Special to the Sun/Richard Brian
Monday, Aug. 28, 2017 | 2 a.m.
UNLV released its depth chart for Saturday’s season opener against Howard, and most of the position battles that were waged throughout training camp have been settled (for now).
Backup quarterback, center and cornerback were among the most hotly contested competitions over the last three weeks, and the first depth chart of the season provides some clarity at those positions. There are also a couple of surprises, including a big omission at wide receiver:
A quick breakdown of the Rebels’ depth chart as they head into Week 1:
Senior wide receiver Kendal Keys appeared to be on track for a timely recovery from the knee injury that ended his 2016 season prematurely, but another knee issue flared up over the last week of camp and has apparently knocked him out for Week 1.
Keys is not listed among the seven receivers on the depth chart for the Howard game due to a knee sprain. Devonte Boyd is listed as the No. 1 at the X receiver spot, while Darren Woods is atop the chart at the Z and Brandon Pressley and Mekhi Stevenson are the top options at the A receiver spot.
The good news is that head coach Tony Sanchez has expressed confidence in Keys’ availability for Week 2. The 6-foot-4 junior brings size as an outside receiver and should give the Rebels’ passing game an added dimension once he gets back on the field.
Palandech is top backup
At quarterback, there was never an inch of doubt that freshman Armani Rogers would be the starter, but the backup QB competition was one of the fiercest battles throughout training camp, with seniors Kurt Palandech and Johnny Stanton jostling for the job.
Heading into Week 1, it will be Palandech in the No. 2 role. Sanchez likes his leadership and command of the offense, and he has plenty of experience in the Rebels’ system. Palandech has played in 11 games in each of the last two years, and while he’s not an accurate passer (49.7 percent completions), he’s thrown 14 touchdowns against seven interceptions, and he’s a good scrambler.
Sanchez has said that the top backup could vary on a week-to-week basis depending on the opponent and the specifics of the offensive game plan, so this is by no means a permanent gig.
Singer will snap
With junior Sid Acosta still rehabbing a torn ACL and unavailable until October at the earliest, junior Zack Singer will start at center on Saturday. Singer was the leader in this race throughout training camp, but some snapping issues — shotgun exchanges in particular proved treacherous — left the door open for competition.
Singer’s blocking ability is apparently enough to offset those concerns, however, so he’ll be snapping the ball to Rogers against Howard. The Rebels also view Singer as a team leader — he was voted one of four captains for the 2017 season — and that may have played a part in entrusting him with the responsibilities of the center position.
Outsey is in at defensive end
Jameer Outsey had trouble finding a true position in his two years at Iowa State, as he bounced from defensive line to linebacker to tight end without ever earning much playing time. But in one training camp at UNLV, the 6-foot-3, 240-pounder has nailed down a starting role at defensive end.
Sanchez sang Outsey’s praises throughout camp and made it clear that he was the top option to start at DE. He’ll play alongside starting defensive tackles Mike Hughes and Jason Fao, and opposite edge rusher Mark Finau.
Corners locked in
Throughout most of training camp, Sanchez said he was working primarily with a four-man rotation at cornerback. So while sophomore Jericho Flowers, junior Tim Hough and senior Robert Jackson are now listed as the starters, expect junior Ty’Jason Roberts to see plenty of action as well.
Flowers is listed as one starter on the outside, while Hough and Jackson are listed as co-starters on the other side. Hough is also listed as the No. 1 nickleback, and Sanchez likes his ability to defend slot receivers, so expect Hough to line up inside anytime opponents go with three-receiver sets.
Running back by committee
Running back may be the position least beholden to the depth chart, as UNLV has a stable of ball carriers capable of getting the job done. Still, it’s something of a surprise to see sophomore Charles Williams and junior Lexington Thomas listed as co-No. 1’s heading into Week 1.
It was assumed that Williams would be the top back to start the season, with Thomas mixing in as a change-of-pace home-run hitter. But Thomas had a great camp and should see a fair amount of carries early in the season. Look for Sanchez to ride the hot hand at this position, with 225-pound junior Xzaviar Campbell getting some opportunities as well.