Rebels football:

Longtime teammates lead defensive charge in UNLV scrimmage

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Mark Wallington

Ely in the background of practice.

They’ve played together, and played well together, for so long that it only made sense for Blake Richmond and Najee Johnson to continue playing alongside each other.

“We both felt that it would be good for us to continue the high school and junior college chemistry we have together,” Johnson said at Saturday’s scrimmage at Broadbent Park.

From Rodriguez High in Fairfield, Calif., to Santa Rosa Junior College and now UNLV, Richmond and Johnson have stuck together.

“Both of them are going to help us for sure this season,” said coach Bobby Hauck.

The first-string players who get the majority of the reps during most practice days were the ones watching during today’s scrimmage. Hauck, recognizing how tired the players were entering their second week in Ely, wanted to give the top guys a little rest while giving some live reps to players who don’t get as many opportunities.

Johnson, a defensive end, finished with three tackles for loss, including a sack, and Richmond, a safety, posted the highlight of the day with a 98-yard interception return for a touchdown. Richmond jumped the route and saw a lane down one sideline open up for him.

“It felt great,” Richmond said. “I knew the receivers were behind me so when I caught it, I saw nothing but linemen, so I knew I could take it.”

It was so good the rest of the defense came running off the sidelines to celebrate with him in the end zone. That was the only scoring that took place as the defense held strong during the abbreviated scrimmage.

Once Monday comes, the workouts will ramp back up. But over the weekend, Hauck wanted to let the Rebels catch their breath a little bit. That doesn’t mean they can take it easy when they’re on the field, though.

Hauck said he wasn’t happy with the level of hitting, and he could have pointed out at least a dozen other technical errors the team will hear about in film sessions. Overall, though, Hauck saw this as another positive day in what’s been a productive camp. Finding depth like Johnson and Richmond can only help that feeling.

While thye're both second-string guys right now, the defense rotates a lot more than the offense, so there are going to be minutes available for a lot of non-starters. Johnson has done well to put himself in that group at defensive end, and Richmond is hitting the books in hopes of keeping himself in the rotation at safety.

“I feel like I’m good with the speed of the game,” Richmond said. “It’s more the mental part.”

While defensive end is built on reading the offense and reacting to it, Hauck said, safety is similar to quarterback in terms of how much players have to know. There’s a lot to learn back there.

“He’ll catch up to it, but he’s still swimming a little bit,” Hauck said.

Although they don’t play the same position, if Richmond needs any help, at least he knows he’s got one longtime teammate he can turn to for support.

Junior defensive back suspended one game

Hauck has suspended junior defensive back Brandon Baker for the season opener at Arizona because of a violation of team rules. Baker appeared in all 13 games last season, recording 10 tackles.

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

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