Polian finally out of the shadow of Ault | NevadaAppeal.com
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Polian finally out of the shadow of Ault

Sports fodder for a Friday morning … The Nevada Wolf Pack football team opened its fourth summer training camp under coach Brian Polian this week and, well, for the first time this actually feels like Polian’s program from top to bottom. Gone is former head coach Chris Ault’s offensive coordinator Nick Rolovich. Also gone, for the most part, is Ault’s pistol offense and any player who saw the field under Ault on game day. The strongest ties to Ault now are former assistant Mike Bradeson and former offensive lineman Jeff Nady, now a graduate assistant coach. Ault, now, is merely a few lines in the media guide and a few plaques in Legacy Hall. And that’s a good thing for the overall health of the program. Polian’s future with the Wolf Pack hinges on this year.

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The two biggest changes heading into the 2016 season are offensive coordinator Tim Cramsey and offensive line coach Jonathan Himebaugh. Polian, it seems, has hit a pair of grand slams by hiring Cramsey and Himebaugh and it couldn’t have come at a better time. Cramsey’s Montana State offense the past few years has been one of the most explosive and productive in the nation. The hope is he accomplishes what Rolovich failed to do – combine the Pistol and the spread offenses into a video game attack that puts the Pack on the cutting edge of college football once again. The offensive line, which has barely kept its head above water in Polian’s first three years because of injuries and a lack of depth and talent, is the key to all of it. Himebaugh, who comes out of USC, NFL Europe, the CFL and XFL, is a high-energy guy with a ton of experience as a player and coach. It’s his job to return the nastiness back to the Pack offensive linemen and teach them the stuff only NFL Europe, the XFL and CFL can teach you.

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The three surest things on the Wolf Pack roster right now are kicker Brent Zuzo, punter Alex Boy and running back James Butler. Strap on some leather helmets, toss in a handful of quick kicks on third down and five dozen or so dive plays into the middle of the line and, voila, you have your 1923 Mountain West champion. Yes, we know the Mountain West didn’t exist in 1923 and some will argue that it doesn’t really exist now. But you get the idea. The Pack’s strengths seem more suited to an era when even Chris Ault was a twinkle in his grandfather’s eye. It might be time to dust off former coach R.E. Courtwright’s playbook and get the Cal Bears freshman team, the Stewart Indian School, the Wolf Pack freshmen and the Mare Island Naval Base back on the schedule. But, remember, Cramsey didn’t come to Nevada to burn his Big Sky Conference playbook, run the ball 65 times, punt a dozen times and try to win games 10-7. Yes, he’s probably going to turn back the clock but only to about two decades ago, to the 1990s when the Pack offense obliterated opposing defenses with a brilliant air attack combined with an opportunistic ground game. Ault would be proud.

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Notice we have yet to mention the Wolf Pack defense. That, too, is a page out of the Ault Guide to Successful Football. Nobody really knows what to expect out of the Pack defense this year except it will be coached well by underrated defensive coordinator Scott Boone. A ton of talent vacated the defense after the 2015 season (namely Ian Seau, Lenny Jones, Jordan Dobrich, Rykeem Yates and Bryan Lane) and there are a lot of holes to fill. We could be looking at a lot of 38-35 games (just like the 1990s).

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Keep your eye on the quarterback position this year. The Wolf Pack nursed Tyler Stewart through his first year as a starter last year, rarely putting the ball in his hands with the game on the line. Rolovich showed little confidence in Stewart all year, telling the quarterback to hand off to running backs Butler and Don Jackson and hope for the best. Stewart could blossom under Cramsey or he could find himself on the bench. There are, after all, five other players with the word “quarterback” near their name on the roster. There’s no reason why Stewart can’t become one of the best quarterbacks in the Mountain West. He’s big and strong, can move around and he can make the throws. He’s smart and is more than willing to follow orders. He also made more big plays last year than you might think. Cramsey — we can’t emphasize this enough — didn’t come to Nevada to hand the ball off. The quarterback is the star of his offense.

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The last time Colin Kaepernick and Blaine Gabbert were in a head-to-head battle was Sept. 25, 2009 at Mackay Stadium. Gabbert’s Missouri Tigers beat Kaepernick‘s Wolf Pack 31-21 that evening as Gabbert threw for 414 yards and three touchdowns. That night, though, was a significant turning point in Kaepernick’s career. That loss dropped his career record as a starter to 11-13. He would go on to win 21 of his last 24 starts. Fast forward to this summer. Kap and Gabbert are locked in a duel to become the San Francisco 49ers starting quarterback under new coach Chip Kelly. This, too, will be a significant turning point in Kap’s career. If he loses again he might not get 24 starts the rest of his career. If he wins he could be on his way to Canton, just like he’s on his way now to the College Football and Wolf Pack Hall of Fame. If Kelly is indeed a brilliant offensive mind he’s going to find a way to bring out Kaepernick’s once-a-generation abilities, just like Ault did.

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Former Wolf Pack center JaVale McGee appears headed to the Golden State Warriors. The wild and wacky McGee might be the perfect fit for Steph Curry’s Warriors. All he has to do is stand in the paint and swat shots into the third row, something he can do as well as any player in NBA history. The problem with McGee, though, is he can’t stay healthy (just 62 games over the last three seasons) and his behavior, at times, could make even Donald Trump shake his head. McGee’s biggest claim to fame in the NBA so far after eight seasons is a featured role on Shaquille O’Neal’s Shaqtin A Fool comedy segments on Inside the NBA. He’s 7-feet tall and can touch the opposite ends of the Bay Bridge when he sticks his arms out. He could stand in San Francisco and block Draymond Green’s shot in Oakland. He will always get work in the NBA. He’s the baseball equivalent of the left-handed reliever. But it’s time McGee realizes the Warriors are his once-in-a-career opportunity to stop being a punch line.