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August 11, 2022

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UNLV football notebook: Spring wrap-up with Sanford

Some position races take shape, others still cloudy

Spring Is Done

Led by Mike Clausen's 152 yards and two touchdowns, the Scarlet beat the Gray 17-0 Friday night in UNLV's Spring Game.

UNLV Spring Football

Players watch the action on the field as UNLV played its annual spring game at Sam Boyd Stadium in April. Launch slideshow »

Sun coverage

As he read through his two-deep depth chart off a piece of loose leaf paper to close the 2009 spring season, 'slash' was maybe the most common word to come out of UNLV coach Mike Sanford's mouth.

In breaking down where his roster stands at the conclusion of five weeks of spring practice, most of the confusion resides in two spots -- running back and the secondary.

The slashes represent just how clouded the competition for every spot is at the moment.

In the backfield, Chris Brogdon's start with the first-team offense at Friday's spring game proved to be no fluke, as he shares the No. 1 spot with shifty sophomore C.J. Cox. At the backup position right now, Imari Thompson and Channing Trotter are side by side, while Sanford also made sure to point out the name of incoming freshman Bradley Randle, who figures to contend equally with the four incumbents.

In the defensive backfield, however, Sanford rattled off 14 names for four positions in a base package.

That, of course, won't always be the case, as Sanford said he expects his team to play with nickel and dime packages more often than not, especially once Mountain West Conference play begins.

"In our league now, with Wyoming being a spread team, New Mexico a spread team and San Diego State -- you look at Ball State's offense (run by new SDSU coach Brady Hoke), and that was a spread with a tight end," he said. "So a lot of people in this league are going to be playing extra DBs. Either you're going to be playing extra DBs or you're gonna be mismatched."

Now see if you can keep up ...

At one cornerback spot, listed at the top are speedsters Deante Purvis and Warren Zeigler. Competing for the backup spot there will be another juco transfer -- Kenny Brown, who was slowed late in the spring with hamstring issues -- and incoming Gorman product Charles Childers.

At the other corner slot, the competition as it stands at the top will be between Quinton Pointer, who missed the spring following shoulder surgery, and Will Chandler, who made major strides over the past few months.

The backup spot there will be a three-man race between juco product Mike Grant, Ryan Tillman and freshman Courtney Bridget.

The safety positions are a tad less crowded, with Chris Jones and Alex DeGiacomo competing for one, with Terrence Lee as the backup. Lee has the leg up in terms of being UNLV's primary nickel back.

At the other spot are converted quarterback Travis Dixon and Marquel Martin.

More receivers to emerge

It was fully expected that Ryan Wolfe, Phillip Payne and Rodelin Anthony would grab the top three spots atop the receiving depth chart.

The fourth position goes to sophomore Michael Johnson, who has morphed maybe more than any skill position player on the UNLV roster this spring.

"He became a receiver," Sanford said. "I think he was an athlete playing last year. He really competed, worked hard and became a better receiver. That's why he's a starter for us now. He worked his way into a position from being a backup to Wolfe, to us needing to find a way to put him on the field as one of the four starters."

Johnson only had two catches for 3 yards last season, but gained 106 yards on the ground as he was used to execute several sweeps.

Now, he has more of a look of a viable receiver.

Two names Sanford tapped as potential contributors are those of a pair of incoming freshmen -- Cheyenne's Marcus Sullivan and Texas product Mark Barefield.

"They fit what we're looking for," he said. "Barefield's a real fast guy, both of them. I think. I wanted to improve our speed, and that would be a way to inject some speed with some freshmen coming in, who may not necessarily start, but they can play. It's a combination of need and speed."

Taumua continues to wow

Defensive tackle Malo Taumua made maybe a bigger impression than anyone on the defensive side of the ball this spring, culminating his 5-week run with a sack last Friday.

"He's lighter now," Sanford said. "He's playing at 268 (pounds). Very, very quick, hard to block. He causes a lot of disruption."

More depth needed in the trenches

UNLV's starting offensive line, barring injuries, will include four returning starters in Matt Murphy, Evan Marchal, John Gianninoto and Joe Hawley.

Where Sanford wants to see development is in the backup spots.

Expect incoming freshmen Doug Zismann and Andrew Mack to make a splash beginning in July.

Another leg in the mix?

Neither Brendon Lamers nor Kyle Watson seemed to do enough just yet to make themselves a clear No. 1 in terms of replacing Dack Ishii as UNLV's punter.

Sanford said he wouldn't rule out the possibility of adding a walk-on into the mix for that job.

Best spring yet

Sanford tapped this spring as the best he's seen from any of his previous teams at UNLV.

A big part of that had to do with the fact that the Rebels got through the five weeks without any serious injuries.

Next up

Sanford heads out of town on Wednesday morning on a loaded trip to the northeast.

There, he'll have a chance to observe some voluntary offseason workouts at the New York Jets and New York Giants facilities.

He'll also be visiting his son, Mike Jr., who is now the tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator at Yale.

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