Nevada Football: Three Questions For Spring Practice
The Wolf Pack took a few lumps in 2022, so progressing up the standings this fall begins by addressing some pressing matters in the spring.
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Year two could mean big things.
The Nevada Wolf Pack became the latest Mountain West football team to begin spring practices today and their to-do list is a lengthy one.
After a promising start to the 2022 season fizzled out, Ken Wilson’s team did a few things well for the rest of the year but was plagued by too many offensive deficiencies and, as a result, fell from second to 11th in yards per play. Now, they face some of the same concerns they needed to address this time last year as well as some new quandaries, so it’s possible no coaching staff in the conference will be busier than Wilson’s cohort over the six weeks.
While attention has been on the Nevada basketball team at the NCAA Tournament, Wolf Pack football started spring football camp this morning. pic.twitter.com/7JgXf8mfzF
— Nevada Sports Net (@NevadaSportsNet) March 15, 2023
Take a look at our spring schedule 👀
See you all at Mackay for Spring Game on April 22nd.
🔗 https://t.co/tTdlF7mk8E#BattleBorn | #HomeIsNevada pic.twitter.com/5MLzC2fWTY
— Nevada Football (@NevadaFootball) March 7, 2023
How hot will the quarterback competition be?
As you might have expected, replacing a two-time Mountain West offensive player of the year turned out to be a very difficult thing to do. Despite throwing the ball 33.2 times per game, the fourth-highest rate in the conference, Nevada managed a 54.5% completion rate and averaged only 5.6 yards per attempt while throwing more interceptions than touchdowns.
The upside is that Shane Illingworth may have been a little better than some of the numbers would suggest. According to Pro Football Focus, his 71.2% adjusted completion rate was the fifth-best mark among Mountain West quarterbacks with at least 100 attempts and the 9.6% drop rate with which he dealt was third-highest, but Illingworth won’t be guaranteed the starting gig with the likes of redshirt freshman A.J. Bianco and Colorado transfer Brendon Lewis now in tow. The Wolf Pack could throw even more competitors into the mix, such as true freshman Jax Leatherwood, but finding someone who can get things going in a more Carson Strong-esque direction will likely require as much time as Ken Wilson can get over the next five-plus months.
How will Dom Peterson’s production get replaced?
One of the most prolific interior defenders in Mountain West history, Peterson left his mark on the Wolf Pack program by finishing second in school history with 55.5 career tackles for loss and third with 28 career sacks. His 89.8 overall PFF grade also ranked third among conference defenders in 2022, so his departure leaves a massive hole that will need filling in.
Who will earn that responsibility? No one else on the defensive line had no more than five TFLs last season, so filling in the ranks with a wide-open competition is likely to include returning veterans such as Dion Washington and James Hansen as well as younger contributors like Thomas Witte and Dwight Togiola. There may not be another Peterson in the bunch, but the group will need to step up to help fight off the likely regression in last year’s turnover luck.
Who’s the new lead running back?
Peterson, of course, isn’t the only major departure with which Nevada must deal this spring. It’s the end of an era in the offensive backfield, as well, with both Toa Taua and Devonte Lee moving on and the Wolf Pack, at first glance, have a lot of options with which they could replace the long-time duo.
Wesley Kommer and Cross Patton seem like safe bets to have a major say in the competition, though they combined for just 21 carries behind Taua and Lee last year. Transfer portal arrivals Sean Dollars and Ashton Hayes should also figure heavily, too, for different reasons: Hayes played running back and returned kicks in four games at Cal last season, while Dollars was a part-timer in a stocked Oregon backfield through both 2020 and 2022 (he missed 2021 with injury).