Tuesday, April 17, 2012 | 2 a.m.
- Receivers have a good day as UNLV football puts in another spring scrimmage
- UNLV’s defensive backfield has to make big changes to improve next season
- UNLV football’s spring depth chart doesn’t provide any clues at the quarterback spot
- Running game a positive out of the Rebels’ first spring football scrimmage
- Dionza Bradford’s departure leaves a hole in UNLV’s backfield
- Having Marcus Sullivan back in the return game makes UNLV instantly better
- With eligibility issues almost fixed, Dre Crawford could help upgrade the UNLV defense
- UNLV redshirt freshman QB Nick Sherry ready to compete for starting spot
- Mark your calendars: UNLV’s 2012 football schedule officially set with four home games to open season
- All UNLV Football Coverage
In 2011, his senior year, Dunlap led the team with 14.5 tackles for loss, including 6.5 sacks. That was nearly half of the team’s total sacks (14), which ranked second to last in the conference.
In fact, the Rebels have ranked in the bottom two of the league in sacks for the past five years. And the inability to get pressure on the quarterback is directly related to the woeful pass defense numbers over the same span.
But Dunlap figured it out last year, and as he trains on campus with the hope of making a living playing football, he’s still working to make his teammates better.
“We’ve learned a lot from him and picked up from his energy,” sophomore Jordan Sparkman said of Dunlap, who often attends practice. “He comes around and lifts us up and we feed off that.”
Dunlap had two sacks in a 38-35 victory against Colorado State on Oct. 29, the Rebels last victory. No one else on the team had more than two sacks all season.
Without him in the lineup, the defensive end battle in spring has been an open competition, with two guys listed at each spot. And among that group — Sparkman and freshman Sonny Sanitoa on one side, sophomore Desmond Tautofi and junior Parker Holloway at the other — are two newcomers and a combined two tackles for loss from the returners.
“We’re a young D-line and it’s good for them to see (Dunlap) and see what he did in terms of turning things around and having a big senior year,” UNLV coach Bobby Hauck said.
The upside for this year’s defensive line starts with its size. The four ends average 6-foot-4 and 256 pounds while the three contending starters on the interior — juniors Tyler Gaston, Nate Holloway and Alex Klorman — average 6-foot-3 and 306 pounds.
Sparkman, 6-foot-6 and 250 pounds, is the most athletic guy of the bunch. He was UNLV’s offensive scout team player of the year in 2010 at tight end before moving to the other side of the ball in preseason camp last year.
It wasn’t an easy transition, but Sparkman said he’s matured and accepted his new role. He’s also had a year to learn how to play defense, which doesn’t hurt.
The newcomers at the ends are Parker Holloway, a transfer from Trinity Valley Community College in Texas, and Sanitoa, a redshirt freshman from American Samoa.
Parker said that Dunlap, who hosted him during his recruiting visit, was actually a big reason he picked UNLV.
“He just treated me like a brother, and I didn’t really have that anywhere else,” Parker said. “He didn’t sell me anything. He was just real.”
The group could also get another addition, depending on what Hauck decides to do with junior quarterback James Boyd.
Boyd, a former defensive end who measures 6-foot-5 and 255 pounds, transferred to UNLV after stints at USC and West Los Angeles City College. Hauck offered him the chance to break into the competition at quarterback, where he’s played exclusively this spring, but the race now appears to be between freshman Nick Sherry and junior Caleb Herring. However, there are no imminent plans to move Boyd.
“We’re trying to make it fair to him and let him get into this six weeks and see how he does in terms of the mental part of it,” Hauck said.
The group as a whole still has a lot of work to do. The defensive coverage is dependent on their performance — you can’t play man on the outside if the front can’t get pressure — and at this point their inexperience only lends itself to doubt and questions.
For now, they’re comfortable with the work they’re putting in under the watchful eye of last year’s defensive star.
“It feels good to have someone like that around, who really shows a love for the game,” Sparkman said. “It’s a team sport, and one guy could pull us down and be a cancer, but one guy could lift us up.”
Everyone along the line is trying to fill Dunlap’s spot and be that guy this season.