courtesy Sage Sammons
Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2012 | 2:05 a.m.
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- UNLV’s Sidney Hodge has many reasons to celebrate before the regular season
- Rebels young and old shift focus to camp in Ely ahead of 2012 home opener
- Rebels need passing targets like Marcus Sullivan and Jake Phillips to bring balance
- Brewer: UNLV’s top rusher, Tim Cornett, is eager to step up as a leader
- Dionza Bradford’s return could be big boost for Rebels backfield
- All UNLV Football Coverage
ELY — UNLV football coach Bobby Hauck hasn’t named a starting quarterback, saying Monday after practice in Ely that he is still evaluating the position with his assistants.
Regardless of which signal caller is under center, there’s a good chance the linemen in front of him will remain the same. Every week.
The five expected starters on the offensive line — sophomore Brett Boyko and senior Yusef Rodgers at the tackles, sophomore Cameron Jefferson and senior Doug Zismann at the guards, and sophomore Robert Waterman at center — started the final seven games together last year in helping the Rebels rush for a respectable 164.1 yards per game.
For a team with just a pair of wins in each of the past two seasons, having an experienced offensive line is a clear strength. It’s a luxury most programs don’t have.
“The thing that cracks me up is we talk about our veteran offensive line and three of those guys are sophomores,” Hauck said.
Jefferson, a product of Desert Oasis High in Las Vegas, joined the starting lineup last year midway through the season. He’s one of three sophomores in the unit, giving the Rebels a solid foundation for the next three years.
“We know what to expect out of each other, and how each guy plays and who needs help where,” said Waterman, who was named to the Rimington Award Spring Watch list for the nation’s top center. “With all of those games together under our belts, there is no reason for us not to click as a group.”
UNLV has played several freshmen and sophomores the past two years — some because of injury and others because Hauck three years ago inherited a program lacking depth at virtually every position.
While some players have been overwhelmed, others such as junior running back Tim Cornett, the team’s leading rusher the past two seasons, and the left tackle Boyko have thrived.
The 6-foot-7, 310-pound Boyko was a honorable mention all-Mountain West Conference selection last year and a second-team freshman All-American by the Phil Steele magazine after starting every game. He was recently named as a preseason first-team all-league selection and the conference’s best pass blocker by Lindy’s.
Boyko picked up his first college start last year at nationally ranked Wisconsin and has been a mainstay on the left side every since. While he is the most heralded member of the unit, he knows the success and failure of the line is a team effort — all five guys working together.
“The offensive line is a unit. You are supposed to play together — all as one,” Boyko said. “When you have all those guys coming back you are so used to playing with, it makes us all better. We are going to compete every game. We are going to be tough and physical, and play at a fast pace.”
Having an experienced line is one thing. Having a capable line is another.
And UNLV, despite its struggles the past two years, appear to be solid up front. Boyko and Waterman each have multiple honors, Rodgers and Zismann are proven seniors, and Jefferson at 6-foot-6, 300 pounds is the most athletic and could have the most potential.
For a team only expected to win three games, the line is one step in the right direction of proving the so-called experts incorrect.
“When you are playing the number of young guys we have, there is going to be some growing pains,” Hauck said. “But, frankly, (the line) held up better than I thought they would and we ran the ball well last year. That in itself gives everyone involved a lot of encouragement that we’ll be pretty good down the road.”
That road begins next Thursday against Minnesota with five familiar faces on the line.