LT Brett Boyko looks to continue solid play as Rebels look to finish strong
The season has been a bit of a disappointment thus far for the UNLV Rebels football team. At 2-5, losing winnable games, and not playing up to their supposed potential, the Rebels look to finish the season strong. NFLDraftGM spoke with Mark Anderson of the Las Vegas Review Journal to look back on the first half of the season but more importantly to the rest of this season and beyond. As we do here at NFLDraftGM we asked Mark to shed some light on a few potential NFL players on this Rebel team. Mark shares his thoughts below.
MA: I thought UNLV would go 6-7 because this is a talented team and the schedule set up for some victories. I didn’t expect the Rebels to play this poorly, but they are coming off their best game and some winnable games remain. So they have a chance to finish strong, even if that means not making a bowl.
J: What has this first half of the season shown you both offensively and defensively?
MA: Quarterback Blake Decker has talent, but has made too many mistakes. He made better decisions in Friday’s victory over Fresno State, and he can become one of the Mountain West’s best quarterbacks. Sophomore Keith Whitely is a promising young running back, so UNLV should be set there for the next couple of years. Having wide receiver Devante Davis, who should be in the NFL at this time next year, on the sideline with a wrist injury has been a big blow, but UNLV has capable receivers, as freshman Devonte Boyd. The offensive line has been up and down, but left tackle Brett Boyko is a strong NFL prospect. On
defense, the front seven has mostly struggled, but is getting better. Putting junior college transfer Ryan McAleenan in at middle linebacker recently has helped. The secondary was supposed to be the strength,
but the cornerbacks struggled early. Now they are playing much better.J: Could you name 3 or more players on each side of the ball that have really blossomed this year?
MA: The two players who have really emerged on offense are Boyd and Whitley. Running back George Naufahu has had success as well. On defense, end Siuea Vaesau has played well, and linebacker Tau Lotulelei is making more plays.
J: Building on the previous question, do you see players who could potentially play at the next level? Why?
MA: UNLV has two strong NFL prospects. One would be Devante Davis, 6-3 and 210 lbs, who does well when catching the ball in traffic, and with the ball in his hands has the speed to pull away. However his wrist injury could affect where he lands in the draft. I believe he’ll make it somewhere, though.
Brett Boyko is the other one. At 6-7 and 310 lbs, Boyko is someone who finishes blocks downfield. I don’t know how high he will be drafted, but he should go somewhere and have an excellent chance to make a team.
J: What about the system in place offensively and defensively prepares these players to possibly make the transition to the next level?
MA: UNLV runs a spread offense, which not long ago wouldn’t have prepared players for the NFL. But that has changed, of course, and Davis certainly gets his opportunities when healthy. UNLV runs what you could call a traditional 4-3 defense, so I don’t know that it helps or hurt in that regard.
J: What is the biggest difference between this years team and last years?
MA: Last year’s team had a senior quarterback in Caleb Herring who rescued the season after beginning it on the bench. The Rebels also had a strong running back in Tim Cornett, the school’s career leading
rusher. Replacing both players has been difficult.
J: Has the level of play fell a bit in the Mountain West conference this year?
MA: It’s the worst I’ve seen in the league’s 16 seasons. No longer having Brigham Young, Texas Christian and Utah has really hurt the conference, and Boise State has taken a noticeable step back. The conference might get a little better over time, but with the power conferences becoming even stronger, I don’t see the Mountain West returning to its former glory.
J: Biggest surprise at the mid point of the season from players around the league positive or negative, and teams both positive and negative?
MA: I’m not surprised San Diego State running back Donnel Pumphrey would be good, but I didn’t think he would be this good. He averages 134.5 yards per game and 6.8 per carry, and has scored 11 touchdowns. As for a disappointment, his teammates Quinn Kaehler has taken a step back at quarterback. He has been injured, but nevertheless has two touchdown passes and seven interceptions. He passed for 3,007 yards last season. Air Force has been the most surprising team after being picked last in the Mountain Division. Fresno State has been the biggest disappointment. Even after suffering major losses following last
season, the Bulldogs still were the favorites in the West Division. But they were blown out in their first three games and then last week lost at UNLV.
J: Does UNLV have the talent to finish this season strong and to make an impact this year?
MA: I believe so. The Rebels have to build on the victory over Fresno State, though making a bowl is remote. If they can get to four or five victories, that would be important to take into the offseason.
I want to thank Mark Anderson for taking the time to answer some questions and providing some insight on the Rebels for NFLDraftGM. We look forward to hear from him again. You can always get more from Mark about the Rebels at the Las Vegas Review Journal and by following him on twitter @markanderson65.