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UNLV offensive line jells during spring practice

No position group benefits from spring football quite like the offensive line. At least that’s the belief of UNLV coach Marcus Arroyo.

Arroyo, who returns four members of an offensive line that had mixed results last season, wants to establish his top eight linemen during the spring. He admits a lack of depth at the position hurt the Rebels last season, but he has seen encouraging results as UNLV finished the third week of spring practice Saturday.

“They’re getting a feeling for each other,” Arroyo said. “With their nonverbal communication, you can see it.”

Arroyo’s starting line is beginning to take shape. Senior Amani Trigg-Wright and redshirt sophomore Tiger Shanks have maintained their spots at right guard and right tackle, respectively. In particular, Arroyo said Shanks has looked more comfortable and settled into his role.

The left side has a few more question marks. Senior Daviyon McDaniel is back at tackle after seizing the starting role midway through last season. But the Rebels have a major hole to fill at left guard after the graduation of Julio Garcia, who made 32 starts.

“Julio was a huge influence on our entire line, just seeing him work every day,” McDaniel said.

To replace Garcia, Arroyo has turned to senior Preston Nichols, a transfer from Charleston Southern who has made an immediate impact for UNLV. He also has familiarity with McDaniel, as they previously lined up together for Charleston Southern.

The mantle of Garcia’s leadership has fallen on the shoulders of junior center Leif Fautanu. Voted one of the team’s six captains for spring football, he has emerged as the most important voice on the offensive line.

With a quarterback battle unfolding behind him, Fautanu’s leadership has been evident throughout the entire offense, according to Arroyo and offensive coordinator Nick Holz.

The starting line is beginning to sort itself out, but there is still a chance for younger players to force their way into the rotation. McDaniel thinks the entire group has improved its technique and done a good job limiting mental errors.

Arroyo said minor injuries have hindered some of his younger linemen, but he’s optimistic that someone will step up to claim the depth positions.

“We have a really good solid five,” Fautanu said. “We’re still trying to find the next few guys, but overall we’re jelling really well together.”

A scrimmage?

Technically speaking, Saturday’s practice wasn’t much of a scrimmage.

Despite the schedule listing Saturday as the first of three scrimmages this spring, Arroyo said the setting was more focused toward creating a fast, intense environment. The Rebels didn’t play with pads Saturday, but Arroyo said he thinks good teams can learn in any situation, whether they’re going full contact or not.

His sentiments were echoed by other UNLV coaches. With fall camp used to install plays and schemes, the Rebels want to use the spring to instill good habits, like a high level of competition and consistent intensity.

Defensive coordinator Keith Heyward said most of his focus has been on fundamentals, communication and technique. Holz is emphasizing playing fast on offense but having attention to detail.

“We didn’t have a lot of mental errors (Saturday),” Holz said. “We didn’t have a lot of thinking out there. They just went out and played.”

Contact reporter Andy Yamashita at ayamashita@reviewjournal.com. Follow @ANYamashita on Twitter.

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