Saturday, Aug. 10, 2013 | 2 a.m.
In the early morning hours Friday, the best receiver in NFL history got in a workout at Rebel Park. After that it was UNLV’s turn.
Hall of Famer Jerry Rice has been in town to watch his son, receiver Jerry Rice Jr., practice with the Rebels, something the younger Rice was finally cleared for Friday. Jerry Rice Jr., a UCLA grad, and safety Frank Crawford, an Ole Miss grad, were added to the UNLV roster for the team’s final practice before it leaves today for 12 days of camp in Ely.
Crawford is the younger brother of 2012 UNLV grad Dre Crawford, who played in 11 games including two starts last season. Both Frank Crawford and Jerry Rice Jr. were just waiting to be cleared by the admissions office. Now that they are, they’ll jump right into the mix with their personnel groups.
“We wouldn’t bring a fifth-year guy in if we didn’t think he was capable of competing for playing time,” UNLV coach Bobby Hauck said.
Over three seasons with the Bruins, Jerry Rice Jr. appeared in nine games and caught nine passes for 63 yards. Once he decided he wanted to spend his fifth year at another school, he got in contact with former teammate Taylor Embree, who’s a first-year graduate assistant on UNLV’s staff.
“He called me up and told me he’d like me out here,” said Jerry Rice Jr., who’s listed at 5-foot-11 and 185 pounds. “I started looking into it, I liked the fit and how everything else was going so I decided to come out here and hopefully help out this team in any way possible.”
Embree’s father, Jon Embree, is the former coach at Colorado and is currently on staff with the Cleveland Browns. He and Hauck coached together at Colorado from 1995-98.
Jerry Rice came to Las Vegas for his son’s visit and agreed that it was a good opportunity.
“We came here, visited with Coach and it just seemed like the place to come because all Jerry wants is a chance to compete,” Jerry Rice said. “At UCLA he got some chances, and whenever he got on the football field, he showed what he can do. I feel like he can help this team.”
Crawford, who’s listed at 6-1 and 180, appeared in 12 games in 2011, including three starts, and eight games last season. Over three seasons, he tallied a total of 36 tackles, three pass breakups and one interception.
Crawford said his brother recommended the coaching staff, especially with new defensive coordinator Tim Hauck’s NFL pedigree. And while Jerry Rice Jr. has plenty of competition at receiver, Crawford could find some immediate playing time in a secondary that’s been ranked among the league’s worst for several years.
“I don’t have a problem being an underdog because that makes it feel better when you come out on top,” Crawford said.
Fans will have immediate name recognition with Jerry Rice Jr., but based on his limited reps at UCLA, it’s difficult to project what type of player he’ll be. He fits the mold of a typical slot receiver, though he said he was also getting reps on the outside at his first practice.
“If they ask me to do kick return, punt return, blocking or receiving, whatever they need me to do, I’ll do it,” Jerry Rice Jr. said.
His father said he’s quick off the ball and possesses another useful trait.
“He has very good hands,” Jerry Rice said. “I don’t know where he got that from.”
The new players will be able to put on pads for the team’s Sunday practice in Ely, and Jerry Rice will likely be on the sidelines to see it. He said he plans to go up to Ely for a couple of days and then he’ll be back for most if not all of UNLV’s games.
A man who knows something about work ethic — his shirt was dirty from diving on the Rebel Park field hours earlier — Jerry Rice said he’s been impressed with the feeling around UNLV, starting with the number of players who showed up for offseason workouts. The Rebels have to believe in themselves, he said, and the chemistry will follow.
“If they can do that, it’s going to be a fun year for them,” Jerry Rice said. “I’ve got my fingers crossed.”