Friday, March 31, 2017 | 2 a.m.
Armani Rogers and Johnny Stanton have spent the past month battling for UNLV’s starting quarterback job, and on Saturday they’ll take center stage as they deliver their biggest statements yet at the team’s annual Spring Showcase.
Rogers, a 6-foot-5 redshirt freshman, has played with the first team for most of spring practice, and his arm strength and athleticism have been evident. Stanton hasn’t given up on the job, however. The senior looks smoother in his second year under head coach Tony Sanchez, and he has shown improved accuracy on short and intermediate passes.
The quarterback duel will add a little sizzle to Saturday’s live scrimmage, which begins at noon and is open to the public free of charge.
After Wednesday’s practice, Sanchez said he’s not going to make a hasty decision about the game’s most important position and reiterated that both Stanton and Rogers have performed well in spring practices.
“Johnny’s got a heck of an arm, he’s just got to be more consistent in some of those reads,” Sanchez said. “Sometimes he puts the ball in jeopardy. That’s been kind of the thing he’s struggled with at times, but he’s done some really good things. Then you look at Armani and he’s got to be more consistent in his reads too, but he’s unbelievably athletic and he’s got great arm strength.”
The Spring Showcase will open with team warmups, a series of live goal-line situations and some kicking drills. Then we’ll get the main event — two 25-minute periods of live scrimmaging, with Rogers and Stanton (and No. 3 QB Kurt Palandech) alternating with the first- and second-string offenses.
While Sanchez stressed that the main objective is to get through the day without injury, he did allow that the spring game can and will be used for evaluating position battles, including the quarterbacks.
“The quarterbacks are still making reads, guys are still fitting, you’re still looking for hustle and great effort,” he said. “Until we get to fall camp, this is the guys’ last chance to put it on film. I tell the guys, don’t be that guy who wants to schedule an appointment to talk about your playing time — put it on film.”
All three quarterbacks figure to produce points on Saturday. UNLV scored 31.6 points per game last season and the Rebels return depth and talent at every skill position, as well as the offensive line. Running backs Charles Williams (sophomore) and Lexington Thomas (junior) combined to rush for 1,405 yards last year at 5.3 yards per carry, while senior receiver Devonte Boyd battled through injury to rack up 746 yards on 45 catches. Boyd is still rehabbing an arm injury and won’t participate on Saturday, but sophomore wideout Brandon Presley has had a strong spring and could provide some fireworks in the passing game.
The defense isn’t quite as established. The unit struggled mightily in 2016 (36.8 points per game allowed) and lost eight starters to graduation, so the spring practice sessions have been important for developing chemistry in the defensive huddle.
Senior lineman Mike Hughes has taken on a leadership role and thinks the Rebels’ defense is capable of quick improvement, which he wants to show on Saturday.
“We lost a lot of starters, but we’ve progressed at a pace I wouldn’t have expected,” Hughes said. “So we’re on track from last year. I felt like last year our Achilles heel was if we had a bad play early in a drive, we let it dictate the whole drive … I’m the person who has to rally us. If we’re out there in the middle of the chaos, I’m saying let it go. Take that bad play, put it away and let’s go. That’s what I want to see [in the spring game].”
Above all else, the Las Vegas native in Hughes (a Palo Verde grad) just wants fans to come out and support the team.
“I’m a local, so anytime my family can come out and watch us play, that’s a good thing,” he said. “We want it to be fun and competitive so we can show everyone what Rebel football is all about.”