Spring was a time of experimentation for Wyoming.
Defensive coordinator Chris Tormey looked at a lot of players at different positions. Some moves look to be permanent, others remain to be seen.
UW will show both 4-3 and 3-4 looks. The buck position (combination defensive end and outside linebacker) often will dictate the formation — along with the down-and-distance and opponent.
Don’t get caught up in the formations. UW showed a lot of formations last season, and in the first four since Dave Christensen has been the coach. The goal is to get the best 11 players on the field. Some of those players emerged during the spring. Others already asserted themselves prior to spring, and others still need to be found when fall camp starts in early August.
The Cowboys will try to put more pressure on the quarterback in 2013, after just 14 sacks last season. That could come from a variety of different positions and angles. Those who follow the team also know the run defense must improve (232.3 yards per game last season) as does the third-down defense (51 percent conversion rate).
One thing I drew from the spring that the starting 11 guys should be decent — but not dominant. The depth after that still is a work in progress.
Here is my position-by-position breakdown of the defense, and some thoughts:
Projected starters: Patrick Merterns (Sr., DT or NT), Sonny Puletasi (Jr., DE), Eddie Yarbrough (So., DE or DT); Siaosi Hala’api’api (buck).
Who else plays: Uso Olive (R-Fr., DT or NT); Justin Bernthaler (Sr., DE or DT).
Need to see more from: Troy Boyland (Jr., DT); Chase Appleby (R-Fr., DT or NT); James Diamanti (Fr., DT); Sam Hardy (R-Fr., DE or DT).
My thoughts: Expect the starters, along with Olive and Bernthaler (who missed much of spring with an injury) to be in the rotation and all see a lot of snaps. Boyland is a junior-college transfer who is 6-2, 310 pounds, but needs to be in better shape and maybe drop some weight to be effective. Diamanti is a true freshman who did some good things along the line on special teams (blocked a field goal in the spring game), and could this season. He enrolled at UW in January and the time in the program helped a lot. UW would get a big boost if Boyland, Appleby and/or Hardy show improvement in fall camp. Hala’api’api moved from middle linebacker early in the spring, and could be good at the buck. Yarbrough was the team’s most improved lineman after the spring, and I think their best lineman overall. He is best at DE, but got some looks inside as spring went on.
Projected starters: Devyn Harris (Sr., MLB); Mark Nzeocha (Jr., OLB), Lucas Wacha (R-Fr., OLB).
Who else plays: Jordan Stanton (Jr., MLB); Zach Berg (So., OLB).
Need to see more from: Jeff Lark (So., OLB); Nehemie Kankolongo (Jr., OLB); Malkaam Muhammad (So., OLB); Alex Borgs (Jr., MLB).
My thoughts: Harris and Nzeocha were the most consistent of this group in the spring, and it is vital they play well this season if the defense hopes to improve. Wacha was one of the best stories of the spring as he worked his way up to the No. 1 defense over the final week-and-a-half. He is only 6-1 and 201 pounds, but he makes plays and has great instincts. Hard to believe a LB would play in this day and age that small, but it could happen. Stanton had 21 tackles in three scrimmages and the spring game, which led the defense, but he needs to get into better shape. Berg is the wild card of this group. He had a great spring and fall camp last year, but that didn’t translate onto the field as most of his playing time came on special teams. Berg was hurt during the spring, but if he can get over the hump that would be a huge boost for the defense. Lark and Muhammad are junior-college transfers who enrolled in January, but Muhammad was injured a couple of weeks into the spring and Lark never made a serious move up the depth chart. Lark was expected to do a lot having received a scholarship offer from Texas A&M at one point. Kankolongo did some good things after moving from running back, but not sure if he is ready yet to play. UW need more depth to emerge in fall camp. No other linebackers were signed in this year’s recruiting class.
Projected starters: Marqueston Huff (Sr., CB); Blair Burns (Jr., CB); Darrenn White (Jr., SS); Chad Reese (Jr., FS).
Who else plays: DeAndre Jones (Jr., CB); Jesse Sampson (Jr., FS).
Need to see more from: Cortland Fort (R-Fr., SS); Zaquoya Parham (So., CB); B.J. Hendrix (R-So., FS); Tim Kamana (Fr., FS).
My thoughts: Notice only three cornerbacks listed? That could be a big problem. Jones is the only corner behind Huff and Burns who has played in a game. Parham was with the No. 2 defense all spring, but is a walk-on who was a running back last season. Fort was a cornerback when spring started, but was moved to safety. UW gave Huff a look at safety in the spring, and he looked good, but that will only happen if it can find another corner. Jones is capable. The Cowboys also gave a lot of guys looks at safety, and it was a blow when Sampson was hurt a little more than midway through the spring. UW is hopeful he will be ready for fall camp, but still uncertain. Most of the No. 2 defensive guys in the secondary were walk-ons, which is unsettling. Safety Xavier Lewis and corner Timmy Hayes come in during fall camp. They have as much of a shot of competing for time than anyone else at this point.
What do you think, folks? Any thoughts?
Will talk special teams on Wednesday.