Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2010 | 2:15 a.m.
The updated UNLV depth chart released Monday solidified what many had already expected: Star junior receiver Phillip Payne has some work to do if he wants back onto the field any time soon.
Of the five names listed for the two spots, none included the 6-foot-3 Western High product, who was left home from this weekend's trip to West Virginia after making disparaging remarks regarding the program on his Twitter feed.
At his weekly press conference Monday afternoon, UNLV coach Bobby Hauck was mostly mum while addressing the situation.
"You guys know that I'm not going to discipline our guys in the press, so I would describe that as fluid," he said when asked if Payne would play Saturday at Colorado State. "But I wouldn't hold your breath."
Hauck said he met with Payne after the team returned from its 49-10 loss in Morgantown, W.Va., but did not offer up details of the interaction.
He also added that Payne probably would not be available to the media for interviews "for the foreseeable future."
The addition of Payne to the lineup against the Mountaineers more than likely wouldn't have made much of a difference in the end result, but moving forward, an extended absence could be very notable.
That will be especially true in games such as this Saturday's, where the Rebels (1-5 overall, 1-1 Mountain West) are on more of an even playing field with their opponents.
The Rams (1-5, 0-2) have struggled against the pass this season, and rank 74th out of 120 Football Bowl Subdivision programs in that department, allowing an average of 223 yards per game.
Aside from being UNLV's top target inside an opponent's 20-yard line, with 16 touchdown catches in 26 career games, he is second on the team with 23 catches in 2010 and leads the Rebels with 389 receiving yards. Averaging 16.9 yards per reception, he can stretch an opposing defense better than anyone else Hauck has at his disposal.
Speedy 5-foot-8 junior Michael Johnson was expected to fill Payne's shoes as the No. 1 wideout at West Virginia, but instead did not start due to ball security issues in the week prior against Nevada-Reno.
Johnson is listed behind true freshman Kurt Davis as a back-up for Saturday. Johnson leads the Rebels this season with 25 grabs, but the other four wideouts on the depth chart — Davis, freshmen Marcus Sullivan and Irshad Stolden and senior Tate Knutson — have combined for a mere nine receptions.
Payne, a preseason All-Mountain West selection, practiced with the team Monday, though how much work he gets throughout the week with the first — or second — unit will draw some interest.
As for moving forward from last week's situation, Hauck was asked if the program's policy regarding players and social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter will change. Currently, players are allowed to have them — and several do — as long as they are open for monitoring from university officials and compliance employees.
"That's something I'll probably think about a little bit, but right now, we don't," Hauck said of becoming more strict. "Kids have changed from the 50s to the 70s to the 90s to now. It's different, but kids are kids. Nobody here is going to do anything but try to educate and do our best for the guys on our team. The goal here is to educate out the door a group of young people that are valuable to society in terms of employment and everything else.
"We want them to have bright futures, and sometimes those lessons are hard to learn."
Hauck was later asked if he was hurt by the comments made by Payne, which were critical of his staff.
"This job isn't a popularity contest," he said. "These guys have enough friends. What they need are coaches."
Injury relief on the horizon?
Last week, UNLV released its injury report with an astonishing 25 names making appearances.
Some warmed up for Saturday's game and ultimately couldn't play — such as starting linebacker Starr Fuimaono — while some only saw a handful of snaps.
One obvious addition to this week's list will be Sullivan, who was blasted over the middle while trying to make a catch in the end zone late in the second half at West Virginia. He was taken to the hospital for precautionary X-rays, but was released and flew home with the team Saturday night.
Outside of that, though, Hauck has a positive outlook.
"It can't be much longer (this week)," Hauck joked of the Tuesday injury report. "Because we wouldn't have anybody left.
"I asked our trainer this morning if there was anyone who isn't on the injury list. It's a little bleak right now, but I think last week was maybe the low point in terms of injury. I think numerous guys will be on the upswing this week."
Cornett's job to lose?
Last week, Hauck told rising true freshman Tim Cornett that he would get his first career start at West Virginia ... if he worked hard enough in practice to keep that honor.
Cornett did, then produced with a 56-yard effort in the loss, adding his first career touchdown reception on the side.
That appears to be the case again this week, as the speedy Houston-area native is again listed ahead of juniors C.J. Cox and Deante' Purvis. Freshman Bradley Randle and senior Channing Trotter, it appears, are still dealing with nagging injuries, and are buried at fourth and fifth, respectively, on the depth chart as of Monday.
On the season, Cornett has a team-high 163 yards on 28 carries, averaging an impressive 5.8 yards per tote.
"Tim's worked hard, he's learned (the offense), he's done a nice job, he's been very productive when he's had the ball in his hands," Hauck said. "Part of his development is learning the whole offense. It's not the simplest scheme, and he needs to continue that, which he will. He's pretty focused and attentive to the detail of it."
A look at Colorado State
Now is where UNLV can see if a loaded early portion of the schedule pays off against a struggling foe.
Four of the Rebels' first six opponents appeared in the new Top 25 polls that were released Monday. Colorado State, though, is nowhere near that caliber at this point in the season.
The Rams have two common opponents so far with the Rebels — UNR and Idaho. Steve Fairchild's club was smacked in Reno, 51-6, back on Sept. 11, but notched its only win on Sept. 25 at home against Idaho, 36-34. That, oddly enough, was a week after the Vandals pounded UNLV, 30-7.
A player to keep an eye on for CSU is true freshman quarterback Pete Thomas, who was given the reigns to the pro-style offense from the opener. A highly touted recruit, he chose the Rams over the likes of Arizona State and Northwestern.
He started the season slow, but has since found a groove, having completed an impressive 67.5 percent of his passes (141-of-209), with 1,333 yards, five TDs and eight INTs to his credit.
He'll have to deal with a motivated UNLV group that, despite its struggles in the win-loss column so far, hopes to take advantage of a fresh start of sorts. It's nothing but conference games from here on out.
"We want to go 2-1 in conference," senior linebacker Calvin Randleman said. "And be relevant."