitch to the fans to fill Sam Boyd Stadium for the home games this year. The intimacy of SBS can really lend itself to becoming a snakepit - somewhere opposing teams truly dislike playing. The 2001 edition of the UNLV Rebels football team looks like it will hold up its end of the bargain by providing a quality product. But it will be up to the community to get out and support the Rebels and fill the void in the Boyd.


Jabari Johnson 8 77 9.6 0
Royce Boone 9 70 7.8 0
Joe Haro 8 52 6.5 1(15)
Johnny Graham 10 49 4.9 0
Steven Costa 3 25 8.3 0
Kurt Nantkes 4 20 5.0 0
Jason Thomas 2 11 5.5 1(6)
Zach Bell 3 4 1.3 0
George Gordon 1 3 3.0 1(3)
TOTAL 48 311 6.5 3

Jason Thomas 18 8 1 109 1(36)
Kurt Nantkes 12 6 0 46 1(7)
TOTAL 30 14 1 155 2

Bobby Nero 4 64 16.0 1(36)
Michael Johnson 3 32 11.0 0
Charles James 3 18 6.0 1(7)
Trevan Sorensen 1 14 14.0 0
DeJhown Mandley 1 12 12.0 0
Troy Mason 1 10 10.0 0
Andrew Faga 1 5 5. 0 0
TOTAL 14 155 11.1 2

UNLV Offense -- Bobby Nero 36-yard pass from Jason Thomas UNLV Offense -- Jason Thomas 6-yard run UNLV Offense -- George Gordon 3-yard run UNLV Offense -- Joe Haro 15-yard run UNLV Offense -- Charles James 7-yard pass from Kurt Nantkes UNLV Offense -- Dillon Pieffer 37-yard field goal TACKLE LEADERS NAME TT PBU INT SACKS Phil Reed (DL) 9 0 0 2 Adam Seward (LB) 5 0 0 0 Joe Hunter (DB) 5 0 0 0 Ross Dalton (DB) 5 2 0 0 Alonzo Freeman (LB) 5 0 0 0 Jamaal Brimmer (DB) 5 0 1 0 Bill Cofer (LB) 4 0 0 0 Devon Rose (LB) 4 0 0 0

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