Pick the 10

I’m following up on something Wyoming co-offensive line coach Pete Kaligis told me after Tuesday’s scrimmage. He said he has 10 offensive linemen who are ready to play for the Cowboys this season.

By the way, eight linemen played for the Pokes last season, six of which got starts.

Who do you think the 10 players are Kaligis is talking about?

Let’s start with the starters.

Junior center Nick Carlson is a lock. At guard, senior Brandon Self and sophomore Tyler Strong have played exclusively with the No. 1 offense in the Cowboys’ first three scrimmages, along with junior right tackle Kyle Magnuson.

Seniors Clayton Kirven (two scrimmage starts) and John Hutchins (one start) likely will alternate at left tackle, and are two of the most experienced linemen UW has. Hutchins also can play guard.

That’s six.

Junior Josh Leonard has starting experience at tackle and is Magnuson’s backup right now, so he makes seven. Junior-college transfer Zach Rushing is pushing both Self and Strong at both guard spots so that’s eight.

Coach Dave Christensen said after Tuesday’s practice that redshirt freshman offensive tackle Daniel Fleischman should be ready to return from injury in about a week, so I’m going to include him because I know Christensen and the other coaches have been high on him since he signed.

OK, we’re at nine.

My 10th right now would be redshirt freshman Travis Bogard at center, listed as Carlson’s backup. If I needed a wildcard I would go with redshirt freshman guard Skyler Hinton.

Any thoughts or opinions on this?

Speaking of offensive linemen, see my story in Thursday’s Wyoming Tribune Eagle www.wyomingnews.com and Laramie Boomerang www.laramieboomerang on Self and Strong, and their improbable path to becoming likely starters.

Watch and learn

With no offensive touchdowns in nine quarters it’s safe to say the University of Wyoming’s spread offense is still a work in progress.

A good one to model it after will be the Cowboy’s opponent Saturday in UNLV.

Coach Mike Sanford runs a form of spread offense with option capabilities. Sanford was the offensive coordinator at Utah for Urban Meyer when the Utes finished undefeated and won the Fiesta Bowl in 2004.

Junior Omar Clayton is a solid dual-threat quarterback to run the offense, and he has some of the more talented receivers in the Mountain West Conference in senior Ryan Wolfe and sophomore Phillip Payne. See Friday’s paper for more on the Clayton-to-Payne combination.

But an underrated aspect of UNLV’s offense is its run game, led by junior running back Channing Trotter.

The way coach Dave Christensen wants to run his version of the spread may be a little different than Sanford’s, but UNLV’s skilled guys should give you an idea how it can all work with the right pieces are in place.

Although I’m sure the Cowboys’ defense will have something to say about that.

Remember, don’t forget the live blogging for Saturday’s game. Be sure to join me by going to http://blogs.wyomingnews.com/blogs/cowboys/2009/09/23/wyoming-vs-unlv-live-blog/

Carta-Samuels to start vs. UNLV

University of Wyoming football coach Dave Christensen announced Monday that true freshman Austyn Carta-Samuels will start in Saturday’s Mountain West Conference opener against UNLV at Jonah Field at War Memorial Stadium.

Christensen also said he doesn’t plan on platooning Carta-Samuels and junior Robert Benjamin.

Benjamin started the first three games and Carta-Samuels also has played in the first three contests.

Christensen said Carta-Samuels’ decision-making and production were the main factors for the change.

Carta-Samuels is 26 of 53 for 294 yards, while Benjamin is 25 of 56 for 209. Both have not thrown a touchdown nor an interception.

Benjamin has 91 yards rushing and Carta-Samuels has 50.

UW has not scored in offensive touchdown in its last nine quarters.

For more on this story, see Tuesday’s WTE.

Practice update 9/2

A challenge for you college football junkies:

Find me a Division I-A team … sorry, a Football Bowl Subdivision team, where its starting quarterback in 2008 is now running the scout team.

One of them is the Wyoming Cowboys.

Dax Crum started the first five games last season and played in eight overall. He threw six interceptions and just two touchdowns, and also had problems holding on to the ball.

Crum has fallen to No. 4 on the depth chart this season, and was simulating Weber State junior quarterback Cameron Higgins in pracite Wednesday as the Cowboys prepare for Saturday’s season-opener against the Wildcats.

Does that mean UW has upgraded that much at quarterback in junior-college transfer Robert Benjamin and true freshman Austyn-Carta Samuels, and even with the return of senior Karsten Sween to drop Crum that far down the depth chart? Those are the top three — in that order — right now.

Or that Crum is, well, crummy?

It has more with the upgrades at the position, and there certainly is no need to talk negatively about Crum. He’s in a tough enough spot as it is, and looks to be doing all he can to make the best of it. But it’s got to be tough to go from being a starter to the scout team in a year’s time.

Speaking of quarterbacks, check out my column in Thursday’s WTE on Sween. He’s fallen down the depth chart as well. He was the starter heading into both spring drills and fall camp. Someone else on the team, other than Crum, knows what he’s going through.

Other notable happenings from Wednesday’s practice include:

–Sophomore Austin McCoy made three straight field goals from 46 yards, which drew cheers from his teammates who watched behind him. McCoy won the starting place-kicking duties in fall camp over senior Jake Scott. McCoy also will be the starting punter.

–Redshirt junior receiver Zach Bolger and sophomore Brandon Stewart both made impressive one-handed catches.

–The final period of the practice was a 7-on-7 session, and the big play was an interception by junior free safety Chris Prosinski on a pass from Carta-Samuels.

–You can tell it’s getting closer to game day because workers of the giant crane on the east side of the stadium that is being used in the construction of the suites changed its flag that hangs at the very top of it from one with a skill and cross-bones to a brown one with “Wyoming” on it in gold letters.

College football kicks off Thursday with a pair of intruiging games — Utah State at Utah and Oregon at Boise State. I like Utah and Boise State, what about you?

Still on for live blogging during the Weber State game and throughout the season. Hope to hear from you then, if not sooner.

Post depth chart thoughts

Not trying to brag, but of the 24 positions (11 offense, 11 defense , punter and kicker) I predicted in a blog post last weekend I got 23 correct. If only I could have scored that well on some of my tests in school. I may go buy a lottery ticket with that kind of luck going.

Only sophomore Josh Biezuns beating out senior Matt Barella at the Buck position (a combination outside linebacker and defensive end) cost me a perfect prediction. Both, however, will see a lot of playing time.

But it is interesting that a former fullback in Biezuns is now starting on defense, and a former defensive back — senior T.J. Atwater — is now in in the main rotation at receiver.

Coach Dave Christenen said Atwater was one of the biggest surprises of fall camp.

“For a guy who moved to receiver two weeks ago he’s done a tremendous job,” he said. “He’s going to be able to contribute and be in the rotation. he can catch the ball and make a guy miss. We’re certainly pleased we were able to find that out.”

UW’s offensive line will be new on the right side with true freshman guard Nick Carlson, who was listed at 235 pounds in the spring but is now listed at 290, and sophomore tackle John Hutchins, who has played in just two games in his career — all as a reserve.

Of the 10 offensive linemen listed on the depth chart, there are three seniors, two juniors, three sophomores and two freshmen.

Even though sophomore Austin McCoy will handle both the punting and kicking duties, Christensen said he is still “iffy” about McCoy’s field-goal kicking. However, Christensen added McCoy will keep the job as long as he makes kicks.

UW has only four running backs on scholarship, and all four were listed on the depth chart in the following order: junior Darius Terry, true freshman Alvester Alexander, redshirt freshman James Caraway and sophomore James Davis.

Christensen doesn’t expect to play all four in a game. Ideally, only the top two would see significant playing time.

And finally, you can’t help but feel for Karsten Sween.

The senior quarterback lost out on being the starter for the second straight fall camp. The No. 1 guy entering fall camp, Sween fell to No. 3 when camp ended.

“It’s real hard,” Sween said.

But Sween continues to smile and say the right things. What’s even more impressive is the more people I talk to the more genuine Sween appears to be. See my column in Thursday’s paper about that.

See Tuesday’s paper about more on the depth chart and how newly named starting quarterback Robert Benjamin is about to be part of UW football history.

As stated in my previous post, there will be live blogging during Saturday’s Weber State game, and throughout the other 11 games. It was fun doing it for a scrimmage so I can only imagine what a game will be like. Comments and questions are always welcome.

Benjamin the starter

Minutes before coach Dave Christensen’s weekly news conference , UW relaesed a depth chart for Saturday’s Weber State game and junior-college transfer Robert Benjamin is the starting quarterback.

The backup is true freshman Austyn Carta-Samuels, followed by senior Karsten Sween at No. 3.

Not a ton of big surprises on the depth chart, but some notable ones include:

–Former fullback Josh Biezuns won the starting job at the buck (combination outside linebacker/defensive end) over senior Matt Barella.

–Sophomore Austin McCoy will handle both the punting and place-kicking duties. Senior Jake Scott, who did most of the place-kicking last season, will handle kickoffs.

–True freshman Alvester Alexander is listed as the No. 2 runnnig back behind junior Darius Terry.

–True freshman Ghaali Muhammad is listed as the backup at the SAM linebacker behind senior Weston Johnson.

Look for live blogging from the Weber State game, and also an update later today after interviews with Christensen and some of the players.

Offensive offense

For the second straight scrimmage the University of Wyoming’s offense struggled.

And for most of Saturday’s scrimmage in Laramie the defense didn’t do a lot to contribute to those struggles.

There were 12 dropped passes and six offensive penalties. The run game averaged 2.7 yards per carry and the passing game completed just 50 percent of its passes with no touchdowns and two interceptions.

Needless to say, first-year coach Dave Christensen wasn’t happy afterwards, and for the second straight scrimmage he wasn’t shy about expressing his frustrations.

See Sunday’s story in the WTE about what he said about his receivers, but one thing he did say was that the defense had nothing to do with those drops. Christensen also thinks his offensive line isn’t physical enough, and he still doesn’t like the fact his running backs have a hard time running north and south.

But after this scrimmage Christensen had more of a broad-based criticism of his team.

“I’m disappointed in the mental toughness of our team,” he said. … “We’ve got to get tougher.”

Interestingly enough, I heard one player after the scrimmage say it was pretty hot on the field which could have led to the offensive woes. Do you think it’s been hot in Texas  or Utah or any where else in the country this summer? That’s not a sign of a tough football team, is it?

But how do you instill that? That’s not something you can just give players, or expect them to pick up overnight.

“Toughness is a  mental thing,” junior quarterback Robert Benjamin said. “Once you’re mentally tough, you’re physically tough.”

The physical part doesn’t seem to be the problem right now. Heck, the offensive line and receivers put in nearly 30 minutes of extra conditioning for their struggles after the scrimmage. And, the number of serious injuries are significantly down in fall camp compared to spring drills.

Seems like the Cowboys have a long way to go on the mental side of things. Just like the consistency issue Christensen harped on earlier in the week, toughness is another one that must be addressed and improved upon.

It wasn’t all doom and gloom from the scrimmage. Here are some highlights:

–Senior defensive tackle Mike Neuhaus had his second interception of camp when he picked off Benjamin. Both of his interceptions in camp have come against Benjamin. Maybe Neuhaus should get some work at receiver, a position he played in high school.

–Redshirt freshman defensive end Cory Orth blocked a 31-yard field goal, and senior defensive tackle John Fletcher played well on field goal and extra-point block teams. In fact, Christensen has been pleased with the progress of all his kickoff and punt units in fall camp.

–Senior kicker Jake Scott had his best scrimmage as he was a perfect 6-for-6 in field goals, with a long of 42. He also made all four of his extra points.

–Redshirt freshman running back James Caraway had a 65-yard touchdown run.

–Junior free safety Chris Prosinski had an interception to end the scrimamge, and he also had the hit of the day with a hard shot on senior receiver Greg Bolling. However, Bolling held on to the ball.

For an intersting read, see Sunday’s WTE and how three former college coaches who reside in the area have been impressed with what they’ve seen from Christensen and his staff thus far.

News and notes from the scrimmage

Dave Christensen wouldn’t say it, but the quarterback battle looks to be down to senior Karsten Sween and junior-college transfer Robert Benjamin.

Both were impressive in Friday’s scrimmage as Benjamin was 12 of 17 for 178 yards with three touchdowns and one interception. he also had 62 yards rushing including a 38-yard TD run. Sween was 12 of 16 for 122 yards and a touchdown.

Both started a bit slow, but Sween made some nice throws and Benjamin looked good both running and throwing the ball. Benjamin’s athleticism is something UW hasn’t had at quarterback since it ran the wishbone back in the 1970s and early 1980s. If Benjamin can continue to learn, progress and not turn the ball over (two turnovers in the scrimmage didn’t please Christensen) he could be the guy all or most of the season.

But don’t count out Sween. He was the first to admit he needs to be more accurate with his throws. Most of his misses in the scrimmage were because he threw too high.

This battle should be fun to watch as fall camp progresses.

Other notable happenings from the scrimmage:

–Christensen said the one of the most improved players in fall camp is senior tight end Orlando Arnold, who caught a 24-yard touchdown pass from Benjamin. Arnold caught the ball nearl the line of scrimmage and did most of the work on his own.

“Orlando has had a great camp,” Christetnsen said. “He’s made a number of big catches and he hasn’t coughed up the football.”

–Christensen was on all his running backs to run more up-field instead of from side-to-side. No one escaped Christensen’s wrath, not even junior starter Darius Terry.

“When we get to the next level in the defense we all tend to run more east-west,” said Terry, who had 119 yards on 14 carries in the scrimmage. “It’s not a problem but something we need to continue to work on.”

–The injury to true freshman receiver Chris McNeill was scary for everyone to witness. McNeill caught a pass over the middle and suffered a slight concussion. He laid on the turf for about 10 minutes before he was carted off in an ambulance and strapped to a board. That was all precautionary as McNeill had feeling and movement in all his extrermities.

But it was espeically scary for Sween, who has suffered three major concussions in his UW career. This was McNeill’s second concussion in fall camp.

–Want some names of some true freshmen who figure to see the field based on this first scrimmage?

Look for linebackers Devyn Harris and Trendt Marsom, McNeill, cornerback Kenny Browder and safety Shamiel Gary. Many true freshmen were among the two-deep on most special teams units as well.

Saturday’s practice should be interesting to see what depth chart changes Christensen and Co. make based on Friday’s scrimmage. Will check in with you then to give you an update.