Rebels football:

UNLV’s defensive backfield has to make big changes to improve next season

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Christopher DeVargas

Students at Crestwood Elementary School listen to a reading of “Clifford the Red Dog” by UNLV football’s Sidney Hodge and coach Bobby Hauck, Wednesday Feb. 29, 2012.

Football Practice - March 30, 2012

Coach Bobby Hauck talks to his team during football practice March 30, 2012. Launch slideshow »

Sidney Hodge sauntered off UNLV football’s practice field Monday with air under his steps and a tune in his head.

The junior cornerback was singing “Changes,” a 1992 song by 2Pac that comments on society’s social and racial flaws and the necessity to correct them. The Rebels' goals aren’t nearly that large, but Hodge and the defensive backfield will need some changes of their own this year after finishing as the last-ranked pass defense in the conference the past two seasons.

Like the rest of the team, the group is young and inexperienced. Hodge is the elder statesman of the projected starters, which also includes sophomore cornerback Kenneth Penny, sophomore strong safety Tajh Hasson and freshman free safety Peni Vea.

The three former players all made some contributions last year, none bigger than Hodge. He finished sixth on the team in total tackles and led the squad with eight pass breakups.

“A lot of them have played some, so that should lend itself to hopefully some good things,” said UNLV coach Bobby Hauck, who added that he’s tired of talking about the team’s inexperience.

It’s a fair point, especially considering there’s not much he can do about it right now. In spring it’s impossible to know exactly how some of the younger guys will respond in real games, so there aren’t really answers.

There are, however, some clues, and Vea, the biggest safety at 6-foot-1 and 195 pounds, has provided those.

“He looks the part and he’s done a lot of good things,” Hauck said. “… There’s some things that are confusing to him at times, but I’ve got high hopes for him.”

Vea said the biggest thing for him in practice has been the ability to slow the game down. When the ball is snapped his instinct is to let his athleticism take over and make the play, but that often puts him out of position.

Defensive backs coach J.D. Williams helped him learn to take a step back and let the play come to him.

“Before, my head would just shift, I was too quick to do things,” Vea said. “Now it’s slow down, read it, wait till it opens and make a play from there.”

Vea said the way he’s able to do that is to wait for each one of his keys to the play and take a cue from that. For example, that means seeing first where the tight end is blocking and then reacting to that instead of just sprinting off the snap into his own world.

Hodge said he’s seen the progression in Vea’s game.

“He’s in the right spot at the right time,” Hodge said.

After a week off for spring break, Monday was UNLV’s first practice in April. The Rebels went without pads, but they will put them on for the remaining five practices of the spring schedule.

In the remaining time, Hodge said, the group’s goal is to continue to become smarter football players. Weights and reading the playbook are just as important as what they do on the practice field.

“We’re all in the film room as much as we can,” Hodge said.

And when they do step on the practice field, the hope is that that work results in more tipped passes, more coverage sacks and good tackling from the last line of defense.

“We’re going to get a lot of chances to tackle and do those things these next two weeks and we need to take advantage of it,” Hauck said.

That 2Pac song samples the 1986 hit “The Way It Is” by Bruce Hornsby and the Range. To many, getting beat by the pass is just the way it is for UNLV football.

That’s why they’ve got to start making changes.

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

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  1. Changes are definitely gonna have to happen. I hope the guys can get everything together and develop quickly this season.

  2. Hopefully, the defense can upgrade their playing so that we can get off the bottem of the pile in the league. It would be really, really nice to see more than two wins per season>

  3. The Rebels need to fire Hauck and hire Petrino immediately while he's in the dumps...it's our chance at building a real football program.

  4. Oh, ok Sinatra. A guy like Petrino, with his high moral standards, would be a perfect fit for Las Vegas.

    First, the athletic department will swing by your house and pick up your check for a couple hundred thousand just to get the ball rolling. Then you can contribute a bit more each year to support the big bucks that SEC coaches command.

    Second, if you have a daughter, or a wife, keep an eye on them as Petrino seems to have a roaming eye.

    Third, be thinking of another high priced coach you might want to try and pay for in a couple of years (Mayber one!)as Petrino will surely fail in this town. The last place people like Petrino belong is in Las Vegas.

    Do us a favor Sinatra, move somewhere where the athletic teams win all the time. That way we don't have to read your venom anymore!

  5. Wow get out of the way of UNLV fans like rebelheart...they got some more losing to do! Only a selfish jerk would want to follow a program that 'wins all the time'. Silly rabbits.

    From what I have come to understand following UNLV football for over two-decades now is that 'real fans' are apparently content following, supporting and making excuses for a program that loses all the time. 'Real fans' view 4-wins as a successful year, and all that bowl game nonsense is for haters with unreasonable expectations.

  6. @rebelheart - I could care less about a coach's private life! Look at what Petrino did in his short time with Arkansas....only make them a Top 5 team contending for the National Title....and for how much? $3.5 mil per year....that's cheap. He'll make that much in TV deals alone, plus media coverage, recruits, ticket sales....

    I could care less if he bangs your daughter. I don't have one. He's got many strip clubs and several brothels within a few hours of Vegas...perfect. Vegas is the perfect place for him...no one will judge him for his off the field behavior.

    Instead, you'd rather have Hauck? You make me laugh....LMAO

  7. Yeh, typical comment from Sinatra but thanks for showing more of your true colors. Maybe if you didn't frequent those places a few hours out of town so much you just might make a half-way decent family man. Oh wait! Maybe you are an owner and see a potential high rolling client in Petrino. Nice!

    First of all, I never said that I was a big Coach Hauck fan. The fact of the matter is, as much as you try to deny it, he is our coach. Do I support him, hell yes! I want him to succeed but at the same time I have been just as critical with some of the losses, play calling, etc. But I am not going to throw him under the bus like you do. He deserves the time to get the program to where he wants it to be. This is Haucks big year coming up. I expect at least 5 wins based on our schedule. It could not be set up any better, especially with 4 home games to start with. Anything less than 5 wins to me is unacceptable. He had no chance his first year with one of the nations hardest schedules. I give him a pass on that. Now it is time to see some improvement.

    You can call me a homer all you want to. My roots to UNLV go back to when I played for this team back in the 70's & 80's and we had a great tradition back then that unfortunately people have long forgotten. I will contribute anyway I can to get the program back to where it used to be, but I would be totally against hiring someone like Petrino. He is officially "poison" right now to any program that hires him.

    Try making more of an intelligent comment instead of just saying "Fire Hauck" or "Fire Rice". Those comments are lame and make you look ignorant. Oh, and let me end this in your intelligent way of closing-LMAO!! DUH!

  8. LMAO....5 wins is acceptable to you @rebelheart?!!! OK, I'll take you seriously now....that's right, go Hauck! Get that 5th Win and we'll carry you off the field!

    .....and you're criticizing my comments as not intelligent?! You must really love me to end with my favorite way to laugh at you homers....errr "former players"....LMAO

    As a former player, I'd be embarrassed by Hauck and our school's decision to give him an extension this past season....but wait, we're mediocre! So 5 wins is just fine! ha ha ha ha!!