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Renewed optimism as UNLV football opens spring practice

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L.E. Baskow

UNLV QB Armani Rogers looks to his receiver during UNLV’s first spring practice of the year on Wednesday, March 1, 2017.

Just a few months after a demoralizing, season-ending loss at UNR extinguished its bowl dreams, the UNLV football team was back on the field Tuesday, holding its first of 15 spring practices at Rebel Park.

There was no lingering regret over the missed opportunity that was last season — in fact, there didn't seem to be any emotional baggage remaining from 2017. Taking a cue from head coach Tony Sanchez, the session was energetic and optimistic, with both eyes firmly set on the 2018 season.

And with sophomore quarterback Armani Rogers leading an offense that returns most of its key playmakers and a new defensive coordinator promising a more aggressive style of play, there is reason for the Rebels to be hopeful.

"We're fired up to get out here," Sanchez said after the session, which lasted approximately two hours and 20 minutes. "I thought the guys did a really good job of coming on out and being mature and putting in a good day's work."

Rogers returns for his second season as the starter at QB, and though sophomore running back Charles Williams is still out with a foot injury that caused him to miss the entire 2017 season, the backfield is in good hands with senior back Lexington Thomas.

For the veteran-laden offense, this spring practice window is a chance to knock off the rust and get a jump on building chemistry before fall camp. But for the defense, the next month will be much more important as first-year defensive coordinator Tim Skipper installs his system.

Sanchez said during the offseason that he wanted the team's next DC to be a more attack-minded play-caller, and Skipper, who was the linebackers coach at Florida last year, seems to fit that description.

Junior cornerback Jericho Flowers, one of the Rebels' most promising defenders, said the first practice under Skipper was all about intensity.

"It's just high energy, real high energy," Flowers said. "We come out here, we have fun. It's more about, 'Let's [create turnovers and] get the ball back for the offense.' We got after it last year, it's just more energy now in the defensive room with this defensive coordinator."

Sanchez was happy with what he saw on that side of the ball on Day 1.

"With coach Skip coming in and new terminology, I thought they did a good job in the first day of just communicating, getting lined up right and flying around," he said.

Sanchez also had praise for the talent level on defense, which has been the biggest issue plaguing the team during Sanchez's tenure. As he heads into his fourth season at the helm, Sanchez thinks there is enough quality on that side of the ball to make for an exciting spring — and potentially an exciting 2018 campaign.

"Defensively, we're more talented," Sanchez said. "You see a lot of depth out there. Again, we've got guys who have played a lot of reps now going into their junior and senior years, which is a good thing, having that experience. But now we're learning a new system, so it's almost like, "OK, let's take it easy and slow and be fundamentally sound and get lined up."

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

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