the defense: Senior LB Jason
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior DE Isaako
Unsung star on the rise: Junior LB Ronnie Paulo
Best pro prospect: Junior DT Malo Taumua
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Beauchamp, 2) LB Starr
Fuimaono, 3) Taumua
Strength of the defense: Linebacker, size on the line
Weakness of the defense: Defensive
There’s talent in the middle, but there
has to be more production starting with senior
Martin Tevaseu. The former
Arizona State Sun Devil is a massive 6-2 and 340-pound wall on the
inside, but he didn’t do enough to plug up holes even though he came up
with 20 tackles. The senior is still getting his feet wet and should be
a far improved player as the season goes on. If nothing else, he’s
impossible to shove around.
Tevaseu might be the anchor because of his bulk, but
Malo Taumua is the star. The 6-1, 270-pound junior is a big-time
playmaking tackle with 27 tackles, a sack, and 6.5 tackles for loss to
go along with a very big blocked field goal to beat Arizona. He had
problems with a knee injury in the past, but it doesn’t appear to be an
Working on one end again will be
Isaako Aaitui, a 6-3, 300-pound tackle playing on the outside. While
he made 32 tackles and seven tackles for loss, he hasn’t been much of a
pass rusher with just two sacks last season. Even so, he has a great
combination of size and quickness that just needs to be put together in
a more consistent package.
Taking over for Thor Pili at the other end spot is
Matt Kravetz, a 6-1, 245-pound sophomore who worked his tail off
this offseason and now should be more of a factor on the field after not
getting in any work. While he’s not all that big, he has a great burst
and he could be the answer to the team’s pass rushing woes.
Projected Top Reserves: Junior Preston Brooks, a
former transfer from Washington State, dominated at times on the scout
team, but it hasn’t translated on the field with just ten tackles last
season. At 6-3 and 255 pounds, he has decent size and is a strong pass
rusher in practice. .
Combining with Matt Kravetz at one end spot will be junior Daniel
Mareko, a good-looking 6-3, 245-pound prospect who might turn out to
be the best all-around athlete on the line. He was supposed to be a pass
rusher from day one, but he suffered a broken leg and was out for the
2007 season. After not doing anything last year, he should finally be
ready to make an impact.
Redshirt freshman Bennielee
Shelby went from a raw 260-pound recruit to a stronger, tough
275-pound option at tackle. A tremendous blocker in high school, he was
moved to the defensive front full-time when he came to Vegas and should
be a factor in time. He’s tremendously strong, but he’s still raw.
Watch Out For ... Matt Kravetz. The walk-on linebacker has
worked his way into the top spot on the depth chart at end. Now he has
to make all the hard work pay off by using his athleticism as a pass
Strength: Size. Beef isn’t an issue for a line that has a
340-pound tackle, a 300-pound end, and a 270-pound tackle. The backups
even have good size. There won’t be too many teams that should be able
to line up and power away, however ...
Weakness: Production. The defensive front was a disaster against
the run and for yet another year was a nightmare when it came to getting
to the quarterback. With so much size, experience, and depth returning,
the Rebels need more from the front four.
Outlook: The hope was for the defensive front to improve
with experience and with a few newcomers being thrown into the mix last
year. Instead, the Rebels finished 115th in the nation in
sacks, 116th in tackles for loss, and 110th in run
defense. There’s plenty of size and plenty of hope, especially at tackle
where Malo Taumua and Martin Tevaseu have all-star potential, but there
has to be some semblance of production.
The biggest key to the linebacking
corps, and possibly the defense, is the knee of Starr Fuimaono, a
certain all-star when he’s healthy. The 6-0, 210-pound junior made 14
tackles in two games before blowing out his knee. Out this offseason,
he’s expected to be ready to roll by the start of the year on the
strongside. However, he has to prove he can stay healthy. A huge hitter,
he missed time a few years ago with a shoulder injury and will have to
show he can hold up at linebacker.
Working again at weakside linebacker is
Jason Beauchamp, a 6-3,
235-pound senior who led the team with 127 tackles with two sacks and
six tackles for loss. Tough enough to play in the middle if needed, he
blew up on the outside using his tremendous speed to do a little bit of
everything. He could stand to be even more of a playmaker and he needs
to shine a bit more against the pass, but he has All-Mountain West
ability with great tackling ability and good experience.
Back in the middle will be
Ronnie Paulo after a strong
first season as the starter. The 6-1, 240-pound junior finished second
on the team with 90 tackles with two tackles for loss providing big
hitting ability and great size. While he’s not going to be an
all-over-the-field playmaker, he’ll be a steady producer on the inside.
Projected Top Reserves: Until Starr Fuimaono is 100% back
from his knee injury, 6-1, 205-pound
Beau Orth will be the main
man on the strongside. He was solid in his time as a true freshman
making 11 tackles with a tackle for loss, and he has the speed to be far
more disruptive. While he’s built like a safety, he hits like a much
One of the team's brightest new stars is true sophomore Nate Carter,
a grayshirt who was expected to push for time on the weakside last year
and ended up making 49 tackles as a key reserve. A great practice
player, he’s an active 6-0, 230-pound athlete who does things all over
the field. He could step into either outside spot.
Trying to find time somewhere on the outside is
Wiselet Rouzard, an undersized 5-9, 215-pound senior who has been a
nice fill-in on the strongside. He made 19 tackles and will be used here
and there in the rotation to give Beau Orth and Starr Fuimaono a break.
Watch Out For ... Ronnie Paulo to make over 100 tackles.
While he doesn’t have all-star talent and he’s not going to do too much
to get into the backfield, he’ll stuff up everything that comes his way.
Strength: The starters. There’s a chance this could be the best
linebacking corps in the Mountain West if Starr Fuimaono can come back
healthy. With Fuimaono combining with Jason Beauchamp and Paulo, the
Rebels have an active group that should combine for 300 stops.
Weakness: Big plays in
the backfield. This was a team-wide issue as the Rebels did nothing to
disrupt anyone’s offense. The linebackers have the athleticism, but now
they have to do more with it.
Outlook: There’s a chance that this could be the team’s
biggest strength by a long shot. The backups are decent, but it’s the
starting trio of Jason Beauchamp, Ronnie Paulo and Starr Fuimaono that
will make or break the Rebel defense. There needs to be more production
on a defense that didn’t do much of anything and there has to be more
big plays, but there’s a lot to be fired up about.
There aren’t many players from last
year’s team who’ll be comfortable in their spots with all the newcomers
looking to play right away, but one returning starter who’s almost
certain to hold down a job will be corner
Quinton Pointer. The 5-10, 185-pound junior made 44 tackles, broke
up six passes, and came up with two interceptions. For good and bad, he
hits like a safety from his corner spot, but he covers like one at
times. Out this off-season with a shoulder injury, he’ll be back to use
his tremendous speed and excellent tackling ability to be the steady
leader of a defensive backfield that has to be much, much better.
The other corner spot will see an interesting battle with the most
intriguing new starter likely to be
Deante Purvis. The 5-10,
185-pound sophomore isn’t all that big and he only made four tackles as
a special teamer, but he’s the team’s fastest player, cranking out a
4.31 in the 40, and he’ll have no problems staying with any receiver.
Sophomore Chris Jones will
get the first look at strong safety after making 22 tackles in a reserve
role. He made starts against BYU and Wyoming and showed he could handle
himself well having quickly turned into a nice defender after starting
out his career at quarterback. At 6-2 and 185 pounds, he has decent size
and is a good athlete.
Travis Dixon started out as a
quarterback, getting the starting nod for a few games and being in the
mix for the job last offseason, but he moved over to safety and he
showed flashes of being a decent defender making five tackles. Now that
he has had a full year to learn the job, the 6-0, 190-pound junior could
turn into a stat-sheet filling free safety.
Projected Top Reserves: Out of the three newcomers
expected to play right away,
Kenny Brown could make the biggest impact. The brother of former BYU
running back Curtis Brown is a 5-10, 160-pound sophomore with tremendous
speed and ball skills. He’s not going to pop anyone, but he could be one
of the team’s top cover-corners from day one.
6-1, 190-pound Alex De Giacomo
will see time at one of the safety spots early on. He’ll start out
fighting with Chris Jones for the strong safety job, but he’ll find a
spot somewhere after starring for El Camino Junior College last year.
He’s a good athlete and a big tackler who needs to become a steady
playmaker with the ball in the air to see starting time.
Pushing for one of the corner jobs will be
Warren Zeigler, a tough man
cover-corner can cut on a dime and can be physical. While he’s not huge
at 6-0 and 170 pounds, he doesn’t back down from bigger receivers and is
great at breaking up passes.
Watch Out For ... the newcomers. Don’t get comfortable
with the depth chart. Three JUCO transfers and a few true freshmen
should see time right away. There’s a good chance Kenny Brown, Alex De
Giacomo and Warren Zeigler will all be starting.
Strength: Speed. There isn’t a lot of size and there’s little
experience, but everyone can run. There are plenty of good athletes who
can stay with the fastest of Mountain West receivers.
Weakness: Proven production. The only returning player with any
semblance of real experience is Quinton Pointer, and he’s hurt. This was
one of the worst secondaries in the nation last year and it needs the
instant jolt to work.
Outlook: Welcome to the UNLV version of the stimulus
package. The secondary gave up 210 yards per game last year and got
picked apart by big play after big play, and now it has to replace just
about everyone. The coaching staff is counting on three key JUCO
transfers and a few true freshmen to provide help to a group of fast,
but uncertain starters. The team needs playmakers and needs to come up
with more interceptions.
There’s a nice combination of short and
long placekickers with Kyle Watson and Ben Jaekle
combining forces. Watson hit seven of his eight short kicks while
Jaekle was the bomber with three shots from beyond 50 yards. Watson, a
transfer from Texas Southern, will handle the extra points while Jaekle
will just be a specialist.
The punting game was fine last year with QB Dack
Ishii turning into a key kicker averaging 39.7 yards per kick while
putting 16 inside the 20 and forcing 16 fair catches. Watson and Jaekle
will each get looks as the starter, but former JUCO transfer
Brandon Lamers might have the
inside track after putting two inside the 20 and forcing two fair
catches on his four punts.
Michael Johnson will take
over the punt return duties from Casey Flair, who averaged 9.9 yards per
try. However, Johnson, even with all his speed, averaged just 2.8 yards
per try on his six returns. Johnson and lightning fast corner
Deante Purvis will combine to
handle the kickoff returns after a tremendous season. Johnson averaged
23.1 yards per try and Purvis averaged 23.4 yards.
Watch Out For ... Johnson to earn all-star honors in some
way. He’s a better kickoff returner than a punt returner, but he should
shine as the main man for both duties.
Strength: The placekickers. The combination of Watson and Jaekle
worked well, and it should be fine again. Watson is all but automatic
from in close, while Jaekle is a good bomber.
Weakness: Sure-thing punter. Lamers couldn’t take over the job
last year even though he was brought in to be the man. Now he needs to
show he can average around 40 yards per kick or else Watson and Jaekle
will have to emerge.
Outlook: Special teams have almost always been decent in
the Mike Sanford era. These won’t be the best special teams in the
Mountain West, but they certainly won’t be down with good veterans
returning for the return game and at placekicker. The big question marks
will be at punter and with the kickoff coverage team, but the team won’t
be too bad there.