What to watch as UNLV football begins spring practice

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UNLV Football runs out of its home tunnel prior to the start of the games against San Jose State on Oct. 21, 2021. Photo by Jordan Anders-McClain

UNLV football begins its preparation for the 2022 season with the start of spring football practice on Tuesday. 

The Rebels finished 2-10 last season, with six of those losses being by eight points or less. While the team showed improvement as the season went on, eventually getting their first win under head coach Marcus Arroyo on Nov. 6, there are still areas the Rebels are behind in compared to others in the Mountain West. 

The spring will be the first chance for some of the new transfer players and high school recruits to get to practice with the team on the field and get acclimated to the systems Arroyo and his new staff have in place. 

As the program enters its third season with Arroyo, and the first full season with new athletic director Erick Harper, there are growing expectations for the program to take the next step and produce better results in 2022. 

Here are a few things to watch for as the Rebels go through spring football: 

Quarterback Competition

The quarterback position has played out more like a game of musical chairs since Arroyo took over, with six different quarterbacks having lined up under center the last two seasons. 

UNLV enters spring football with three quarterbacks listed on the spring roster, Doug Brumfield, Tennessee transfer Harrison Bailey, and reigning Mountain West freshman of the year Cameron Friel. And three-star 2022 recruit Jayden Maiava will be joining the team once the semester ends. 

Brumfield appeared to step into the role as the starter last season, as early on the Rebel offense generated more chances to score with him under center. But injuries from the Arizona State and Fresno State games sidelined him for the final eight games. 

Friel, a true freshman last season, was thrown into the spot and started seven of the final eight games, before he suffered an injury that sidelined him for the season finale. He compiled a 62.39% completion percentage, however, he threw for 11 interceptions and only had one game where he threw for more than 300 yards. 

Bailey appeared in just one game in 2021 for Tennessee, coming in the final minutes of a 56-point victory. In his six appearances in 2020, he completed 70.6% of his passes. Arroyo hopes the former five-star recruit can play to the standards that made him so highly recruited out of high school. 

Maiava enters UNLV as the highest rated high school quarterback in the school’s history, according to 247Sports. Arroyo had high praise for his arm strength and feels his size will benefit him. 

There is no clear favorite entering spring, Arroyo has been transparent with the quarterback room that the job can go to anyone. 

“That’s a competitive room,” Arroyo said at his February signing day press conference. “And it has to be that way…We want guys who are going to add value to the whole team. Guys who are in the room currently can’t be complacent.”

The competition will likely go on through fall camp in the summer, leading up to the team’s first game on Sept. 3 against Idaho State. But some of the quarterbacks can separate themselves once spring practice is over. 

Replacing Charles Williams

Arroyo has the challenge of replacing the school’s all-time leading rusher, Williams, after the senior graduated. 

Williams led the Mountain West with 15 rushing touchdowns and in average rushing yards per game (105.1), finishing second overall in rushing yards (1,261). 

Entering camp, there are several candidates that could fill the opening. There is also the possibility of the Rebels adding another player from the transfer portal. But Arroyo said they aren’t going to add someone just to add someone, anyone they add will be expected to produce. 

“We’ve got a high standard for it…,” Arroyo said. “We’re confident that there’s going to be an opportunity for us to add value to that room. It’ll be coming soon or this next wave or summer so we’re staying open to that.” 

On the roster is Jayvaun Wilson, who joined UNLV last spring as a transfer from Oregon. Wilson appeared in only two games, but could be the beneficiary of getting more touches if healthy. 

Senior Chad Magyar and junior Courntey Reese each appeared in 11 games last season, but got limited touches in the offense behind Williams. For the time being, those two could be expected to start spring and get a lot of looks as a starter, along with Wilson. 

Two recent recruits on the roster to keep an eye on are redshirt sophomore Spencer Briggs and redshirt freshman Sammy Green, as a pair of Arroyo recruits that will likely get a chance to showcase their potential in spring practice.

New Staff Hires

UNLV enters spring football with a new offensive and defensive coordinator. 

California outside linebackers coach Keith Heyward comes in to replace former defensive coordinator Pete Hansen, who left to be the inside linebackers coach with the Denver Broncos. Heyward worked with Arroyo at Oregon from 2017-19, both were assistant head coaches in 2019. 

And Raiders assistant wide receivers and quarterback coach Nick Holz arrives as the new offensive coordinator after Glenn Thomas who left for Arizona State for the same position. 

Defensively, Arroyo wants his team to have an effective pass rush and get to the quarterback. With the quarterbacks in the conference, Arroyo knows the importance of creating havoc in the backfield and defending the pass game. Heyward will have to work with a defense that allowed 409.8 yards per game last season. 

On offense, Arroyo wants to take advantage of the talented wide receivers they have on the roster, such as Kyle Williams, Steve Jenkins, and Michigan State transfer Ricky White, by pushing the ball down the field, being aggressive, and creating more big plays. 

“You have to make sure you have the weaponry and the people you got and build it around them,” Arroyo said. “We’ve got a pretty effective young quarterback group. We were out, we had the opportunity to go in and find some really effective wide receivers.”

Along with having the responsibility of improving the offense, Holz will play a role in helping Arroyo find the starting quarterback for the season. 

While the team practices, there are still some open rosters spots that will be filled throughout spring and summer. 

Expect UNLV to continue to be aggressive when looking to add players in the new 24-7, 365 landscape of college football recruiting. 

“You’ve got to be ready and progress and have a plan and I think right now we’re all trying to figure it out on the fly but we’re thinking about it regularly and then we’re prepared to add even if we go all the way up into fall camp, which is exciting,” Arroyo said.

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