Savannah Austin / UAA Communications
Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2019 | 2 a.m.
UNLV’s defense received a boost on Monday, when newly eligible Rayshad Jackson took the field for the first time to practice with the Rebels.
The grad transfer from Florida missed the first two weeks of training camp while waiting for the UNLV administration to approve him academically. With that hurdle cleared as of Saturday, Jackson was free to participate in the Rebels’ helmets-only session on Monday.
“It felt great to be back out on the football field,” Jackson said. “It took a long process for me to get back on it with the academic administration, but I’m finally back and it feels great to be a part of the team and go to work with my teammates next week.”
Jackson committed to Florida as a 3-star recruit in the Class of 2015. After a redshirt freshman year, he carved out a productive career with the Gators. Playing under linebackers coach Tim Skipper — now the UNLV defensive coordinator — Jackson played in all 13 games in 2018 and made 36 tackles.
Head coach Tony Sanchez said the hourlong practice wasn’t the best way to assess Jackson’s readiness, but he expects the veteran to be up to speed by the time UNLV’s season starts on Aug. 31 against Southern Utah.
“It was such a short practice today, but he sure looks good running around out there,” Sanchez said. “He’s quick. He’s a sharp guy. The one thing that gives me a little bit of ease is he’s familiar with the system. He played in this defensive system with Skip at Florida, so his transition is going to be a lot faster than say a juco guy or a guy you end up getting into camp late, because he knows what he’s doing.”
Skipper said Rebels fans will enjoy Jackson’s physical style of play.
“Real good player,” Skipper said. “I’ve been around him a long time, I know what type of player he is. He’s a hard-nosed, downhill, hitting linebacker. Really excited to get him out here.”
On paper, UNLV’s strength on defense should be its linebacking corps, with Jackson, senior Javin White, junior Ferrell Hester and junior Vic Viramontes combining to offer speed, power and experience at the position.
Hester and Viramontes are set to handle the inside positions in UNLV’s 3-4 alignment, while White and Jackson will line up on the outside.
Skipper plans to use Jackson in a variety of ways.
“He fits multiple spots,” Skipper said. “He can play inside ‘backer, he can play outside ‘backer also. We’ll also use him in some pass rush situations where you would think he was an end. He can do a lot. He played end in high school, so he has a natural ability to rush the passer, and he’s a very physical tackler. He can do a lot.”
Jackson is ready to do whatever the coaches ask of him.
“First of all, I’m a run-stopper,” Jackson said. “I’m an energetic guy. When it comes to the coverage, I can do that too. I like to hit people. I like to shoot gaps.
“I see myself as a WILL and I think I’ll be in position to get sacks and stuff,” he continued. “It’s a defense I’ve been in at Florida before, so it’s something I’m used to.”
Skipper said it’s the coaches’ job to make sure Jackson is prepared to play in Week 1, and he doesn’t expect it to be an issue. Jackson participated in team meetings and other off-field work while waiting to be cleared, so it’s just a matter of getting up to speed physically.
After Monday’s practice, Jackson stayed on the field for an extra 15 minutes, going through coverage and footwork drills with Viramontes and freshman linebacker Malakai Salu.
“I feel like I’m ready to go,” Jackson said. “I’ve been here all fall camp, so I’m mentally ready. I know the playbook already. I’ve got to get the reps on the field, but I feel like I’m ready to go for the first game.”