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October 18, 2018

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Going with the passing flow

Receivers might prefer to work with one QB, but three vying to be starter

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Sam Morris

UNLV wide receiver Casey Flair came to the Rebels from a high school in Anchorage, Alaska, where he worked with the same quarterback for three seasons.

Ryan Wolfe has caught passes from four starting quarterbacks in his two years at UNLV and says he would love to know what it’s like to develop a working relationship with one quarterback.

Casey Flair knows what it’s like to work with a quarterback for an extended period — but not at UNLV — and insists that’s the way to go.

Mike Sanford likes the fact that his Rebels have some depth and competition at quarterback but acknowledges that in a perfect world, Wolfe and Flair would have worked exclusively with one quarterback during the past two seasons.

As it is, UNLV is more than halfway through its spring practice schedule and any one of three players — sophomore Omar Clayton, sophomore Travis Dixon or redshirt freshman Mike Clausen — could emerge as the starting quarterback this summer.

Since 2006, Rocky Hinds, Shane Steichen, Dixon and Clayton all have started games for the Rebels. Hinds made 11 starts and Steichen made one in 2006. Both are out of the program. Dixon started seven games last season before losing the starting job to Clayton, who made three starts before breaking his hand. Dixon returned as the starter for the final two games.

Wolfe, a junior who has 121 receptions for 1,695 yards in his first two seasons at UNLV, says the ideal situation would be for a receiver to work with one quarterback for two or three years because the timing between quarterback and receivers is crucial to running a successful passing game.

“But I haven’t really seen that yet in my first two years, so I wouldn’t know what it’s like,” he says. “That’s pretty much the major thing for spring practice, is to make sure we iron out all the timing issues and all the little stuff so that once we get into fall practice, that stuff is already taken care of and we can move on.”

Flair, who has 153 receptions for 1,438 yards the past three seasons, wasn’t used to having a revolving door at quarterback when he came to UNLV: He worked with the same quarterback during his three years on varsity at East High in Anchorage, Alaska.

“I think any receiver would hope for that so you can build a relationship with the quarterback,” Flair, a senior, says. “It’s like in high school and you play together as sophomores, as juniors and as seniors and sometimes he knows what you’re going to do because you guys have that relationship.”

He has run routes for five starting quarterbacks during his first three seasons with the Rebels.

“It is tough when you have quarterbacks changing, but if you work on what you’ve got to work on, the ball’s going to be where you need it to be because they’re all Division I quarterbacks,” Flair says.

While Wolfe and Flair agree that having consistency at the quarterback position would be ideal, Sanford says it isn’t mandatory. He notes that when he was an assistant under John Robinson at USC, the Trojans alternated quarterbacks Brad Otton and Kyle Wachholtz during the 1995 season, and the team posted a 9-2-1 mark and defeated Northwestern in the Rose Bowl.

“You’d like to have consistency at the quarterback position and, unfortunately, right now that’s not the case,” says Sanford, who is 6-29 entering his fourth season at UNLV. “I think the perception is that the only way to go is to have one quarterback, but it really isn’t. In reality, you’re better off with more guys who can play.”

That’s especially true with UNLV’s spread offense, which exposes the quarterback to more contact — and potential injuries — because he is asked to run the ball more than a passer in a traditional offense.

“I feel much better about our quarterback position now that we have three or four guys that we feel can play and win,” Sanford says.

Flair, who says he and his fellow receivers are making the best of the situation, still sounds wistful when he recalls the stability his high school team had at quarterback.

“You can definitely tell it’s a good thing when you stay with the same guy,” he says, “but life’s not always perfect.”

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