Thursday, April 4, 2013 | midnight
- Rebels football trying new strategies and working through mistakes
- UNLV quarterback Nick Sherry more confident with year of experience
- Tim Hauck working to upgrade UNLV football defense, help brother turn program into a winner
- Tim Cornett, UNLV's top returning running back, to miss spring practice while recovering from surgery
- Analysis: Five things to look for when UNLV football opens spring practice next week
- Former Rebel linebacker fares well at NFL scouting combine
- Former NFL player and coach becomes new UNLV defensive coordinator
- Two recruits change the landscape of UNLV recruiting class, give Hauck reasons to be optimistic
- All UNLV Football Coverage
Of all the changes taking place at Rebel Park this spring, there are two that make sophomore Nick Gstrein most happy.
First is his move from tight end to offensive line, specifically center, where he will have a better chance to see the field this season. The other is the Rebels’ move to more pistol formations on offense, keeping the quarterbacks’ hands a safe distance away from Gstrein’s job training.
“That was a little weird at first, I’ll admit,” Gstrein said of getting familiar with quarterbacks Nick Sherry and Troy Hawthorne.
That’s a small price to pay for a guy who went into UNLV coach Bobby Hauck’s office just before spring practice looking for an opportunity and then got one almost immediately.
“The next day he pulled me back into his office and said ‘Looks like you’d play good at guard,’ ” said Gstrein, who had never before played offensive line.
That was the first move. A couple weeks into practice, just as the Rebels were walking out to the field, coaches told Gstrein to try his hand at center that day. That’s where he’s been ever since, but it’s likely not his last stop.
“He’ll probably play a little fullback, too,” Hauck said. “We’re going to try him at a bunch of different spots.”
After joining the team for spring practice last season, Gstrein missed the first six games of the season because of a broken foot. He didn’t record any stats in limited action the rest of the season.
With a few talented tight ends already in the fold, including sophomore Jake Phillips and redshirt freshman Andrew Price, the move avoids a logjam that could have kept Gstrein on the bench. Plus there were already holes on the line this spring because of injuries to guys like tackle Brett Boyko and center Robert Waterman.
And at about 275 pounds, Gstrein was big for a tight end anyways, so the change makes sense and comes with the perk of not worrying too much about what he’s eating now. That doesn’t mean it’s easy, though.
“You never want to go from a skill player to being one of the unspoken warriors on the line,” Gstrein said.
And then there’s actually learning the positions. The transition is eased by the similarities in blocking assignments between the offensive line and tight end. It’s made a little tougher by the shift to center, because snapping the ball correctly isn’t always as easy as it looks.
“A couple of snaps got dribbled back there,” Gstrein said.
Not many, though, according to Hauck. “We kind of expected the ball to be sprayed all over the field and it didn’t happen,” he said.
At center there’s also the extra responsibility of leading the rest of the line. That includes calling out the protection for each position and identifying blitzers as well as the linebackers or safeties who need to be blocked downfield on a run play.
It’s a lot to process, but this is what Gstrein wanted. He knows what the view is like from the sidelines and he wants a new one.
“I didn’t want to be a cheerleader,” Gstrein said, “I wanted to be a difference maker on the field this year.”
And if the change sticks and Gstrein sees the field at center this fall, at least he won't have to give up all the perks of a skill player.
“It starts with me,” he said. “At least I get to touch the ball still.”