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Influx of transfers gives Rebels more size and speed

One offseason point of emphasis for UNLV coach Marcus Arroyo was to overcome the size and speed disadvantages that he said his team faced the last two seasons against Mountain West opponents.

As the Rebels completed their first week of fall practices, he’s seen a noticeable difference in the physical appearance and skill set of his players.

“That’s part of the philosophy of recruiting bigger, stronger, faster, and making sure we are thorough in our evaluation if we want to compete,” Arroyo said.

Players already in the program spent the offseason working with the strength and conditioning coaches. But Arroyo and his staff also took advantage of the transfer portal to add depth that had the size they had been lacking.

“We went digging to find the right guys and body types,” defensive coordinator Keith Heyward said. “We needed to get bigger upfront, longer in the secondary and more athletic in the second level with the linebackers. We added some really good pieces.”

Those additions have been put to the test in the first week of camp. That’s because the Rebels are without outside linebacker Brennon Scott, who is out with a long-term injury. Arroyo said it is unclear if Scott will play this season.

After redshirting in 2020, Scott had 10 tackles for loss and four sacks last season and was expected to take a bigger role this season. When Scott suffered his injury in the spring, the Rebels were in the portal, looking for possible replacements at that position.

“The outside linebacker room, as far as the defense, was where we got the most talent brought in,” fifth-year senior Austin Ajiake said. “Isaiah Sayles has stepped up because of (Scott’s) injury. I think we’re going to be fine.”

Also joining Sayles, a Missouri State transfer who is coming in at 6-foot-3 and 240 pounds, at the outside linebacker position is Elijah Shelton. The senior transfer, who had played at Utah State and the University of Utah, has seen time with the starting defense, along with Sayles.

With Shelton at 6-foot-2 and 240 pounds, Ajiake said his physicality will be what’s needed to help the Rebels stop the run.

On offense, there were several wide receivers added that are vying for starting spots. Ricky White, Senika McKie and Jeff Weimer are all transfers who have emerged as top receiver options, joining junior and 2020 Mountain West freshman of the year Kyle Williams.

Williams has seen the intensity in practice rise. “Every day we have to compete,” he said. “No spot is solidified. We’re all working to elevate our game to the next level, so when it’s game day, we’re all prepared.”

One of the more critical position battles is taking place at the left guard spot of the offensive line. Three transfers, DJ Stuckey, Cobe Bryant and Preston Nichols, have all rotated at that spot with the starting offensive line through the first week of camp.

Center Leif Fautanu enters his third year as a starter. He cited all three of the new linemen’s experience as to why they’ve made an easy transition to UNLV and why any one of them could help the offensive line improve.

“They know what they’re doing,” Fautanu said. “We can throw them in there and we can jell really quickly on the field.”

Contact Alex Wright at awright@reviewjournal.com. Follow @AlexWright1028 on Twitter.

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