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Analysis: Breaking down UNLV football after spring practice

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Richard Brian / Special to the Sun

Quarterback Armani Rogers (1) looks for a receiver during the UNLV football team’s Spring Showcase at the Peter Johann Memorial Field at UNLV on Saturday, April 6, 2019. Richard Brian

There is still a long way to go before the 2019 football season kicks off, so the UNLV football depth chart is not finalized by any means. That will happen in training camp, when head coach Tony Sanchez has a full roster (and a full practice schedule) to work with.

But what do the Rebels look like now? After wrapping up spring practice over the weekend, there are areas where the team looks strong as well as some positions of need.

With five months before the season opener, an early assessment of UNLV football:

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Offensive tackle

If redshirt sophomores Ashton Morgan and Justice Oluwaseun are as good as Sanchez thinks they are, the Rebels should be set at tackle for a long while. Morgan heads into the offseason atop the depth chart at left tackle after holding off a strong challenge from juco import Jackson McCullough.

“If Ashton plays like he did this spring, we’ve got a heck of a guy for a long time,” Sanchez said.

The coach was equally enthusiastic about Oluwaseun, who is listed as the No. 1 right tackle. At 6-foot-3, 325 pounds, Oluwaseun has dominant, All-Mountain West potential.

“Justice is by far our most talented guy,” Sanchez said. “He’s probably the most talented offensive lineman we’ve had in the five years I’ve been here.”

Defensive line

Is there a chance UNLV could actually field a good — not just decent, but good — defensive line? It sounds unbelievable, but there is talent up front. Junior Nick Dehdashtian has been a Sanchez favorite for years, and though a foot injury kept him sidelined for the entire 2018 season (and limited his workload in the spring), he looks like a difference-maker at end. Throw in junior Kolo Uasike and senior Gabe McCoy (although McCoy is technically listed at the “Buck” linebacker position, he plays on the line frequently as a pass rusher) and the Rebels are actually look good in the trenches coming out of spring ball.

Running back

Despite losing Lexington Thomas to graduation, UNLV should have no problem running the ball next season. Junior Charles Williams averaged 5.1 yards per carry last year in limited action and he reestablished himself during the spring, looking stronger and more forceful at the point of attack after adding some weight (Sanchez said he’s over 190 pounds now after playing at 185 last year). Williams will enter training camp as the No. 1 back. Behind him, sophomore bruiser Chad Magyar earned Sanchez’s admiration for his “blue collar” running style. There is depth behind them, as well, so consider this position well-stocked.

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Receiver

The receiving corps was thin heading into the spring, and the situation got exponentially worse when senior Brandon Presley suffered a torn ACL that will keep him out for the entire 2019 season. The three players atop the depth chart at the end of spring — senior Darren Woods, junior Mekhi Stevenson and sophomore Tyleek Collins — combined for just 75 catches last year. Only Collins showed any consistent big-play ability. Sanchez is high on senior grad transfer Jordan McCray, who has a big frame at 6-foot-5, but the Rebels will need help at the position. Look for UNLV to use one of its three open scholarships to add another pass-catcher or two before camp opens.

Cornerback

This was one of the Rebels’ most troublesome positions last year, as inconsistency and a lack of athleticism allowed opposing offenses to rack up big plays on a regular basis. Senior Jericho Flowers is the top cover man and can usually be counted on to stick with his assignment, but the other starting spot is up for grabs. Senior Myles Plummer is listed as the No. 1 opposite Flowers, but Sanchez expects summer additions Jamel Hamm (prep school) and Jeremiah Houston (juco) to push for that job. And though it’s not technically listed on the depth chart, the slot corner position is important and the Rebels still need someone to emerge there. It’s a work in progress and might stay that way right up until Week 1.

Backup quarterback

Given the nature of the offense UNLV runs, starting quarterback Armani Rogers is going to take hits on a weekly basis. At some point he’ll get banged up and need to sit, and the Rebels will have to turn to their backup QB. Last year, UNLV lost six straight games when Rogers went down and the season was basically a waste at that point. The competition between junior Max Gilliam and redshirt freshman Kenyon Oblad for the No. 2 job didn’t play out as well as it could have in the spring, as Gilliam was picked off twice in the spring game and Oblad went 4-of-10 with one pick. UNLV needs better, more reliable play from its backup QB.

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

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