Fall camp begins Monday for Wyoming football, and a lot needs to be figured out prior to the season-opener Aug. 30 against Montana.
But in terms of position battles, things likely will be relatively quiet.
UW’s depth chart prior to fall camp lists three positions that are “or” in terms of the starter. But no matter who the starter is, let’s make one thing clear: both guys at those positions will play — and need to play. All three are on defense, which is dangerously thin in terms od depth to begin with.
With that said, here is a breakdown of those three spots and who will likely end up as the starter.
Candidates: Jordan Stanton, Sr., 6-0, 246; Alex Borgs, Sr., 6-2, 229.
Who will start: Stanton, because he led the team in tackles last season — his first at UW after transferring from junior college — with 134. He also was tied for second with 10 tackles for loss and led the team with two interceptions. He simply is productive, which is what you want from your middle linebacker. Borgs has six career tackles in three seasons. However, he has a want-to that many coaches would like to see from all their players. Borgs is from Germany and has had to deal with numerous defensive schemes and changes over his career. If he picks up where he left off from spring drills, he will be a good backup behind Stanton and can give UW some quality snaps. It is vital that Borgs can, even in a backup role, so Stanton is not on the field so much.
Candidates: Devyn Harris, Sr., 6-3, 234; Lucas Wacha, 6-1, 214.
Who will start: Harris, because he is bigger and more experienced. Harris can play any of UW’s three linebacker spots, which new defensive coordinator Steve Stanard likes. But despite being under-sized, Wacha makes plays. He was fifth last season with 88 tackles. Both could see equal snaps this season, no matter who starts.
Candidates: Uso Olive, So., 6-1, 301; Chase Appleby, So., 6-0, 260.
Who will start: Olive, because right now he is the better player. Olive had one of the better summers in terms of guys getting bigger and stronger. He squatted 705 pounds three times a the end of the summer. If Olive can take that new-found strength and leverage that on the field, he will be the ideal gap-stopper that will eat up blocks. The fact Appleby had a good spring to be in contention for a starting spot was one of the more encouraging aspects for UW in the spring. He needs to play and play well, even if it is not for the same amount of snaps for Olive.
Other position battles to watch
1. Defensive tackle: Senior Patrick Mertens, who was granted a sixth year of eligibility, is the starter and should be solid. But UW must find a viable backup or two there. The depth chart lists redshirt junior Troy Boyland, redshirt freshman Dalton Fields ad senior Dan Crook as the backups — in that order. Boyland has the best size of those guys at 6-2, 297, but he has yet to prove to the coaches — past and present — that he is ready to play. Fields is a good young prospect, but dealt with injury issues as a redshirt. Crook is a walk-on who works hard, but has not played.
2. Strong safety: Both safety positions are up for grabs, but especially at the strong side. Senior Jesse Sampson is listed as the starter, but he played in only four games last season due to injury — his first after transferring from junior college.
Redshirt freshman Tim Kamana had a 73-yard fumble return for a touchdown in the spring game, but still has a lot to prove. The guys behind those two are walk-ons. Don’t be surprised if a true freshman emerges into this race during camp, most notably Chavez Pownell Jr. And, there is a chance one of the two guys at free safety — senior Darrenn White and sophomore Xavier Lewis — could move over.
3. Tight end: I would be surprised if senior J.D. Krill does not start the season since he is UW’s most experienced guy here. But the tight end position is new for the Cowboys this season, and
an important aspect in first-year coach Craig Bohl’s offense. Bohl said he and his staff will take a close look at three true freshmen: Brinkley Jolley, Grant Lewis and Tyree Mayfield. Jolley has the best size of that group at 6-5, 265.
4. Wide receiver: Not in terms of who starts. Those jobs belong to seniors Dominic Rufran and Jalen Claiborne, who combined for 108 catches for 1,412 yards and 13 touchdowns last season. But who emerges as the third, fourth and fifth receivers? Sophomore Tanner Gentry caught 39 passes for 376 yards last season as a true freshman, but had a quiet spring and is third on the depth chart at Rufran’s spot. Sophomore Jake Maulhardt, at 6-6, had a good spring and was listed as the starter coming out of spring, but that was because Rufran was hurt (foot).Seniors Keenan Montgomery, Trey Norman and Justin Berger have been in the program for a while, but
combined for 12 catches last season. Could sophomores Tanner Gentry and Trent Sewell emerge? I don’t know how much UW will throw the ball, or how it will spread the wealth around at the receiver spot, but the Cowboys need more than two go-to guys.
5. Fullback: Redshirt freshman Drew Van Maanen is the only player on the roster entering camp here. Bohl said the staff will look at some true freshmen walk-ons over the next few weeks. It is not just about who will play fullback, but how effective will this group be this season.
It hit on some of these issues, and more, in my column in Sunday’s Wyoming Tribune
Eagle, Laramie Boomerang and online at wyosports.net. I list five big things to watch in fall camp, and why. Would love to hear your thoughts on that, and about these position battles.