Analysis:

Take 5: What to watch for in UNLV’s Spring Showcase scrimmage

A new middle linebacker and some position changes are a few things to see at Friday’s event at 5:30 p.m.

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Steve Marcus

Running back Adonis Smith waits to run a drill during practice at Rebel Park at UNLV Monday, March 4, 2013.

Friday is seemingly when the fun begins for UNLV spring football, though by the looks of the end of Wednesday’s practice, it may have been right there in an enclosed space that featured two offensive players protecting a ball carrier from an oncoming defender.

The goal for each side is simple: destroy the guy trying to destroy you. It was an animated way to wrap up the last full practice of the spring before Friday’s Spring Showcase at 5:30 p.m. at Rebel Park.

“Blood and guts stuff,” UNLV coach Bobby Hauck said of the drill.

There will be far less of that on the field Friday as the Rebels will end things with a Scarlet vs. Gray scrimmage expected to last about an hour. In that time, Hauck said, he wants to run through about 60 plays, or about half of what the team did at a scrimmage last Friday. Because of that work, there’s not nearly as much to get through. Thus the Spring Showcase, while competitive, will have a lighter feel.

There will be games for kids, concessions and photo opportunities with players afterward. On the field, the team is divided into two squads, with the three quarterbacks taking turns on both sides.

The event is part of the Scarlet and Gray Weekend, which also includes home baseball and softball series as well as a home track meet, among other things. Here’s a quick guide of what to watch for to get you ready for the scrimmage:

1. Man in the middle

John Lotulelei, the star of last year’s defense who’s expected to attend the scrimmage, left a large hole in the middle of the defense, to the tune of 120 tackles. The most likely candidate to fill that is senior Max Ehlert, a transfer who played the first two years of his career at Chabot College in California.

As a backup linebacker for UNLV last season, Ehlert notched 29 tackles, including two for loss. Now that the expectations are dialed up, he’s trying to make the requisite leap to be the leader of the defense.

“Linebackers are supposed to do that,” Ehlert said. “I like to take responsibility.”

This spring, Ehlert said he has worked on finishing plays until the whistle and tracking the ball better. He also likes the strides he’s made in getting into the backfield and disrupting plays.

“Timing my blitzes is something personally I’ve done better,” Ehlert said, “and then overall getting a feeling for the defense.”

2. The backfield breakthrough

UNLV Running Back Adonis Smith

Quarterback Nick Sherry hands off to running back Adonis Smith during practice at Rebel Park at UNLV Monday, March 4, 2013. Launch slideshow »

The guy giving arguably the biggest hit of that end-of-practice drill Wednesday was junior running back Adonis Smith, who will be the best rusher on the field as starter Tim Cornett watches from the sidelines.

Smith, a Northwestern transfer who sat out last season, has had a good spring and looks capable of being an even better backup than Bradley Randle was last season. His emergence could be a big factor in the offensive success come fall, especially if he’s able to pass block as well as he has in practice.

Smith seems like a multifaceted weapon who could help create mismatches on the field.

3. Old faces in new places

Although their names probably aren’t too familiar, sophomore Nick Gstrein and Jonavaughn Williams are two members of the 2012 roster who are playing new positions this spring.

Gstrein, as previously discussed in this space, has moved to the offensive line with the possibility of some fullback work. Last season, he missed the first half of the year with a leg injury before seeing time as a blocking tight end.

Hauck said Gstrein’s role come fall would still be up for debate throughout the summer, but on Friday he’s likely to play exclusively on the line.

“If we get him a rep or two at fullback, that would be great, but I don’t know that we’ll make it,” Hauck said.

Williams redshirted last season after coming into UNLV as the only “athlete” in the 2012 recruiting class. At 6-foot-1 and 195 pounds, Williams had been playing wide receiver until spring break, when he was moved to safety.

There are two ways to look at that: One is that the receivers, even without injured leading target Devante Davis, are doing so well that the group doesn’t have room for Williams, and the other is that the secondary is struggling so much it needs any help it can get. The truth may be something in between.

4. The other quarterback

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Quarterback Troy Hawthorne passes during practice at Rebel Park at UNLV Monday, March 4, 2013.

For the second straight year, there isn’t a real battle at quarterback. As much as Hauck tried to sell one last year, it was always Nick Sherry’s job to lose, and now the sophomore is even more entrenched at the spot.

However, there is some intrigue at the position, starting with backup Troy Hawthorne. Few fans have seen the redshirt freshman play, so it’s a chance for a first look at the guy who would take over should something happen to Sherry.

Behind Hawthorne is former starting quarterback Caleb Herring, who has moved over from wide receiver to continue taking reps there in the absence of a third signal-caller. Herring no longer wears a yellow jersey, and it’s likely the only passes he’ll make are on trick plays. The more interesting development for the senior will be how he’s progressed as a pass catcher.

5. Punting

There won’t be any live kicking, so this is something to look for in the future rather than the present, but the Rebels only have one guy in camp to replace punter Chase Lansford, who was solid last season.

Logan Yunker, an Arbor View grad, transferred from UNR and is in line for the job. If he struggles, though, the Rebels don’t have much else in the way of options. It’s possible that someone else will walk on, but for now it’s Yunker’s job. And that could turn out to be fine, although it’s always better to have options.

Taylor Bern can be reached at 948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Taylor on Twitter at twitter.com/taylorbern.

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  1. Looking forward to upcoming season. Been long time since we have had winning one. With a seasoned QB and more experience on O line we should score more and hopefully with new head of D we can stop some people. Last year we lost a few games by just a bit and gave away one(UNR) by playing afraid to lose...hope that was a solid lesson for not playing like that again! Good Luck Rebs!

  2. BCS bowl bound.