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5 key position battles as UNLV training camp winds down

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Special to the Sun/Richard Brian

UNLV quarterback Armani Rogers (1) crosses into the end zone for a touchdown on April 1, 2017, during UNLVs spring showcase scrimmage game. Photo by Richard Brian.

Much of UNLV’s depth chart is locked in as the Rebels head into the final week of training camp, but there are some key position battles still raging.

After Sunday’s practice, head coach Tony Sanchez said there were a handful of situations he hopes will be settled before the Rebels begin game-week preparation in advance of the season opener against Howard (Sept. 2).

“We’re kind of at the end [of camp], and there are still a couple of question marks,” Sanchez said. “There are good problems because you have a couple guys pushing each other.”

A look at five roles still up for grabs:

Cornerback

Sanchez has consistently rotated four players at cornerback throughout camp, and the core has pretty much remained the same: senior Robert Jackson, junior Tim Hough, junior Ty’Jason Roberts and sophomore Jericho Flowers.

Only Hough has nailed down a spot so far — he appears to be the Rebels’ top nickel cornerback, and Sanchez has praised his ability to cover slot receivers. As for the outside corner positions, Jackson and Flowers may have an edge as of now, but after Sunday’s practice Sanchez said Roberts has been coming on strong.

Of all the position battles, this may be the most fluid on a week-to-week basis. After UNLV struggled so mightily to defend the deep ball last year, Sanchez may just play the hot hand in the secondary.

Backup quarterback

Armani Rogers has the No. 1 job on lock, but the odds say he won’t be the only quarterback to take snaps this season. That puts added emphasis on the backup battle, and so far it looks like senior Kurt Palandech has the lead over senior Johnny Stanton.

Stanton has a stronger arm and better pocket presence, but Palandech has a knack for making plays with his legs, and Sanchez likes his command of the offense. Barring a dramatic development over the next week, Palandech should head into the season as Rogers’ main backup.

Receiver depth

Seniors Devonte Boyd and Kendal Keys will line up as UNLV’s starting wide receivers (presuming both are healthy for the opener), but the depth chart beyond them is still in flux. Sophomores Brandon Presley, Darren Woods and Mekhi Stevenson have shown flashes, and freshman Drew Tejchman is in the mix as well.

UNLV is a run-first team, but passing sets can call for three, four or five receivers on the field at the same time. That means the players who secure the Nos. 3, 4 and 5 jobs should see plenty of playing time. Chemistry with Rogers could end up being a deciding factor.

Linebacker

If senior Brian Keyes wants to start at middle linebacker, he’ll have to hold off true freshman Farrell Hester. Sanchez has consistently mentioned Hester as one of the surprises of training camp, and there’s a chance he could jump to the top of the depth chart with a strong finish.

One outside linebacker spot belongs to sophomore Gabe McCoy for now, while the other OLB spot is up for grabs. Sanchez said there have been internal discussions about how to fill the open job, with one option being a position change for one of the safeties. That makes this one of the most wide-open competitions remaining.

Center

With junior college transfer Sid Acosta out for the first month due to a knee injury, the Rebels have been weighing all options during training camp. Junior Zack Singer has gotten the most reps with the first team and has earned the trust of his teammates, but he’s had intermittent issues with his snapping.

If the snapping problems persist, Sanchez could turn to Nathan Jacobson or J’Ondray Sanders to handle center duties. Considering how much the Rebels want to run the ball this year, figuring out the offensive line before opening day is a top priority.

Mike Grimala can be reached at 702-948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Mike on Twitter at twitter.com/mikegrimala.

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