Rebels football:

As UNLV training camp commences, Robert Waterman still at center of it all

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Barry Wong / Special to the Sun

UNLV teammates Robert Waterman (79) and Jake Phillips (46) celebrate a touchdown in the second quarter against Western Illinois at Sam Boyd Stadium Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013.

Robert Waterman has been at the center of UNLV’s offense for the past three seasons because, well, he’s the center. Since Sept. 1, 2011, Waterman has started 38 consecutive games, and in that time on the front lines he’s seen the best and worst the Rebels’ offense has had to offer.

Most of the latter came in 2013, when quarterback Caleb Herring and running back Tim Cornett helped lead an offensive explosion that set numerous team and individual records. Those two are gone, but most of the offense returns, and now that Waterman has seen how the other half lives, he has no intention of going backwards in his final season.

“I’ve been here since the start when we had two-win seasons for three straight years and we weren’t scoring a lot of points,” said Waterman, a three-time All-Mountain West honorable mention pick. “Now we’re driving the ball, wearing people out and having a little fun ourselves.”

Any impressions from one day of training camp, especially the first one, should be taken with a shaker of salt. The opening game at Arizona is more than three weeks away and the players won’t don full pads until they get off the bus Sunday in Ely, so the distance yet to go both physically and metaphorically is still great. But getting back on the field is always a happy day for a team, especially when the offseason seems to have been productive.

“As a team we’re in the best shape we’ve ever been in and it’s awesome,” coach Bobby Hauck said.

The main position battles that will play out leading up to the season are at quarterback, running back and defensive line. Waterman and the offensive line will have a hand in all three.

Obviously, the offensive line dictates much of the success for those offensive positions because someone must create the running lanes and create the extra time in the pocket for success. Waterman, specifically, plays a large role in the quarterback battle between juniors Nick Sherry and Blake Decker because he works so closely with the position.

“We want to make them both comfortable talking to us about anything, saying anything to us or calling any play,” Waterman said.

And along the defensive line, the main question mark is in the middle at defensive tackle, where the Rebels lost seniors Tyler Gaston and Mark Garrick. Their replacements could come out of a group of junior college transfers that also includes UCLA transfer Brandon Willis. Who could help determine who emerges from that group? Waterman again.

Making an impression from the middle of the defensive line will require countless reps against the middle of the offensive line. That’s the center and two guards, which added back a piece Wednesday with the return of junior Ron Scoggins.

Scoggins, who started 19 games through two seasons, left the team in the spring and isn’t included in the media guide. It wasn’t an academics issue, Hauck said, just a matter of Scoggins sorting out what he wanted to do.

Click to enlarge photo

Las Vegas natives and UNLV linemen Ron Scoggins checks the lettering on teammate Aleks Vekic before having their team photo taken for the Heart of Dallas Bowl Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2013 at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas.

“We sat down and figured out that Ron wanted to be here,” Hauck said. “Obviously we love the guy and we're glad he’s back.”

Scoggins declined to get into the issues keeping him away and actually disputed that he left the team at all, though his actions and absence from the initial roster disagree. Whatever you call it, Scoggins came to terms with Hauck and was a full participant in the first practice.

“I wouldn’t say welcomed me back because I never left. (Hauck) just said come on out here,” Scoggins said. “We’re going to go ahead and charge forward. No looking back.”

Scoggins had extra running to do after practice, something that will likely continue as practice moves forward. That’s part of the price to be a part of a group that could probably use his experience considering the other starting guard, Cameron Jefferson, transferred to Arkansas during the bowl ban.

“He’s going to have to earn his way back, but we’re glad to have him back,” Waterman said. “Everybody on the O-line seemed pretty open to having him back.”

Last season showed the team how much fun offensive football could be at UNLV. No matter who ends up at the guard spots, for one more year Waterman will be at the center of it all.

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

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