UNLV’s football team opened fall camp on Tuesday morning, but things don’t really get going until Saturday when the Rebels hold their first practice in full pads before departing for 11 days of workouts in Ely on Sunday.
Although there are still plenty of holes to fill as head coach Bobby Hauck begins his third season, none is any bigger or more important than the starting quarterback position.
Highly touted redshirt freshman Nick Sherry and junior Caleb Herring, who started eight games last season, are vying for the No. 1 job.
It’s a key decision for Hauck, who has won just two games in each of his first two seasons since replacing Mike Sanford.
“We have to be assured as a football team that the guy playing quarterback can make plays in game situations,” Hauck said.
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UNLV appears to have the makings for a solid run game. The Rebels have an underrated and physical offensive line and a trio of experienced running backs led by junior Tim Cornett, a potential all-Mountain West performer.
But the team struggled badly in the passing game during a 2-10 campaign in 2011. UNLV, which ranked a respectable No. 49 in the NCAA in rushing offense (164.1 yards per game), was a pitiful 118th in passing offense (109.6 yards per game). Rebel quarterbacks combined to throw as many interceptions (10) as touchdown passes (10) and averaged just 4.9 yards per completion.
“I just need to be consistent,” Herring, who completed 55-percent of his passes for 1,004 yards, eight touchdowns and six interceptions in eight starts, said. “I’ve got to make sure I’m doing all the little things right.”
Herring, who turned down a late scholarship offer from Oregon to sign with UNLV, appeared to get off to a solid start in 2011, helping engineer the Rebels to a stunning 40-20 upset of Hawaii in Week 3. But things fell apart dramatically after that. He threw three interceptions that were all returned for touchdowns the following week in a shocking 41-16 loss to Southern Utah. A week later he lost his starting job and his confidence after completing just 1 of 14 passes for 8 yards while running for his life in a 37-0 loss at Nevada.
“I’m trying to get my confidence back,” Herring said. “That’s the biggest thing, really. Just trying to reassure myself to know that I can do this.”
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The Rebels will scrimmage twice in Ely – Saturday (Aug. 18) and Wednesday morning (Aug. 22). But Hauck says how the duo performs in those competitions will be no more important that what happens during normal daily workouts. Players are being charted daily, not just for their throws but also for things like being able to carry out a fake.
“We chart everything they do,” Hauck said. “We also grade intangibles and potential. All those things factor into it.”
“We’re getting down to the nitty-gritty numbers,” Herring said. “Incompletions, completions, missed assignments or not carrying out your fakes. Small things like. It’s all going to factor into who is going to be the top guy.”
“You’ve gotta to perform,” Sherry said. “Coach (Hauck) has always said we have a lot of potential, now it’s time to perform. In camp they’re expecting all the quarterbacks to perform and the one who performs the most is going to be the starter.”
The Rebels open their season on Aug. 30 against Minnesota at Sam Boyd Stadium.