Monday, Aug. 7, 2017 | 2 a.m.
UNLV capped off the opening week of training camp by putting on full pads for the first time and practicing under the lights at Sam Boyd Stadium on Sunday night. Three key takeaways from the Rebels’ first full-speed session:
One of Tony Sanchez’s top priorities when he assumed the head coaching job two years ago was to make the Rebels a more physical team. It hasn’t happened overnight — UNLV was pushed around by opponents too often in 2015 and 2016, especially up front on defense — but the team is improving in that area.
On Sunday, Sanchez put his players through a tough session that tested their strength and especially their stamina, and afterward he was pleased with the way they responded.
Sanchez took the opportunity to reflect a bit on the way UNLV has been able to develop its current core group.
“To be honest with you, part of me was naïve in coming in a couple years ago just thinking you’re going to wave a magic wand,” Sanchez said. “It takes a lot of years of doing the right thing, recruiting the right way, lifting weights, just getting that whole thing right. And now you’re starting to see a bunch of guys that a couple years ago were young and a little wet behind the ears are a big physical group now.”
There was a heavy focus on situational football on Sunday, with several drills throughout practice designed to put the offense and defense in various third-down or long-yardage or short-clock scenarios.
The idea is to simulate as many live game situations as possible, so players are prepared when similar situations crop up during the season. The results were mixed, according to Sanchez.
In one contrived situation, the offense had the ball on the opponent’s goal line, trailing with three seconds on the clock. Senior linebacker Brian Keyes made a nice interception in the end zone, but instead of taking a knee to end the game as he should in that situation, he took off running with a pick-6 in mind, risking a fumble.
“Fall down, the game’s over, we win,” Sanchez said. “You fumble the ball, they scoop and score, we lose. It’s good that he did it now, because now we can go back on film and it’s a teaching moment.”
Devonte Boyd participated in the live portions of the practice, which is a good sign for the senior wide receiver. Boyd is still working his way back from the broken arm that ended his 2016 season early, and he’s been a limited participant in training camp so far.
The All-Mountain West first team selection sat out toward the end of the session, but Sanchez said it was precautionary and that he was encouraged by Boyd’s performance in the face of full contact.
“He did good,” Sanchez said. “Obviously, coming off that injury you want to see him get out there and take a hit, and he did a really good job. Early on he caught a nice ball, took the hit and popped back up. The good thing is he’s a tough guy.”