UNLV fans join publisher Joe Arrigo and the InsideTheRebels.com staff for our new UNLV season and positional preview. In this series, we'll break down each positional group as we move through fall camp, discuss whose returning and share insights on the athletes that are expected to shine this year for the Rebels.
The 2016 UNLV Rebel football team has high expectations. After losing 4 games by a eight points or less in 2015, the Rebels look to have their second winning season since 2000 and fifth in school history. The Rebels are returning the best wide receiver tandem in the Mountain West Conference (if not all of college football) with Juniors Devonte Boyd and Kendal Keys, have skill set positions that are loaded with talent and the majority of the Rebel defense returning, head coach Tony Sanchez and Rebel fans have plenty of reason to be excited.
Coach Sanchez is the right man to lead the Rebels into their “New Era.” Sanchez's high energy, focus, enthusiasm, dedication to not only the football program but the city of Las Vegas and his drive to make the Rebels a perennial contender was evident during spring practices. The team took on his personality and his high energy and competitive nature and the improvements on the practice field were easily seen by all. Sanchez has a plan that he is sticking to and executing to perfection. The future is bright for the Rebels under Tony Sanchez.
There are questions that the Rebels need to have answered, like can the Rebel defense get to the opponents quarterbacks consistently and can they hold opponents to under 30 points for the first time in eight seasons? On the offensive side of the ball can the young offensive line, which looked good in spring practices and who looked bulked up, continue to improve and grow into a quality line? But the biggest question that the Rebels have to answer is who will be their starting quarterback for the upcoming season?
Here is our preview of the Rebels running backs with thoughts and insights on Senior David Greene, Junior Henri Jussila, Sophomores Lex Thomas, Xzavier Campbell, Jacob Speaks and Freshman Charles Williams. Junior College transfer Evan Owens, San Joaquin Delta College which is in Stockton, California and former Las Vegas Centennial High School running back Lance Worthington, who transferred in from Southern Oregon are also in the Rebels running back mix.
The Rebels are deep at running back entering the 2016 season. While last season’s leading rusher, Keith Whitely, is no longer in the UNLV program which leaves Lex Thomas as the Rebels threat out of the backfield. Thomas proved last season that he can as electrifying as any Mountain West Conference running back and has the speed and elusiveness to be a real weapon for head coach Tony Sanchez’s offense. He can score any time he touches the ball and has nice hands coming out of the backfield. While he isn’t a bruising back, he knows how to use his body to gain the tough yard. With Whitley gone, the person that Rebel fans need to keep a close eye on is Evan Owens, a transfer from San Joaquin Delta College. Owens, who is a 6-foot-1-inch, 220-pound junior, rushed for 1,139 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2015 and has the type of ability to be an every down back for the Rebels. He has the size/speed and physicality to not only get the tough yard, but also turn broken tackles into touchdowns.
The lone senior of the running back group, David Greene, brings his punishing running style back as well as leadership to the group. Xzavier Williams is another back that looks as if he can get the tougher yard and doesn’t shy away from contact. While he doesn’t have the speed that Thomas has, he does have a nice burst and finishes his runs well. Local product Lance Worthington returns home to Las Vegas after playing at Southern Oregon and is looking to make an impact running the ball as well. With the freshman Charles Williams, who also returns kicks, the Rebels have another young playmaker that could become a weapon in the offense.
The Rebels have a talented and deep group at running back. They have some pieces that complement each other well in Thomas and Owens and could provide the Rebels with a “Thunder and Lightning” type duo that would cause the MWC fits and give the Rebels an advantage as well as their defense a break and allow the offense to close out games.
Joe Arrigo is the publisher of InsideTheRebels.com after years of hosting and producing sports talk shows in Los Angeles, Palm Springs and Fresno. You can follow him on Twitter at @joearrigo & @InsideTheRebels or email him at email@example.com