Reno Gazette-Journal from Reno, Nevada on August 27, 1989 · Page 19
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Reno Gazette-Journal from Reno, Nevada · Page 19

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Reno, Nevada
Issue Date:
Sunday, August 27, 1989
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Page 19
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Sunday, August 27, 1989 3B Pass rush, offensive line among Pack's strengths But with vouth nearlv everywhere. UNR Reno Gazette-Journal x. .ii t ' . ' - ' . iuii ui questions as season approaches ITicflirincY rtufr fUSt inn football team is about apWaslluto that is missing several key pieces. It can't be done. Just two weeks ago it was all so simple. The Wolf Pack would have a strong defense and a young offense. If the offense could develop quickly, this figured to be a team that could contend for the Big Sky Conference charrmionshiD. Throw all that out. In the span of two weeks: All-America cornerback Bernard Ellison suffered a season-ending leg injury. The Wolf Pack secondary, which was supposed to be a strength, instantly was turned into a question mark. Tight end Demetrius Davis, expected to be one of the Big Sky's top pass catchers, has missed a week of practice with a bruised heel. Even if he comes back this week, he's no sure thing to start against Southern Illinois next Saturday because . . .Several offensive players, like quarterback-turned-tight end Tom Williamson and the Wolf Pack offensive line have developed far faster than UNR coaches had expected. All of a sudden, the offense appears to be more of a strength than the defense. Who knows what the Wolf Pack situation will be at season's end, or next week for that matter? As a result, the only certainty with the regular season six days away is that uncertainty abounds. Though head coach Chris Ault has yet to announce a starting lineup for Saturday's game at Mackay Stadium, the chances are good that eight first-year starters will play on both offense and defense as well as place-kicker Kevin McKelvie. it s also possible that four freshmen Scrimmage From page 1B behind." The Wolf Pack offense pretty much ran at will against the scout team Saturday. Sophomore Eric Smith gained 88 yards on seven carries. UNR's passing game had a bit more trouble as Steve Backster and Fred Gatlin continued their duel for the starting quarterback position. "Both of them played sporadically," Ault said. Backster, a junior, completed 10 of 17 passes for 155 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He had one pass intercepted, and the second touchdown pass a 45-yarder to tight end Demetrius Davis bounced off three defenders' hands before Davis caught the ball. rriNevaajBno LARRY BADEN Reno's Whitney returns in big way Silver Sox pitcher leads league in complete games By Ward FarrellGazette-Joumai Jeff Whitney made quite a first impression when he joined the Reno Silver Sox in early May. After allowing two runs before getting an out for the Silver Sox, Whitney has become one the the hottest pitchers in the California League. It has been quite a turnaround for the 24-year-old right-hander who was tending bar at a sports lounge in Tempe, Ariz., just four months ago. Whitney has overcome a l-year layoff, a four-day tryout trip to Reno that erased most of his savings account and an erratic first performance. While pitching with the Modesto A's in 1987, Whitney suffered a strained shoulder. Although doctors could not diagnose the exact problem, Whitney was unable to pitch without pain. After sitting out the 1988 season, Whitney contacted Reno manager Eli Grba about a tryout, receiving the manager's blessing to come to Reno with no guarantees. Whitney, who knew Reno pitcher Gil Villanueva from his days at Arizona State, had a place to stay for a few days during the tryout. After Tim Fortugno was purchased by the Milwaukee Brewers, Whitney became a fixture in the apartment. He also was a fixture on the pitching staff after a rough start. On May 4 against Stockton, he made Patton From page 1B recently by the City of Reno's decision to put a fire station in the Moana Stadium parking lot. "It doesn't take an Ivy League scholar to realize that's not the greatest place in the world for a fire station," Patton said. "I was hoping to build a program here that someday I would have to ask the Analysis IfiuarTlrftkk, , left offensive tackle and two icks could start against inois. 'NdoriUknows what to expect from us this year," Ault said. "I kind of like it that way. We'll sneak up on some people. I can tell you one thing, this team will not be dull." No, with a team that could finish the season with a record anywhere from 9-2 if it avoids injuries to 4-7 if it doesn't, the 1989 season figures to be anything but dull. Strengths 1. Junior-college transfers provide big-play potential. The departure of Charvez Foger and Tony Logan UNR's second-leading career rusher and receiver, respectively should be offset by the arrival of a pair of junior-college transfers with big-play potential. Ray Whalen, a running back from Sacramento City College, will immediately be compared to Foger. Whelan, however, is more in the mold of Fine Unga, Weber State's All-Big Sky running back the past two seasons. Like Unga, Whalen is a physical runner with breakaway speed when he gets into the defensive secondary. Whelan also is an exceptional receiver out of the back-field. He played wide receiver last season at Sac City and caught 41 passes. Traemelle Taylor, a wide receiver from Southern California, enrolled at UNR this fall and has been the team's most consistent receiver during two-a-day practices. Taylor runs precise short- and intermediate-pass routes and also has the speed to get deep. 2. Offensive line. This was a big question mark entering fall practice given the fact that the left side of last year's offensive line had departed and that in critical situations the Wolf Pack tended to run left last year. The freshman Gatlin connected on seven of 16 passes for 117 yards. Gatlin also scored on a flashy touchdown run of 14 yards. The Wolf Pack defense was as successful at stopping the scout team as the UNR offense was at moving the ball. The defense allowed only two yards on its first six series. The scout team offense did very little until freshman quarterback Chris Vargas got hot late in the scrimmage. Vargas completed six of his last 11 passes for 81 yards after missing on his first seven attempts. "We accomplished everything in the scrimmage we wanted to get done," Ault said. "We saw a lot of different things. We saw everything and everybody." his first appearance since pitching with Modesto in 1987. The Ports led 8-0 in the seventh inning. The first two batters to face him singled and homered. "I didn't know he was a breaking ball hitter," Whitney said of the rough start in Reno. "So I threw him one and he deposited it around those buildings over the left field wall. I hadn't even gotten an out yet and I'd given up two runs." General manager Jack Patton remembers the game well. "I just rolled my eyes and said, 'What kind of pitcher did (Grba) sign now,' " said Patton. "He's gotten better every time out," Grba said. "He knows how to pitch. He straightened out his back and learned a few more grips. Take Monday's 4-2 victory over the San Bernardino Spirit. Not only did Whitney raise his record to 8-6 with a 2.27 ERA, he became the league leader in complete games with nine. Whitney believes that Grba's coaching has helped him tremendously this sea-som, particularly with mechanics. "I've made a lot of changes," Whitney said. "I'm more compact, I'm following through more and I'm not opening up as much. I'd say Grba's helped me a lot." But Whitney has also helped himself with control. "I don't want to sound cocky, but I've had good control," Whitney said. "I've been working on it since I was young, putting a strike zone up on the wall. But I'd always put a square on the wall and rather than to try to hit the square, I'd try to hit a spot on the square. As opposed to velocity, I'd work on control." city for additional parking." The matter should be settled during the off-season and Patton said he has no intentions of uprooting the team in the near future. Reno should draw between 75,000-80,000 fans before the season is over. When Reno was forced to operate as an independent team in 1988, some people worried that the Silver Sox would attain the reputation like San Jose's "Bad News . i ft . it - w 0 m P r""i J i. - ft V J t If ON THE RUN: UNR quarterback Fred The offensive line, though, is ahead of where it was a year ago in its pass protection and especially in its run blocking. Tackle Tony Edwards and guard Barry Dawson are more technically sound on the right side than they were a year ago. Mike Micone is back at center, where he started during most of the 1987 season. The left side has been the real surprise with guard Tom Werbeckes and tackle Todd Freitas winning the starting spots. Freitas, a redshirt freshman, has been particularly impressive at a position where the Wolf Pack struggled last year when starter Tom Klisiewicz missed four games. In one major scrimmage, freshman running back Ron White rushed for 54 yards with all five carries going around Freitas with Dawson and Werbeckes both pulling on the play. 3. Pass rush. The pass rush was solid a year ago and should be better this year with most of the key players back. Defensive ends Neil Hulbert, Mark Drahos and Derrick Cha-chare combined for 14 sacks. Tackles Dio Shipp and Chris Wells chipped in seven more, and outside linebacker John Libby had six. Almost as important, UNR has a good mix of pass rushers. Hulbert, Wells and Libby provide strength up front, and Shipp, Drahos and Chachare give UNR good speed and quickness. In the Big Sky, not much is more important in defensive terms than putting pressure on the quarterback. 4. Scheduling. Given the importance of early momentum in college football, the Wolf Pack couldn't have asked for a better schedule that will enable a young team to develop against perenially weak teams early. . r - A CONTROL ARTIST: Pinpoint control earned run average this season. Although Whitney can control hispitches, it looks like his baseball future will be decided this winter. He has mixed emotions about his future. "I'm not very confident about getting a job because I felt like I've thrown the ball really well and nothing has hap Bees," a team with many veteran, used-up players. "From Day One we decided to run this show like we were affiliated," Patton said. "It was something we agreed upon from the start. . .Me being with the Dodgers and Eli being with the Padres two first class organizations this is the way we wanted to handle it." Patton will have to wait until Sept. 15 when major league organizations let their affiliates know if they will renew Gatlin tries to avoid the rush of Junior Tyrell Four of UNR's first five games will be against teams that had losing records in 1988. The other is against California-Davis, a Division II program. Also in UNR's favor is the fact that the Big Sky figures to be down from a year ago with Idaho, Weber State and Northern Arizona having suffered key losses. Weaknesses 1. Young cornerbacks. One place in the pass-happy Big Sky a defense does not want to be inexperienced is at cornerback. Still, it is likely the Wolf Pack will be forced to start a pair of freshmen at the position because of the injury to Ellison. Brock Marion was the leading contender to start at one cornerback all along. Marion backed up Ellison last year during his redshirt year. Forey Duckett wasn't expected to start but all of a sudden finds himself running at first team at the other cornerback. Both freshmen are talented and have improved fundamentally. The concern will be whether Marion and Duckett will be physical enough. 2. Inside linebacker. The same concern exists at inside linebacker, where both spots will be filled by first-year starters. Ault isn't sure, though, exactly who will start. Mike Halvorsen, Matt Clafton, Tim Wickersham and Leon Washington all have shown glimpses of taking charge at inside linebacker, but none of the four have been consistent. The strength of the group is its size and speed. 3. Running back and tight end depth. Once a strength, the running back corps has been depleted bywjttries to White and , ;: y z? Marilyn Newton Gazette-Journal has helped Jeff Whitney compile a 2.27 pened," Whitney said. "We've had three pitchers go (to a major league organization) . . .I'd hoped that I would have gone during the year, the way I've been throwing the ball. I keep wondering what it is, whether there is some mark against me or something. "If not, I'll be back here." their player development contracts. If any open up, it's up to Reno to get a contract with the major league team. "The key to success is the player development contract," Patton said. "Having a major league franchise is a great asset. It's our No. 1 priority." Patton also suggested other things that need to be done before next season. "Our No. 2 priority is to make more improvements out here. i i ' t jS. : f V '' Brad Shirakawa Gazette-Journal Saturday. fullback Keith Washington, both of whom will miss the first game. White will be lost for at least the first three games. At one point during two-a-day s, UNR was down to three running backs, none of whom were fullbacks. The tight end position, though helped immensely by Williamson's emergence, still lacks depth because of the Wolf Pack's use of two-tight end formations. 4. Field-goal kicking. Because of the new rule eliminating the kicking tee on field-goal and point-after attempts, the Wolf Pack will be in much the same situation as every other college team when it comes time to decide whether to attempt a field goal. McKelvie, who has been impressive on his kickoffs, has lacked consistency on his field-goal and point-after tries. Outlook The Wolf Pack is a young, talented team, which makes projecting how they will do in 1989 a difficult proposition. Young, talented teams can surprise as Boise State did a year ago or they can struggle early and never regroup. The Wolf Pack s schedule early will be as big a key as any. Like last year, UNR could find itself with a 5-0 record. Six victories appear likely with difficult games coming at Montana, Idaho and Northern Arizona and at home against Boise State and UNLV. The prediction here is that Wolf Pack will beat either UNLV or Boise State at home and Northern Arizona in Flagstaff to finish 8-3. Then again, who knows? "Half the time I don't even know what this team is going to do," Ault said. rba wouldn't ind returning to Silver Sox By Ward FarrellGazette-Joumai For Reno Silver Sox manager Eli Grba, "It's been a pleasure." For general manager Jack Patton, he got the type of manager he was looking for. As of Saturday night, the Silver Sox had posted a record of 64-71 overall, 25 victories more than last season's 39-103 finish. Grba gets a bulk of the credit. "Just because we're an independent team doesn't mean we were supposed to stink," said Grba when asked about the season. Although Grba has a bad temper and is not afraid to admit it it might have been his hate of defeat that swept though the Sox clubhouse this season, which ends Wednesday night. "I don't like to lose," said Grba. "I don't accept it. I'll accept it once I take my uniform off and go home. But I hope in my own little way I've helped all the players." Last season, Grba was with Class AAA Vancouver in the Pacific Coast League. But when the White Sox did not ask Grba to return, it left him looking for a job. That's where Patton came in. "At this level of baseball, you need a lot of discipline. On an independent team, you need twice the discipline," said Patton. "I've never been a fan of the ballplayer of the 1970's and 80's the pampered ballplayer. I feel that having Eli as manager is a throwback to the way a manager should be. That's not always a popular point with the players." But a popularity contest has never . been Grba's intention this year. "I think the toughest thing has been trying to keep 23 guys happy," Grba said. "But I've got some guys on this team, that if they work hard, they can go some place. They've improved a lot." Grba might also go some place. With a successful season as manager, he may be hired by a major league organization. And if the Sox get a player development contract, Grba may not be in the new organization's plans. i c But what if Reno is an independent team next season? . , "If the price is right, I'll come back," Grba said. if r vii

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