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September 16, 2019

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From Ely: Offense celebrates - Bulldog style; Jones switches to safety

Welcome to Ely, UNLV

Check out the sights and sounds of the UNLV football team as they begin their 11-day practice in Ely, Nevada.

Day 1 in Ely

Jason Davis, in white, runs down a fade pass from Omar Clayton Sunday afternoon during UNLV football practice in Ely. The Rebels are up in the mountains until Aug. 19. Launch slideshow »

ELY - UNLV football practice hit new levels Sunday -- both in emotion and elevation.

The Rebels went through their first full-pad workout late in the afternoon in Ely, where they'll be until Aug. 19. The off-campus location serves a few purposes. Aside from the temperatures being about 20-30 degrees cooler than what they are in Las Vegas, the sparse location also gives a good environment for some preseason bonding with the Aug. 30 opener nearing quickly.

The team is also practicing at an elevation of 6,350 feet above sea level -- about 5,000 feet higher than Rebel Park.

As for the emotions, they kicked into gear toward the end of Sunday's session, when coach Mike Sanford lined his team up for a full-contact, goal-line offense drill.

"If I were to look at the thing from a head coach's standpoint, one side of the ball you're happy with, one side of the ball you're mad at," Sanford said of watching his No. 1 offense take on his No. 2 defense and vice versa.

Both offensive units got the best of their defensive opposition.

After the No. 1 defense stuffed Channing Trotter for a loss of a yard on first down, Mike Clausen tossed a beautiful fade to the left edge of the end zone. The ball was pulled down by freshman receiver -- and Western High product -- Phillip Payne, who just kept his feet in play against Will Chandler, who is taking most of the reps with the first team defense in Quinton Pointer's absence.

After the beautiful grab, lineman Jacob Hales got after Chandler verbally.

Not such a bad thing, according to the staff.

"I liked the emotion, I liked the passion," Sanford said. "There's a lot of accountability on our team."

The offense kept it going, scoring on all four of its turns.

On the next snap, with the No. 1 offense on the field, Frank Summers bounced left off the line and rolled in.

Then, after another Trotter no-gainer, Clausen hit Gerold Rodriguez on the right for an open TD grab. Following that score, senior wideout Casey Flair led the entire UNLV offense onto the field to surround Rodriguez in celebration, just like Georgia did a year ago against Florida. The act was repeated on the next snap, when Trotter spun from a tackle up the middle and galloped across the goal line.

"For a practice, it's just to help the emotions, it makes practice that much more fun," Flair said. "We're building that camaraderie, that family. I think that's big. We haven't had that in the past."

Goal line drill aftermath

-After practice, and obviously wanting to avoid having a catch like Payne's from being made against him again, Chandler hung around for some extra work. Junior QB Les Obie and junior receiver Ryan Wolfe hung around to run the play over and over with Chandler. Also, there was senior corner Geoff Howard, who tutored Chandler a bit in between reps. And on the final try? Chandler got himself a pick.

-As for Payne, he simply continues to impress. Sunday's performance came on the heels of Friday's practice, after which he drew praise from Sanford.

"He made a huge play on that, and we're very excited about Philip," he said. "He's gonna play as a freshman. No question. As long as he stays healthy."

More position switching

Once one of the more clogged spots on the roster, the quarterback depth chart thinned again over the weekend.

Freshman Chris Jones, who just a year ago was playing at Shadow Ridge High, was practicing Sunday in a numberless red jersey as opposed to his green top of a week ago.

"I'd love to go in and play quarterback, but the experience the other quarterbacks have over what I have, it didn't look like my playing time would be that high at the time," Jones said. "I asked the coaches which positions we needed actually, and I asked about special teams, because that's always important."

Though, of course, as a quarterback, playing special teams is an unwritten no-no. So the switch to safety -- another position in need of depth -- was pretty natural given Jones' total package.

"Chris wanted to make the move, and he has a lot of athletic ability," Sanford said. "He would have been and could have been a very good quarterback. The way our situation is, he's a guy who would have redshirted and played quarterback down the road, and he wanted to play. And there's an opportunity for him to play right away at safety."

He becomes the second quarterback to move to safety so far this fall, joining Travis Dixon. Though the difference between the two is that Jones played on both sides of the ball in high school, while Dixon did not.

Jones said he's thought about it for a week, and it even took a bit of convincing in terms of telling his mom, who Jones said enjoys watching him play football's most glamorous position.

He said practice was one big adjustment Sunday, as it set in while going through hitting drills.

"It's not just for my mom or anybody else, but it's for this team and what I contribute to the team," Jones said. "I like scoring a little bit better than hitting, but I can always play defense. Football is football."

The other position switch involved junior Luke Plante, who switched from defensive end to tight end.

Black shirts debut

The debut of numberless black jerseys by two Rebels came Sunday. Sporting the tops were Howard and Wolfe, who were voted upon by the coaching staff as essentially the MVPs from the first day of padded practice.

Sanford said the black jersey honors will be voted upon daily from Ely, one from each side of the ball. The runners-up from Friday were Jason Beauchamp on defense and Omar Clayton on offense.

The two black-clad players even went head-to-head twice during seven-on-seven drills Sunday. The first time around was an incomplete pass as the two both went for the ball at the same time, and the second was a completion to Wolfe on a slant toward the middle of the field.

Suck it up, son

While beating the heat was nice (temperatures were in the upper 70s-mid 80s Sunday), some of the players had a tough time adjusting to the thinner air that comes from climbing 5,000 feet into the mountains.

"My helmet, it felt tighter," Jones said. "My jaw bones were killing me."

Other players said learning to control your breathing is the key. Flair pointed out that some of the defensive backs struggled a bit after defending fly routes.

Though the experience will come in handy, considering the Rebels play road games in higher altitudes three times -- at Colorado State, BYU and Utah. But none of those will meet the elevation number in Ely.

Sunday's stud

No one impressed Sunday more than Flair, who at one point caught passes on six straight repetitions in varying drills. Those included a couple of snags up high over the middle, and a couple more catches while twisting back on slant routes.

Bumps and bruises

-Freshman running back C.J. Cox needed some assistance for a right shoulder woe following a hit about midway through Sunday's practice.

-Senior running back David Peeples, recovering from a stress fracture in his right foot, was out of his cast Sunday and wearing his uniform (without pads). He said he hopes to be back in action by the end of the week.

-Freshman tight end Austin Harrington, who suffered a deep bruise to his lower right leg last Wednesday, was still on crutches and in a walking boot.

How it all works

The UNLV players and staff are staying at a few different locations around the town, with the whole team being unable to fit at just one hotel/motel. The players are dressing in an armory just behind the city park where the practices take place. A portable series of showers has been brought in just behind the "locker room." After that, the team walks across the field to the old post office, where all meals are served. Buses are taking the team to and from the team hotels/motels.

Next up

The Rebels will have two two-hour practice sessions Tuesday in Ely, one in the morning and one at night.

A handful of locals came out to check out the action Sunday late in the afternoon. Included were Scott Gregerson, along with his nephew Matt, 18, and his sons Michael, 17, and Anthony.

He said the fact that the Rebels are in town hasn't been publicized, and they happened to notice the action while just driving home.

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