Nevada football springs forward
Appeal Sports Writer
RENO – More than 80 players participated in Nevada’s first spring workout on Tuesday afternoon.
Head coach Chris Ault greeted 14 returning starters and 44 lettermen, as the Wolf Pack starts its quest for another successful season following an 8-5 performance in 2006 and a second consecutive bowl appearance.
Ault said the team had a tremendous off-season. For the first time in his tenure, every member of the squad recorded a passing time in the “Nevada Run,” which is more of an obstacle course designed to test agility, stamina and conditioning.
The off-season brought about changes in the coaching staff.
Former co-defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter left for the Air Force Academy and defensive line coach Marty Long left for Washington State. Veteran defensive line coach Jim House has returned to Nevada and Charlie Camp will coach inside linebackers.
Longtime assistant Ken Wilson will assume the duties of defensive coordinator and he’ll also coach the safeties. Former co-defensive coordinator Barry Sacks will remain with the outside linebackers and he’ll also serve as special teams coordinator.
“Overall, it has been a very good off-season and we are looking forward to the opportunity to working with this team,” Ault said. “We have a lot to get accomplished.”
Let’s take a position-by-position look at this year’s spring roster:
Quarterback – This position will be the key to any success Nevada has this season, as the Pack will operate without veteran Jeff Rowe, who passed for 1,907 yards and 17 TDs.
Early on, the job belongs to sophomore Nick Graziano, who was 9-for-17 passing for 92 yards and a score on limited snaps last year. Graziano is said to have a stronger arm than Rowe. Also in the mix are redshirt freshmen Colin Kaepernick and Tyler Lantrip.
Running back – Two of the team’s top three rushers – Luke Lippincott (456 yards) and Brandon Fragger (270 yards) – return. The big loss is Robert Hubbard, who gained more then 1,000 yards last year.
Fragger suffered a season-ending shoulder injury after seven games last season. Sophomore Mike Kanellis (108 yards) and Dwayne Sanders (82 yards) saw limited time. Redshirt freshmen Courtney Randall, Vai Taua and Kevin Grimes will compete for playing time.
“We have good experience in the backfield,” Ault said in a press release. “I expect to see strong competition this spring and fall.”
Wide receiver – By far the deepest position on the roster. Caleb Spencer (55-564-3) is gone, but Marko Mitchell (39-493-4), Mike McCoy (23-346-9), Jack Darlington (16-218-1), Arthur King (7-72-0), Sanders (6-89-0) and ex-Douglas star Andy McIntosh (4-36-0) return. Kyle Sammons, who missed last year with a shoulder injury, returns for his senior season. Rocco Bene, redshirt freshman Chris Wellington and two gray shirts – Josh Morrow and Marshane Haynes – also are fighting for playing time.
Wellington could be the fastest of the group. This a group of possession receivers.
Tight end – Gone are Anthony Pudewell (21-198) and Travis Branzell (1-2), two of the team’s top blockers at the position. The front-runner to start is Adam Bishop (11-129-1), but he will be pushed by JC transfer Brent Keaster of College of the Sequoias and redshirt freshmen Brian Fusco and Virgil Green, who originally came to Nevada as a wide receiver.
Offensive line – Nevada lost center Jimmy Wadhams and guard Barrett Reznick, but tackles Charles Manu and Dom Green return along with guard Greg Hall. Manu won’t participate this spring because of ankle surgery.
Green appears headed back to center, a position he started at eight times back in 2005.
Seniors Kyle Robertson and Fred White, both of whom play guard and center, junior guard Brad Eskew, and sophomore tackle Alonzo Durham, who played a lot against Miami in the MPC Computers Bowl, all will battle for playing time. The Pack has some talented redshirt freshmen in tackle John Bender, guard Rob Sullivan, tackle Mike Gallett and sophomore transfer Mike DeMars.
Shawn Miller and Clayton Johnson, a pair of JC transfers, and grayshirt John Romero, one of Nevada’s top recruits two years ago, will be expected to compete for starting jobs.
Place-kicker – Brett Jaekle, who was 8-for-11 on field goals and 47-for-51 on PATs, returns for his junior season.
Line – When you talk about this group, you have to start with nose guard Matt Hines, who was an all-WAC selection last season (33 tackles, 4.5 behind the line). Erics Clark (19 tackles, 2.5 sacks) returns at one tackle. Junior Mundrae Clifton (7 tackles), sophomores Daniel and Nate Agaiava, senior Jay Dixon (8 tackles, 2.5 sacks) and redshirt freshman Kevin Basped also return. Don’t be surprised if Romero ends up here at some point in his career.
Linebackers – Three of the four starters from last year – Lombardi Award candidate Ezra Butler (71 tackles, 18 for loss), Jeremy Engstrom (41 tackles) and Josh Mauga (56 tackles) – return. Kevin Porter (18 tackles) and Jerome Johnson figure to battle for the open spot alongside Mauga. JC transfer Chris Krainik and redshirt freshmen Ryan Coulson and Jared Silva will battle for spots on the two-deeps. Also in the mix is senior Nick Fuhr.
Secondary – Gone are top cornerback Joe Garcia and steady safety Nick Hawthrone. The two other starter that ended the season – cornerback Paul Pratt (24 tackles) and safety Jon Amaya (42 tackles) – are back. De’Angelo Wilson (32 tackles) and Devon Walker (18 tackles) figure to battle for the vacated cornerback spot, and senior Justin Jackson (22 tackles) and junior Uche Anyawanu (29 tackles) should benefit from their playing time last season. Both will be in the mix for the other safety spot along with sophomore Mike Samples and junior Sergio Villasenor, both of who redshirted last year. Kenny Viser (Manogue) and Luke Rippee (Douglas) are trying to work their way up the depth chart.
Ault certainly likes the talent he has in the secondary and the competition that will take place.
Punter – Both of last year’s punters – Zacary Whited (39.1) and ex-Reno star Thomas Barcia (37.4) – are back. Neither was as consistent as the coaching staff would have liked last year.