Three concerns for Wyoming football heading into spring drills

Are you ready for some football?

Wyoming is, and it starts spring drills Monday. It will be culminated by its spring game on Saturday, April 25.

I will have an analysis piece and feature in Sunday’s Wyoming Tribune Eagle and Laramie Boomerang, and also at wyosports.net with more on UW spring football in terms of things to watch, etc.

But for now, here are my top three concerns for the Cowboys heading into spring:

Lucas Wacha

Lucas Wacha

1. Linebacker: Other than junior Lucas Wacha, there really isn’t much experience at any of the three linebacker spots. Senior Malkaam Muhammad returns, but even though he’s played in 17 games over his career, it mostly has been on special teams. Players and coaches have raved about Wacha this offseason, and he’s up to about 218 pounds now compared to 205 last season. Wacha will be the middle linebacker this season, and 218 pounds is awful small for that position. However, Wacha has shown that size doesn’t always matter for him as he’s been productive over his first two seasons along the outside. Muhammad must show he can play consistently well. Several players have switched positions and moved to linebacker. I think one of the outside spots will be secured by

Will Tutein

Will Tutein

junior Will Tutein, who moved over from safety. Tutein played more of a linebacker in UW’s final game against New Mexico last season, and he has good athletic ability to play there. Also will be curious to see how junior Eric Nzeocha makes the transition from receiver/tight end to linebacker. The brother of former UW linebacker Mark Nzeocha, Eric has some good natural ability and athleticism. How he makes the transition from offense to defense will be interesting. If I had to guess right now, those would be the three guys I think would be the starters coming out of spring.

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Cowboys put bye week to good use

There may not have been a game, but that doesn’t mean the Wyoming football team didn’t get a lot of work done last week.

Yes, the Cowboys used the bye week for some guys to rest and recover mentally and physically from their first five games. But the team practiced four times, including a Saturday afternoon practice after the coaches returned from recruiting.

“It was definitely a work week,” junior defensive end Eddie Yarbrough said. “(This coaching staff) do their bye weeks a lot different than other programs. They let us get our bodies back, but we also grinded because we have a game with Hawaii coming up.”

First-year coach Craig Bohl said he felt it was important to practice and keep the players’ focus on football because everything is still new in terms of offense, defense and special teams. Bohl felt if the players got too much time off that it would be a lot like starting from scratch in terms of getting them back to the task at hand, which is getting better and preparing for Saturday’s game at Hawaii.

“It was a lot like game-mode,” offensive coordinator Brent Vigen said.

Here is video from Bohl’s news conference with the media Monday:


Added junior running back Shaun Wick: “It was definitely a hard bye week. We got a lot done in the weight room. Practice-wise, it was just hard. It was a grind, even though we did get time for recovery and maintaining strength.”

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UW-Michigan State postgame thoughts

The score indicated Wyoming got beat by 42 points — not sure if it was that close.

The Cowboys lost 56-14 at No. 9 Michigan State Saturday at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, Michigan. The Spartans scored touchdowns on their first offensive possessions.

UW had no answer for Michigan State’s offense — running or passing. The Cowboys’ offense — aside from a few big plays — did nothing against the Spartans’ defense.

UW had a season-low 286 yards. Most of those plays came on four plays: 57-yard touchdown run by junior running back Shaun Wick in the first quarter, a 26-yard run by Wick later in that quarter, a 52-yard pass from senior quarterback Colby Kirkegaard to senior receiver Jalen Claiborne late in the second quarter and a 41-yard pass from Kirkegaard to sophomore receiver Tanner Gentry — also in the second quarter.

That’s 176 yards on those four plays — 110 the rest of the game.

There were three turnovers that resulted in 14 Michigan State points. Kirkegaard was sacked six times.

Defensively, UW allowed 338 yards rushing and 195 passing. Michigan State didn’t have to pass much, and three quarterbacks played. Still, the Spartans were 16 of 20 through the air.

There were a lot of missed tackles for UW — more this game than we’ve seen so far this season. Hope that isn’t a sign of things to come.

Here is first-year coach Craig Bohl after the game:

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UW fall camp – Day 10

Wyoming has an interesting situation forming at linebacker, and not just for this season.

All three of its projected starters — Mark Nzeocha and Devyn Harris on the outside, and Jordan Stanton inside — are seniors. Stanton’s backup, Alex Borgs, third-string outside linebacker Nehemie Kankolongo also are seniors.

There are only four linebackers on the depth chart on scholarship that are not seniors: sophomore Lucas Wacha, juniors Jeff Lark and Malkaam Muhammad and true freshman Alex Bush.

Lucas Wacha

Lucas Wacha

Wacha is the only one of that group that has seen significant and meaningful playing time, and that was last season as redshirt freshman. Right now, Wacha is out with a concussion.

It is safe to assume linebacker will be an emphasis for the 2015 recruiting class. But aside from getting the starters solidified and ready for the season, what about getting those non-senior backups ready not only for this season, but for the future?

“I’m focused right now who our best three guys in our base situation, and then who our best two nickel linebackers,” UW defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Steve Stanard said. “As far as only having five guys coming back next year, (head coach) Craig Bohl focuses more on that stuff. He’s our director of player personnel.”

Steve Stanard

Steve Stanard

Stanard said Lark, Nzeocha’s backup, had a good summer and has had a good fall camp so far. Same with Harris. Stanard said the staff is trying to see if Bush can help the team on special teams.

Here is what Bohl said after Wednesday morning’s practice.


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UW fall camp – Day 9

Once again, Wyoming started its ninth day and 11th practice of fall camp Tuesday with some 11-on-11 work as the team practiced in full pads. It was all passes by the offense, and it looked like the defense took a look at some different blitz packages.

DeAndre Jones

DeAndre Jones

Senior cornerback DeAndre Jones had a good session. He broke up a deep pass from redshirt senior quarterback Colby Kirkegaard to sophomore receiver Tanner Gentry deep down the field. Later, Jones jarred the ball loose from sophomore receiver Jake Maulhardt on a short pass over the middle.

The defense had the advantage over the offense for the most part, and it looked like at times the quarterbacks had issues with getting the play off before the play clock expired. Junior defensive end Eddie Yarbrough had two sacks — although quarterbacks were not allowed to be hit. Redshirt junior defensive tackle Troy Boyland had a sack, and senior defensive end Sonny Puletasi had an athletic pass break-up in pass coverage.

Eddie Yarbrough

Eddie Yarbrough

Per usual, Kirkegaard and sophomore Tom Thornton were the only quarterbacks to take snaps during this period. All indications are that Kirkegaard still has a firm grasp of the starting job, and Thornton is the backup.

UW mixed and matched a few offensive linemen in with the No. 1 offense at times. Sophomore Sam Hardy played some at guard and redshirt freshman Kurtis Stirneman played a few snaps at left tackle. Sophomore starter Nathan Leddige remains out with a concussion. Most of the snaps there went to junior Austin Traphagan.

True freshman cornerback Robert Priester and true freshman safety Chavez Pownell Jr. got some reps with the No. 2 defense.

Here is what first-year coach Craig Bohl said after Tuesday’s practice:


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UW fall camp – Day 8

Monday marked the eighth day of fall camp for Wyoming, and it will practice twice today.

Ethan Wood

Ethan Wood

But there was some sad news as sophomore punter Ethan Wood will be away from the team for a while because his parents, John and Resia, died in a plane crash over the weekend in Iowa. According to UW’s Facebook page, the Woods’ were coming back from Michigan where they were visiting one of their other sons, Josh, who is an assistant football coach at Michigan Tech.

Woods is from Colorado Springs, Colorado, and in his first season as UW’s punter last season — and his first punting the ball, period, he averaged 42 yards per punt.

That prompted the return of senior kicker Stuart Williams to camp. Williams was not part of the first week of camp and the 105-man roster so first-year coach Craig Bohl and his staff could look at other guys. Bohl said it was good to have Williams back in camp, and added he made a 55-yard field goal at the end of practice.

Here is more from Bohl after Monday morning’s practice:


Williams is the only punter and kicker available in camp right now. Junior Justin Martin, Williams’ backup at kicker, is out with a sprained ankle.

UW began practice with some 11-on-11 work. Redshirt senior quarterback Colby Kirkegaard — still the probable starter — threw completed a deep ball of 40 or 50 yards to sophomore receiver Tanner Gentry. Gentry later made a nice catch along the sideline.

Colby Kirkegaard

Colby Kirkegaard

Kirkegaard and sophomore backup Tom Thornton were the only quarterbacks that took snaps during that period. Kirkegaard also was wearing a camera attached to his helmet. It was done by UW athletics and footage will likely be posted on its website later today. It has been dubbed “Colby Cam.”

Sophomore cornerback Tim Hayes got drilled on a blitz after a nice block by redshirt sophomore running back D.J. May. Bohl said some new blitzes were introduced Monday, and he liked what he saw. He said it caused the offense some problems.

Senior right tackle Connor Rains was with the No. 1 offense after missing some time with an injury last week. Sophomore left tackle Nathan Leddige (concussion) is still out, but was at practice watching. Junior Austin Traphagan ran with the No. 1 offense at left tackle.

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UW fall camp – Day 6

Wyoming’s first period of its Saturday morning practice was some 11-on-11 work.

First-year coach Craig Bohl said he often does this because it is a good — and difficult — drill for the quarterbacks because there is a lot of “chaos” going on. It allows them to think things through and prepare for what might happen in the early portions of any game. In this case, it is for the season-opener three weeks from today against Montana.

There was a good mix of the No. 1 offense vs. the No. 1 defense and twos vs. twos.

Colby Kirkegaard

Colby Kirkegaard

No big surprises with the No. 1 offense. Redshirt senior Colby Kirkegaard took all the snaps with the ones. UW is still without their two starting right tackles in sophomore Nathan Leddige (left) and senior Connor Rains (right) due to head and concussion issues. Rains was at Saturday morning’s practice in uniform, and Bohl said he didn’t have a concusssion Leddige was not at the practice, and does have a concussion.

Redshirt freshman Kurtis Stirneman was on the left side and junior Austin Traphagan on the right with the No. 1 offense. With the twos it looked like true freshman Ryan Cummings on the left and redshirt freshman Taylor Knestis on the right.

Added Bohl on the offensive line: “I’d say of all the position groups on the field that is unsettled, that’s it.”

UW practiced in shoulder pads and helmets, so there was no tackling. The No. 1 defense recorded a few sacks. Senior outside linebacker Mark Nzeocha had one.

Jake Maulhardt

Jake Maulhardt

For the second-teamers, sophomore quarterback Tom Thornton thew a nice deep ball to sophomore receiver Jake Maulhardt.

Kirkegaard and Thornton were the only quarterbacks who took snaps during that team period.

Saw a handful of true freshmen get some time with the No. 2 units. On offense, there was Cummings along the line, and tight ends Brinkley Jolley and Grant Lewis. Defensively, there was cornerbacks Robert Priester and Ryon’e Winters, and safety Chavez Pownell Jr.

UW lists three positions on defense with an “or” in terms of the starters. For this team period, senior middle linebacker Jordan Stanton, senior outside linebacker Devyn Harris and sophomore nose tackle Chase Appleby worked with the first team. However, their backups — senior Alex Borgs, sophomore Lucas Wacha and sophomore Uso Olive — all played a lot. Bohl said among the linebacker, Stanton and Harris are likely to be the starters. He also said Appleby and Olive both will play a lot, along with the starter and backup at defensive tackle. The starter is senior Patrick Mertens. The backup is unknonw, but redshirt junior Troy Boyland appears to be the favorite.

After that team period UW went into some individual drill work, and here are some video highlights from that:


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Rufran back to full strength

Caught up with some Wyoming players this week as they are in the second of their eight-week summer conditioning program.

One guy that looks to be completely healthy is senior receiver Dominic Rufran, who said he is been cleared by doctors to do everything this summer after undergoing surgery to repair his fractured left foot back in February. Rufran didn’t participate in spring practice.

If you want more proof, check out this link to a video Rufran posted on Instagram earlier this week.

Every day is another day to inspire, perfect your craft and follow your passion !

For more on Rufran, see Thursday’s Wyoming Tribune Eagle and Laramie Boomerang and log on to wyosports.net.

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A few other news and notes from talking to a few players this week.

–Junior center Rafe Kiely on his feelings of the start of summer workouts: “A few of us may have had a little too much R&R. But (first-year strength coach Zach Duval) is making sure we got all of that out of our system and I think everybody is back in good shape already, and it will only get better and better.”

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Bohl era at UW starts with spring drills

Wyoming’s first spring practice under first-year coach Craig Bohl started just before 8 a.m. Wednesday in Laramie. Everyone began in the indoor practice facility, but as the sun continued to rise some players — mostly the defense — went outside in War Memorial Stadium.

Media were allowed to stay until about 8:45 a.m. The team won’t be in full pads until Saturday, and won’t be allowed to tackle per NCAA rules until next week.

Here are some highlights of some drill work with some of the players and coaches:


And, some random thoughts and observations:

–The pace of practice was different than in the past. There was a lot of teaching and explaining by the coaches during every drill. Obviously, that is to be expected with a new staff on the first day of spring drills.

–The two guys who figure to get the most of the reps at fullback this spring are redshirt freshman Drew Van Maanen (6-1, 238) and sophomore Brandon Lukenbill (6-2, 224). Those two were with all the running backs during individual drills.

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Christensen talks about confidence

Wyoming football coach Dave Christensen was asked how his team’s confidence is Monday after it lost its fourth straight game, 48-7, last Saturday night at Boise State.

It’s probably not very high,” Christensen said. “Anytime you have struggles it’s not going to be where you want it. But we going to keep working hard, prepare and try to come up with some answers. We have another game on Saturday, you can’t sit there and feel sorry for yourself.”

Here is Wyoming's uniform combination for its home finale Saturday against Hawaii. Photo by Robert Gagliardi/WyoSports

Here is Wyoming’s uniform combination for its home finale Saturday against Hawaii. Photo by Robert Gagliardi/WyoSports

UW’s top goal, and really its only goal left this season is to get bowl eligible. At 4-6 overall and 2-4 in the Mountain West, UW needs to beat 0-10 Hawaii at home Saturday and win at 6-4 Utah State next week.

The Cowboys first need to worry about beating a Hawaii team, that despite being winless has lost four of its game by one score. Christensen said the Rainbow Warriors are big on defense, and there are some weapons on offense, in particular junior running back Joey Iosefa, a 6-foot, 240-pound bruiser, who had 150 yards and a touchdown in Hawaii’s 28-21 overtime loss to San Diego State at home last Saturday, and senior receiver and return specialist Chris Gant.

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