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Analysis: Five things to look for when UNLV football opens spring practice next week

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

UNLV coach Bobby Hauck celebrates a touchdown against UNR during the first half of their game Saturday, Oct. 13, 2012 at Sam Boyd Stadium.

Rebels football 2013

How many games do you think UNLV football will win in 2013?
6 or more — 35.7%
5 — 19.4%
4 — 16.9%
3 — 12.7%
2 — 9%
0-1 — 6.3%

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Don’t look for any jobs to be won Monday when the UNLV football team takes the field at Rebel Park to start its 15-session spring practice.

Coach Bobby Hauck, who will be guiding the Rebels for the fourth time during the spring, has long said position battles won’t be determined in March and April. Still, the Rebels staff and players aren’t downplaying the significance of the five weeks of drills.

It’s crucial in the evaluating process to get the team organized for the fall, allowing new coaches and players a chance to become familiar with each other and giving invaluable reps on both sides of the ball to install new plays and formations.

UNLV has won just two games in each of Hauck’s three years, which will create a different feel at this spring’s camp. There surely will be a sense of urgency to make improvements.

While the overall record of 2-11 doesn’t indicate it, UNLV was competitive at times last year. The Rebels beat Air Force and New Mexico, and suffered one-score losses against Minnesota, Northern Arizona, UNR and Wyoming.

But after having offensive success early in the season, the Rebels scored just 43 points in their final three games, losing a trio of winnable contests. And the defense, especially in guarding against the pass, was an eyesore for a majority of last season.

Here are five things to get you ready for spring practice. All 15 workouts are free and open to the public. It concludes at 5:30 p.m. April 12 with the Spring Showcase.

1. New faces, new places: Hauck changed coordinators this offseason, bringing in Timm Rosenbach as offensive coordinator and his brother, Tim Hauck, as the defensive coordinator. Both appear to be solid hires. Rosenbach has a history of coordinating high-scoring attacks, including last year at Montana, where his team averaged 452.3 yards per game, and in 2001 at Eastern Washington when his team led the nation in scoring and yards. That’s good news for a UNLV team that ranked 88th nationally last year in points scored, averaging just 360 yards per game. Tim Hauck, who will double as the defensive backs coach, will have instant creditability with the players because he played 13 years in the NFL and has professional coaching experience, including his most recent stop with the Cleveland Browns. The defense surrendered 32.6 points and 445.6 yards per game and struggled in defending the pass, meaning Tim Hauck’s impact could determine his older brother’s fate. It's widely believed the Rebels have to win six or more games, or show significant improvements in coming close to that win total, for Bobby Hauck to remain head coach. Other changes on staff include: moving Tim Hundley from inside linebackers coach to safeties, and moving Rob Phenicie from quarterback to tight ends and associate head coach for academics.

2. Adonis Smith’s immediate impact: When Bradley Randle surprisingly declared for the UNLV draft, forgoing his senior season with the Rebels, it created a void on the running back depth chart. The rushing game was a strength last year for UNLV with starter Tim Cornett and Randle combining for 15 touchdowns and 1,867 yards. Randle, who rushed for 635 yards and eight touchdowns, could be replaced by Northwestern transfer Adonis Smith. The 5-foot-11, 190-pound Smith rushed for 266 yards and three touchdowns in 2011 for Northwestern and could provide the perfect one-two punch with Cornett. Smith has the experience of competing in the Big Ten Conference, where as a freshman in 2010 he rushed for 197 yards on 41 carries, including 61 yards on 11 carries in the TicketCity Bowl. He comes with impressive credentials — in 2009, scout.com ranked him as Northern California’s No. 1 running back prospect after he gained 1,802 all-purpose yards and scored 15 touchdowns as a high school senior.

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UNLV quarterback Nick Sherry throws to a receiver against Washington State Friday, Sept. 14, 2012 at Sam Boyd Stadium. Washington State won the game 35-27, dropping UNLV to 0-3 on the season.

3. Nick Sherry’s development: Nick Sherry passed for 2,544 yards and 16 touchdowns in his rookie season last year, completing 53.1 percent of his passes and showing solid leadership abilities despite being a freshman. When you consider most of the year was spent on the run with UNLV’s offensive line battling injuries, Sherry’s efforts are even more impressive. This will be the first time there won’t be a quarterback battle in camp. Sherry should be a fixture under center the next three years. Sherry, with Rosenbach also serving as the quarterbacks coach, should flourish with an offseason to develop. And heal. He completed just 12 passes for 88 yards with two interceptions in a loss at Colorado State in the third-to-last game of 2012 and was injured toward the end of the game. After missing the following week against Wyoming, he returned for the finale at Hawaii but completed 17 of 43 passes for 166 yards and three interceptions. UNLV had just 202 yards that game in extending its road losing streak to 22 games. Sherry clearly struggled at the end of the season, throwing seven interceptions in his final three starts — he had seven total in his eight previous games on 291 attempts.

4. Big void at linebacker: Replacing 2012 leading tackler John Lotulelei at linebacker might be one of the biggest challenges this offseason. Lotulelei was third in the Mountain West Conference with 120 tackles, finishing 10th all-time in UNLV history and averaging 9.2 tackles per game. But the linebacker rotation, even without Lotulelei, should be a strength with returning seniors Tim Hasson and Tani Maki anchoring the unit. Hasson was second on the team in 2012 with 76 tackles and Maki was third with 70. However, another senior has the potential to have the biggest impact. Max Ehlert, who finished with 29 tackles last year, continues to make improvements in a football journey that started in Europe. Ehlert went to high school in Finland, where in 2008 he was named the country’s top youth player. After coming to the United States, he played two seasons at Chabot College in California, leading them in sacks, tackles per game, tackles for loss per game and fumble recoveries as a sophomore. He progression continued at UNLV last fall, where he was 14th on the team in tackles.

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UNLV wide receiver Devante Davis pulls in a pass for a first down against UNR during the first half of their game Saturday, Oct. 13, 2012 at Sam Boyd Stadium.

5. It’s a veteran group: One of the common themes in Bobby Hauck’s initial three seasons has been youth at several positions. On most Saturdays, those players were simply overwhelmed — not ready for the fast-paced college game or physically not strong enough because of a lack of time in the weight room. That will be far from the case in 2013. Seniors and juniors, several of which have significant playing time the past two years, will be counted on to transform a losing program into a winner. From three-year starter Tim Cornett at running back and two-year veteran Devante Davis at wide receiver to first-team All-Mountain West kicker and three-year starter Nolan Kohorst or all-league honorable mention selection Robert Waterman on the offensive line, it’s a group with much experience. If you’re looking for positives in calculating the Rebels’ chances of reaching a bowl game for the first time since 2000, the experience is a strong starting point.

Ray Brewer can be reached at 990-2662 or [email protected]. Follow Ray on Twitter at twitter.com/raybrewer21.

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  1. I think they'll win more than two games next season, but I'm skeptical of their ability to reach a bowl game.

  2. When did UNLV get a football team?