Friday, Aug. 4, 2023 | 3:16 p.m.
Rebel Park was a blur of activity Friday as the UNLV football team opened training camp, and not just because all the action was crammed onto one field.
New head coach Barry Odom put his team through a two-hour morning session, split into 20 separate periods, and speed was of the essence. The Go-Go offense was on display as the players raced to the line of scrimmage at lightning pace, and on the other side of the ball, Odom unveiled the secondary-heavy approach that he hopes will inject athleticism into the defense.
Due to an ongoing project to replace the artificial turf at the team’s on-campus practice facility, only one of the two practice surfaces was available Friday, meaning space was limited. That lent an extra kinetic vibe to the proceedings, and Odom seemed happy with what he saw on Day 1.
“This is our group, and I’m dang excited to be their head coach,” Odom said. “We’ll try to make sure that we don’t make the same mistakes tomorrow that we made today. If you do that, and you’re consistent with it, you ultimately become the best football team you can be.”
Brumfield puts in work
Every training camp of Doug Brumfield’s college career has been a competition — until now.
For the first time, the junior lefty enters camp entrenched as the team’s starting quarterback, which means no more splitting snaps with the second-, third- and fourth-string QBs. The vast, vast majority of reps belong to Brumfield, and that was the case Friday, as he took more snaps than he ever has in any single practice during his time at UNLV.
Any drill that featured the offense going against some type of defensive resistance — 11-on-11, 7-on-7 or some other configuration — Brumfield was the guy behind center.
Brumfield is just fine with that.
“It was definitely a workload, for sure,” he said. “But it’s good. It’s going to reflect during the season. Guys are going to know what we’re doing, and it’s going to be great.”
Odom liked the command Brumfield displayed, noting how the quarterback took initiative to move his teammates around and get them aligned properly before the snap.
“He looked comfortable to me,” Odom said. “I heard him verbalizing a lot of things to receivers, the offensive line and the running backs on some things; if there was an error, what they need to do differently and maybe the look they were getting defensively. I didn’t see that in the spring. So the growth from there to today has been exceptional. That means he’s put in a lot of time.”
UNLV lists nearly two dozen defensive backs on its roster, and that’s by design. Odom wants to regularly use five and six DBs in the base defense, so sorting through the depth chart and finding the best role for each player is going to be a critical part of training camp.
Because Odom doesn’t want to compromise the team’s ability to stop the run, he needs DB’s who can play forward, close quickly and make tackles.
“We’ll be multiple on defense,” Odom said. “We’re trying to get as much speed on the field as we can. Collectively, I think the defensive back group gives us the opportunity to be a fast football team.”
Junior Johnathan Baldwin figures to be a linchpin of that group, coming off a season that saw him notch an interception and a team-best seven pass breakups. Junior cornerback Cameron Oliver is another potential difference-maker; after picking off three passes last season, he made the play of the day on Friday by intercepting a pass at the goal line to end the final 11-on-11 period.
After one full practice, Baldwin sounded like a big believer in the six-man secondary.
“This defense gives the DB’s an opportunity to fly around and make plays,” Baldwin said. “There’s six of us, so it’s speed everywhere. I feel like we have that advantage. They’re not expecting six fast dudes to be running at them.”
Expect the offensive line to be a work in progress throughout camp. Odom tinkered with the first unit on Friday, and indicated he will continue shuffling the group over the next 29 days until he finds the best, most cohesive unit.
The biggest change was at left tackle, where spring showcase starter Marcus Miller was replaced by junior transfer Jalen St. John (Arkansas). St. John started at left guard in the spring, so junior Mathyus Su’a, a Western Colorado transfer, took over there.
The rest of the line remained the same from the showcase, with senior Jack Hasz at center, senior Amani Trigg-Wright at right guard and junior Tiger Shanks at right tackle.
Odom said Miller, a junior, will “probably” be back at left tackle on Saturday as he continues to evaluate his blockers.
“We’re trying to see who the best five are and what spots they can play,” Odom said. “We need to establish who our five are.”