The Nevada Wolf Pack football team opened its spring practices Thursday with something old, something new, something borrowed and, of course, something silver and blue.
"We're starting over," head coach Chris Ault said. "I'm excited."
Well, starting over might be stretching the truth just a little bit.
Ault, who agreed to a two-year contract extension through the 2015 season in the off-season, is back. Starting quarterback Cody Fajardo is also back along with 10 other starters from a 7-6 season in 2011. In fact, among the 75 players taking part in spring ball, more than half of them (38) were in the program during the historic 13-1 season in 2010 and five of them -- tackle Jeff Nady, guard Chris Barker, safeties Duke Williams and Marlon Johnson and wide receiver Brandon Wimberly -- were starters two years ago.
But, along with the old, there is indeed a new feeling around Camp Ault this spring.
The Wolf Pack will head to a new conference -- the Mountain West -- in the fall and three new coaches will help them get there. Joining the staff this spring are new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Nick Rolovich, offensive line coach Larry Hiller and running backs and special teams coach Larry Lewis.
Ault, who had also served as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in recent years, added two years to his contract and removed two titles this off-season.
"It has been a lot of fun so far," Ault said. "Now I'll have the opportunity during practice to go over and spend time with the defense. I will have opportunities in that area that I didn't have before because I was so involved with the quarterbacks and the offense. I'm still going to let those guys (the four defensive coaches led by coordinator Mike Bradeson) coach the defense."
But he will be around for a pep talk now and then when needed.
"The thing we've lacked on defense is passion and energy," Ault said. "That's where I think I can help the most."
The something borrowed the Pack hopes to use this year is knowledge from the new coaches, Rolovich, Hiller and Lewis. Rolovich, a former Hawaii quarterback and offensive coordinator, brings to Nevada the Warriors' run-and-shoot offense. Hiller and Lewis will also give the offense an added dimension.
"It's going to be a lot of fun to see what all these guys can bring to the table," Ault said.
A closer look at the Wolf Pack football team this spring . . .
Returning starter: Cody Fajardo
Also returning: Tanner Roderick, Devin Combs
Who left: Mason Magleby, Tyler Lantrip
Coming this fall: Hasaan Henderson, Tyler Stewart
Fajardo, a sophomore in 2012, is the unquestioned, unchallenged starter after throwing for 1,707 yards and six touchdowns and rushing for 694 yards and 11 scores in 2011. "He had a good, solid year," Ault said. "But he's got to get better and he knows that." The only real competition this spring will be for the No. 2 quarterback job between Roderick, a red shirt freshman, and Combs, a sophomore. "It's up for grabs," Ault said. Ault wants either Roderick or Combs to grab the backup QB job. He doesn't want to waste a year of eligibility for either one of his freshman recruits, Henderson and Stewart. "If I had my way, I'd like them both to red-shirt," he said.
Returning starter: Stefphon Jefferson
Also in camp: Kendall Brock, Nick Hale, Tony Knight, Nate Lytle
Who left: Lampford Mark, Mike Ball
Coming this fall: Xavier Stephens, Chris Solomon
Jefferson started for a few games last year and did well, rushing for 429 yards and five touchdowns, before Mark (911 yards, 10 scores) took over. But this job is wide open and will likely still be wide open heading into summer camp in August. Expect Jefferson to be challenged for the bulk of the carries by Knight, Stephens or Solomon this summer. Ault, though, would like to red-shirt both Stephens and Solomon with Jefferson and Knight getting most of the carries with Brock and Hale as the primary backups. Brock, a versatile player, will likely be used mainly on passing downs. "I'd like those four to take control of the position," Ault said. The Pack ground game scored 23 fewer (52-29) touchdowns than in 2010 and rushed for 873 fewer yards (4,091-3,218) but just having the fleet-footed Fajardo behind center for more than 95 percent of the snaps in 2012 will up those numbers once again.
Returning starters: Jeff Nady, Chris Barker, Joel Bitonio
Also in camp: Zach Brickell, Matt Galas, Andrew Main, Mike Mitchell, Kyle Papendorf, Alex Pinto, Kyle Roberts, Connor Talbott, Sebastian Tretola
Who left: Jordan Mudge, Jeff Meads, Steve Haley
Coming this fall: Abe Abdelkarim, Aisea Hansen
Ault wants Pinto, a 6-3, 300-pound sophomore, to step in at guard for the veteran Haley. "He's got to be the guy to take over," Ault said. Center, where Meads and Mudge alternated a year ago with mixed results, is the bigger worry right now. "That is where I'm most concerned in terms of depth," Ault said. Ault said he expects Galas, 6-1, 275-pound sophomore and Talbott, a 6-3, 270-pound red-shirt freshman, to battle for the starting job at center. The position was a concern all last year, Ault said. "It never really stabilized," Ault said. "It was OK. We were able to win games with either one (Meads and Mudge) there but it never got to the point where it wasn't a concern."
Returning starter: Aaron Bradley
Also in camp: Brandon Wimberly (injured in 2011), Necho Beard, Joe Huber, Parker Vail, Chance Early, Dominic Coulter, Nick Palko, Austin Rauh
Who left: Rishard Matthews, Shane Anderson, Corbin Louks, Tray Session
Coming this fall: Jerico Richardson, Randy Uzoma, Nigel Westbrooks, Travis Gardner, Jared Gipson (can also play defensive back)
Wimberly, who missed the entire 2011 season because of a shooting incident last summer, is back for his senior year. He's caught 94 passes for 1,215 yards ad six touchdowns in his career so his experience will be valuable with such a young group. "He's getting better and better everyday," said Ault of Wimberly, who was shot in the abdomen. "He didn't miss one day of winter conditioning but he still has a way to go. We saw that he got stronger with each passing week. But it's a slow process." Bradley caught 28 passes for 336 yards and three touchdowns last year and should be a top target of Fajardo's in 2012. "He has terrific potential," Ault said. Ault, though, will likely need a few newcomers from this February's signing class to step in and play a significant role in the fall. "We lost four guys from that group," said Ault of Matthews, Anderson, Session and Louks. "This is another area where we are real concerned about developing some depth." The competition will drag right through summer camp. "This spring is an opportunity for guys like Huber, Beard and Vail to show what they have," Ault said. "I'm anxious to see these guys in action."
Returning starter: Kolby Arendse
Also in camp: Zach Sudfeld, Stephen Jeffers, Randy Horton
Who left: None
Coming this fall: Cody Tuttle
Sudfeld, who got injured in the season opener in 2011, is back for another senior year. "His strength has improved a great deal," Ault said. "He's excited to get back out there." Ault can't wait to use his four returning tight ends in a variety of ways this year. "We can use them in our two tight end formations and do a lot of things with them," Ault said. "We're going to have some nice competition going there." Arendse did a real nice job of stepping in when Sudfeld got hurt last year and caught 26 passes for 340 yards and two touchdowns. Tuttle will likely red-shirt this year. "He has a bright future ahead of him," Ault said.
Returning starter: Jack Reynoso
Also in camp: Brock Hekking, Jordan Hanson, Rykeem Yates, Jake Peppard, Lopisoni Mailei, Lenny Jones, David Jamieson, Tyler Houk, Reggie Coates, Mark Avery
Who left: Brett Roy, Kaelin Burnett, Zack Madonick, Willie Faataualofa, Albert Rosette (moved to linebacker), Sam Foster (moved to linebacker).
Coming this fall: Cortez Woods, Shane Pennix, Brian Guendling, Charles Faraimo
Talk about starting over. The Pack has lost a ton of talent on the defensive line over the last two years (Dontay Moch, Ryan Coulson, Mike Andrews, Roy, Burnett, Faataualofa, Madonick). But, never fear, there's a ton of talent coming. Most of it, though, is either unproven or coming off an injury (Reynoso). Reynoso, who started a handful of games a year ago and had 24 tackles and two sacks before getting hurt, will not take part in drills this spring but should be ready by August, Ault said. And Ault moved Rosette, a starter at end in 2011, back to linebacker. That will give the 10 guys in camp a wonderful opportunity to impress the coaching staff. "We have enough guys to be competitive," Ault said. "And that competition will be fierce. But we have very little experience there right now." Newcomers Coates (who enrolled in January and might end up at linebacker), Woods, Pennix, Guendling and Faraimo also have a great opportunity to step right in this season.
Returning starter: Jeremiah Green
Also in camp: Albert Rosette (moved from defensive line), Sam Foster (moved from defensive line), DeAndre Boughton (injured in 2011), Dray Bell, Burton DeKoning, Lorenzo Devers, Jordan Dobrich, Travis Hansen, Bryan Lane, Jon McNeal, Trevor Taft
Who left: James-Michael Johnson, Brandon Marshall
Coming this fall: Alex Bertrando
The Pack lost 202 tackles and eight years combined experience with the loss of Johnson and Marshall. But it's not like the cupboard is bare here. Boughton would have been a starter last year if he didn't break his foot in camp. Rosette was a linebacker his first two seasons at Nevada before he was a starter at defensive end in 2011 (33 tackles, two sacks). Green got better and better each week in 2011 as a starter and finished with 49 tackles and three interceptions. Bell played well in a backup role in 2011 with 16 tackles and a sack. "We really don't have any stability (at linebacker) right now," Ault said. Coates could also jump into this mix from the defensive line.
Returning starters: Duke Williams, Marlon Johnson, Khalid Wooten
Also in camp: Tyler Thompson, Aaron Brown, Thaddeus Brown, Greg Elliott, Evan Favors, Charles Garrett, Nigel Haikins, Malik James, Bryson Keeton, Gabe Lee, Markus Smith
Who left: Isaiah Frey
Coming this fall: Jared Gipson (can also play wide receiver), Marquis Newell
Once again, the secondary is the most experienced group on the team. Williams, Johnson and Wooten will be joined by a pair of junior college transfers (Haikins, Smith) who are already in school. And both Haikins and Smith will find themselves playing significant roles this fall. Ault said Thaddeus Brown has the inside track to replace Frey at cornerback. "He's paid his dues," Ault said. "Now is his time to step up." Thompson, Ault added, could also see an increased role. "He really came on at the end of the year," he said.
Returning starters: Allen Hardison (PK, KO), Kendall Brock (KR), Khalid Wooten (KR), Duke Williams (KR)
Also in camp: Anthony Martinez (PK), Colin Ditsworth (PK), Logan Yunker (P), Chase Tenpenny (P)
Who left: Rishard Matthews (PR), Mike Ball (KR), Jake Hurst (P, PK), Scott Frisbie (LS)
Coming this fall: None
The Wolf Pack, because of injuries, had a revolving door at placekicker last year as Hardison, Martinez and even Hurst kicked field goals and extra points. Martinez, the starter in 2010 and the beginning of 2011, is back to compete with Hardison this year. Hardison, at the very least, will likely be used on kickoffs this year. Ault said he expects Tenpenny to take over the punting duties from Hurst. The Pack also lost long snapper Scott Frisbie. But the biggest loss on special teams, though, will likely be Matthews returning punts (13.3 average in 2011). Who will return punts and kicks will be decided probably this summer and might be a revolving door all season depending on performance.