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A position-by-position look at Nevada football's 2019 defense

Gabe Sewell
Gabe Sewell will lead a revamped Nevada defense in 2019. (John Byrne/Nevada athletics)

The 2018 version of the Nevada Wolf Pack defense was one of the best in school history.

So, what can we expect in the encore presentation? Nobody really knows. The Wolf Pack loses seven starters this offseason, including four all-conference players, leaving plenty of gaps for defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel to fill. But after he helped mold a historically good defensive unit this season, Casteel could be up for the challenge.

Let’s take an early look at the Wolf Pack’s 2019 offense. (We looked at Nevada’s 2019 defense yesterday).

Defensive line

Key departures: Korey Rush, Jarius McDade

Key returners: Dominic Peterson, Hausia Sekona, Chris Green, Kaleb Meder, Sam Hammond, Adam Lopez

Key additions: Logan Arnold, Javasia Brunson, Breylon Garcia, Tristan Nichols

In short: Nevada’s line played really well this season, especially against the run, where Nevada has made huge gains over the last two years, going from 6.1 yards allowed per carry to 3.6 yards allowed per carry. A lot of that is a result of the Wolf Pack adding major size at this position, much of which returns for 2019. The unit does lose Rush, a first-team All-MW pick who lived in the backfield this season. But Peterson, who had a fabulous redshirt freshman season, is back as are Sekona, Green and Meder, who all have starting experience. Hammond, a former Yerington walk-on, also is a key returner, and Lopez could return following a season-ended cardiac issue.

Confidence level: 7 (out of 10) – Nevada returns good depth, but there are questions over who will rush the passer with the loss of Rush and Malik Reed, who played a good chunk of snaps at the line. Nevada is high on incoming freshmen Breylon Garcia and Javasia Brunson, prep teammates from east Texas. Both should play early on.

Linebackers

Key departures: Malik Reed, Lucas Weber

Key returners: Gabe Sewell, Maliek Broady, Kyle Adams, Lawson Hall, James Fotofili

Key additions: Javanz Dornners, Jalen Williams

In short: Nevada’s linebackers were highly productive, especially the starting three of Reed, Weber and Sewell, who combined for 225 tackles, 33.5 tackles for loss, 16.5 sacks, five forced fumbles and five fumble recoveries in 2018. Two of those players – Reed and Weber – depart, while Sewell returns in his middle backer spot. Broady and Adams are capable backups, if not more, and Nevada has a lot of intriguing youth here in Hall, Fotofili, Lamin Touray, Josiah Bradley and Giovanni Miranda as well as the newcomers (Dornners, Williams). This is one of Nevada’s more talented positions, but also one of its least experienced.

Confidence level: 6 (out of 10) – The Wolf Pack has good numbers here and I don’t doubt the talent, but you’re counting on underclassmen to be ready to go in 2019. Sewell is steady and coming off his best season at Nevada. We don’t know how those young players will fare, but the future at linebacker is bright under the tutelage of Casteel.

Cornerbacks

Key departures: Jomon Dotson

Key returners: Daniel Brown, EJ Muhammad, Berdale Robins, Teyjohn Herrington, Jaden Dedman

Key additions: Kieran Clark, Cam Stephens, Kacee Williams

In short: This position was the biggest question mark on Nevada’s defense entering 2018, but it performed well (nod of the cap to secondary coach David Lockwood). Dotson, a one-year transfer from Washington, played well, although he’s gone to graduation. That’s the only major loss. Brown was an All-MW honorable mention and Muhammad returns from season-ending surgery. Both are starters. Robins and Dedman are smaller, feisty cornerbacks who add depth and can compete for a starting job.

Confidence level: 5 (out of 10) – This position is not especially deep, so expect some younger players to get significant snaps. If Brown and Muhammad stay healthy, that’s a good start. But don’t be shocked if Nevada’s incoming recruits, especially Stephens, a highly regarded SoCal kid, are asked to play a lot.

Safeties

Key departures: Asauni Rufus, Dameon Baber, Nephi Sewell, Justin Brent, Anthony Hankins

Key returners: Daiyan Henley, Daylon Johnson, Austin Arnold, Tyson Williams, Isaiah Hamilton, Mar’Quette Jackson

Key additions: Avery Carrington, Patrick Willis, Jayce Godley

In short: Nevada loses all three starting safeties, with Rufus and Baber graduating and Sewell transferring to BYU. The trio combined for 110 starts, with 45-plus each from Rufus and Baber. That’s a ton of experience to lose, especially when you toss in the departure of Brent, a key reserve who had two interceptions in the Arizona Bowl win. What’s left over is basically a bunch of former offensive players now on defense in Henley (a receiver), Arnold (a receiver), Hamilton (a running back) and Williams (a running back). It’s truly anybody’s guess who wins the starting safeties job in 2019.

Confidence level: 2 (out of 10) – There’s athleticism here, but it’s hard to be confident about a group that lost so much experience and production and has so little proven depth behind it. Plenty of players will have the opportunity to emerge this spring and fall to become starters. Let the competition begin.

Punter

Key departures: None

Key returners: Quinton Conaway, Eric Fellenzer

Key additions: None

In short: In 2018, Conaway became more than a funny guy with a great minivan. He became one of the best punters in the MW. Conaway averaged 43.6 yards per attempt, which ranked fifth in the conference and 26th in the nation. Nevada’s 40-yard net average was 19th in the country. Conaway is back for his senior season and will be backed up by Fellenzer, who redshirted as a freshman in 2018.

Confidence level: 8 (out of 10) – Nevada has a good fourth-down quarterback in Conaway.

Sports columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at crmurray@sbgtv.com or follow him on Twitter @MurrayNSN.

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