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UNLV football:

Fighting fatigue: Rebels are seeking depth in the defensive backfield

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Steve Marcus

San Diego State’s running back Rashaad Penny (20) is forced out of bounds short of the end zone by UNLV defensive back Dalton Baker (33) and UNLV defensive back Jocquez Kalili (26) during a game against San Diego State at Sam Boyd Stadium Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017.

USC ran 75 offensive plays in a Week 1 win over UNLV, and Rebels cornerback Jericho Flowers was on the field for all but a handful of them. In head coach Tony Sanchez’s opinion, that was a bit too much playing time.

Sanchez estimated Flowers’ snap count was in the “high-60s, low-70s” for the USC game, and No. 2 cornerback Jocquez Kalili wasn’t far behind. And though the team didn’t use fatigue as an excuse for the loss, it’s hard to argue with the numbers; after allowing USC to complete 17-of-28 passes for 144 yards through the first three quarters, UNLV allowed Trojans’ QB J.T. Daniels to hit on 5-of-7 for 138 yards in the fourth quarter alone.

One of those completions was a 43-yard bomb that went for a touchdown against Flowers in deep coverage. Two other passes went for 41 and 36 yards.

Sanchez said the goal going forward will be to rotate the defensive backs more freely in an attempt to keep Flowers and the rest of the first-teamers fresh late in games.

“We want to get more guys in on the back end,” Sanchez said after Wednesday’s practice. “We did a really good job with the rotation up front, and we did a little bit in the back end, but I think limiting Jericho’s reps and limiting Kalili a little bit — I’m talking about a series here or there — would be a big difference.”

The secondary will receive a boost on Saturday against UTEP, as sophomore cornerback Alex Perry will be active for the first time this season. Perry transferred from Arizona State in the offseason and applied for an NCAA waiver to allow him to play in 2018 without sitting out a redshirt season. The NCAA cleared him before Week 1, but a concussion kept him out of the lineup against USC.

Perry, a 5-foot-11 Bishop Gorman grad, was still limited in practice this week, but Sanchez said he expects Perry to play as the third or fourth corner and provide that much-needed depth.

Perry is excited about getting on the field.

“The defense is playing real well,” Perry said. “They’re flying around. I see myself fitting in wherever coach puts me — corner, nickel, it doesn’t matter.”

Perry performed well in training camp, and as a former 4-star recruit he is one of the more talented defenders on the roster. So while the Rebels are looking to him to provide depth now, in the long-term he can be a building block for the defense.

“I feel like I’m a leader on the field,” Perry said. “I have a good football IQ. My technique is real solid, but there are always places to improve.”

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

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