Analysis:

Take 5: The highlights and lowlights from UNLV’s scrimmage in Ely

Nick Sherry’s passing has been off but freshman receiver Kendal Keys could emerge to help him and the Rebels this year

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UNLV Athletics

UNLV coach Bobby Hauck addresses the team after a scrimmage on Saturday, August 17, 2013, in Ely.

ELY — Bobby Hauck has an ease at fall camp these days. More than halfway through the Ely portion of UNLV football’s workouts, the Rebels held their first scrimmage Saturday at Broadbent Park. And it wasn’t like the coach was trying to cram a lot of work or information into a little amount of time.

“Our older guys don’t need too many live reps and they didn’t get many,” Hauck said. “…We won’t play much live until the opener. We got a few in and we came out of it healthy.”

Threatening clouds stayed away and left the team alone to conduct business in ideal conditions. Only some players took advantage of that.

From errant passes and fumbles to blatant penalties, it certainly had plenty of moments of ugly. There was some good, too, including a couple of newcomers threatening to carve themselves out some playing time as soon as the Aug. 29 opener at Minnesota.

Here were some key (and in one case, Keys) takeaways from the Rebels’ performance:

    • The Rebels defense waits around for the next play at a scrimmage on Saturday, August 17, 2013, in Ely.

      Taking it easy

      In another sign of how confident Hauck is in this group that returns 19 starters, he called Saturday’s scrimmage probably the easiest day they’ve had in camp. And they needed it.

      “We’re pretty fatigued, we’re tired. And we should be,” Hauck said. “They’ve gone really hard these first (11) days.”

      In recent years, Hauck said, there were too many guys without any college experience to back off in the scrimmage. They really needed those reps.

      Now he has enough returners that the veterans only played a couple of series; the younger guys weren’t punished, either. Hauck likes the work they’re getting every day in practice, so for the first time in his UNLV tenure there was a little less importance placed on this scrimmage.

    • UNLV sophomore quarterback Nick Sherry calls out a play at the Rebels' scrimmage on Saturday, August 17, 2013, in Ely.

      Off the mark

      The counter to what I’m about to say is that he’s mostly going against the second-team defense, but for another day, backup quarterback Caleb Herring mostly outplayed starter Nick Sherry.

      Sherry’s passes have been off for most of camp, including the days at Rebel Park. Herring’s surge in Ely has made those shortcomings more noticeable -- although don’t think this means there’s a quarterback controversy because Hauck isn’t worried.

      “A year ago (Sherry) probably had two good practices all spring and lacked consistency in training camp,” Hauck said. “This spring he probably had 10 to 15 days of good days and I think he’s been fairly consistent in camp. … He’s far ahead of where he was.”

      In the scrimmage, Sherry finished 5-of-14 for 38 yards while Herring was 6-of-11 for 48 yards, though he did toss an interception. Third-stringer Troy Hawthorne completed 2-of-5 for eight yards.

    • UNLV freshman running back Henry Jussila awaits instructions at the Rebels' scrimmage on Saturday, August 17, 2013, in Ely.

      Standing out in a crowd

      It helps to stand out when there’s a logjam of similar players at the same position. Freshman running back Henry Jussila did just that, scoring from 12 yards out and tallying 28 yards on four carries.

      “I thought I played well, just trying to do what the coaches ask of me,” Jussila said.

      His bouncy moves in the open field reveal the athleticism he used as a sprint and track star before picking up football. The Finland native also has a hockey background, which doesn’t hurt when trying to bowl people over.

      Freshman Keith Whitely also played well — 20 yards on five carries — while Shaquille Murray-Lawrence literally dropped the ball. The native Canadian and Juco transfer from Texas fumbled on his first carry and spent the rest of the scrimmage jogging around the field.

      Murray-Lawrence had had a good buzz around him during the first week of drills in Ely but this won’t help his cause. All three of those guys measure about the same — 5-foot-9, 180 pounds give or take an inch and five pounds — so on-field production is the best way to separate them.

      Jussila did his job in that department.

    • UNLV freshman Kendal Keys runs back to his teammates to after catching a touchdown during scrimmage on Saturday, August 17, 2013, in Ely.

      Keys catching up

      The last piece added to the Rebels’ puzzle could be an important one. True freshman Kendal Keys couldn’t practice in full pads until Wednesday but he’s already turning heads with his sights on making an impact against Minnesota.

      “I think I can be ready to contribute in that game,” Kendal Keys said. “Then I should be 100 percent ready by the second game.”

      Kendal Keys is a former Boise State commit and the younger brother of sophomore safety Kenny Keys. Kendal Keys said he started growing distant from the Broncos in the spring and remembered how much he enjoyed Las Vegas when he came to watch UNLV play Wyoming last season.

      Listed at 6-3 and 190 pounds, Keys is a lighter version of leading receiver Devante Davis. And he’s already made enough plays like Davis to earn the nickname The Beast from wide receivers coach Cedric Cormier.

      On Saturday he caught two passes for 16 yards, including an 11-yard touchdown in the back corner of the end zone. As long as he’s able to catch up to collegiate speed Kendal Keys could find his way into immediate playing time as the third or fourth receiver.

    • The Rebels' defensive front awaits the offensive snap during a scrimmage on Saturday, August 17, 2013, in Ely.

      Batted down

      While many of Saturday’s incompletions were just bad passes, a few never had a chance because a defensive lineman swatted it away.

      On the very first play Sonny Sanitoa knocked Sherry’s pass away and at least three more passes from various quarterbacks faced a similar fate. The pocket pressure was also good enough that the defensive line may have earned the scrimmage game ball.

      That group has a lot of faces who played last year and a couple — Sanitoa and Parker Holloway — who were very good at times. Seeing as the secondary’s abilities are still a big question mark, the improvement of that front group could go a long way for this defense.

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

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