Pownell Jr. looking to make impact for Cowboys this season

Chavez Pownell Jr. came close to playing last season at safety for Wyoming.

But in the end, coach Craig Bohl and the staff decided to keep the redshirt on Pownell to get him ready for the 2015 season.

Chavez Pownell Jr.

Chavez Pownell Jr.

“It all worked out in the end. Whatever coach Bohl said I know it’s for the best,” Pownell said.

Pownell is the only safety on scholarship on the roster right now for the Cowboys. After last Saturday’s first spring scrimmage, he was listed as the starter at strong safety — ahead of redshirt freshman walk-on Marcus Epps.

Pownell had six tackles in that first scrimmage — the second-most among all defensive players. His four solo stops tied for the second-most.

“It makes me feel good, but you never know what can happen,” Pownell said. “Me, (redshirt freshman walk-on Adam Pilapil) and Marcus are all about at the same skill level. We have to make sure we’re grinding every day.”

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Cowboys share some of the Easter favorites

With the Easter weekend upon us, we all know the religious importance it holds for many.

But to have some fun, I asked some of the Wyoming football players and coaches what their favorite Easter candy is — and there is a lot to choose from.

Here are some of the responses:

Head coach Craig Bohl: Marshmallow Peeps

LB Lucas Wacha: Dove chocolate with caramel inside

RB Brian Hill: Resse’s Peanut Butter Cups/Eggs

DE coach AJ Cooper: Reese’s Peanut Butter Eggs

QB Cameron Coffman: Resse’s Pieces

RB Shaun Wick: Cadbury Eggs

LB Devin McKenna: Dark Hershey’s chocolate

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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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Turnovers also tell story of UW’s latest struggles

Giving up 482 passing yards and five touchdowns, and 642 yards of total offense were the biggest factors in Wyoming’s 51-44 loss at San Jose State last Saturday.

UW (4-4 overall, 2-2 Mountain West) has lost consecutive games for the first time this season, and while the defense’s poor play is what many fans look at, which is deserved, so is another factor.

Turnovers.

UW committed two turnovers against San Jose State — a fumble by senior running back Brandon Miller after a pass completion and an interception by junior quarterback Brett Smith.

Both turnovers came in the second half. Miller’s fumble led to a San Jose State touchdown. San Jose State went three-and-out after Smith’s interception.

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Tuesday’s football practice notes

Some news and notes from Tuesday’s Wyoming football practice:

–Coach Dave Christensen on the practice, which lasted a little more than two hours: “We had a good practice. We haven’t had a lot problems coming out and practicing well. We have some things we need to get cleaned up, but the effort was there today. It was a good, physical practice.”

–The battle on who starts at center, strong safety and strong-side linebacker is in full go. Sophomore Rafe Kiely and junior Albert Perez both took snaps with the No. 1 offense at center. Junior Chad Reese took advantage of his reps at strong safety. He had an interception of junior quarterback Brett Smith. Junior Mark Nzeocha looked to have the best day at strong-side linebacker. Nzeocha, the starter so far this season, intercepted Smith early in practice on a pass that as tipped by freshman receiver Tanner Gentry.

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Christensen likes Cowboys’ practices

Fifth-year Wyoming football coach Dave Christensen said the team’s first practice Monday following its 37-34 loss at No. 22 Nebraska (was No. 18 prior to the game) was the best he’s seen since he has been the coach at UW.

Christensen had more praise for his team following Tuesday morning’s practice at Jonah Field at War Memorial Stadium.

“I thought we were really sharp offensively, and that’s where I am at mostly (during practice),” he said. “I need to watch the film and talk to the defensive coaches, but it sounded like they were pretty positive on how things went down.

“I thought our protections, routes and the passing game was really on. That’s encouraging.”

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UW ready for heat, humidity of Nebraska

No. 18 Nebraska poses plenty of challenges on the field for the University of Wyoming football team Saturday.

And so does the weather.

The forecast for Lincoln, Neb., Saturday is a high of 98 degrees with 58 percent humidity. By the time the game kicks off at 7 p.m. local time, the temperature should be cooler but probably in the mid to high 80s.

UW has played in hot and humid conditions in the past: last year and 2010 at Texas, and in 2009 at Florida Atlantic. The Cowboys handled the heat and humidity well then, and coach Dave Christensen doesn’t think it will be an issue Saturday, either.

“It will be the same program we have used every year,” Christensen said. “The humidity hasn’t been an issue for us yet, so we don’t imagine it will be too much of a problem Saturday night.”

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UW football fall camp: Practice 17

Wyoming junior starting quarterback Brett Smith was at practice Tuesday morning, but he didn’t do much.

Smith missed Monday’s workouts with flu-like symptoms. Smith participated in some individual drills, but didn’t take part in any of the team periods. Sophomore backup Jason Thompson replaced Smith for the second consecutive day.

Brett Smith

Brett Smith

“Not very good,” said Smith when I asked him how he felt after practice Tuesday. He said he had the flu and also an ear infection, which caused him to feel dizzy at times during practice. I would be surprised if Smith participates in Wednesday’s scrimmage, which marks the end of fall camp.

When asked what he is doing to get better, Smith said: “Medicine and rest.”

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UW fall football camp: Practice 15

There was a significant absence during Wyoming Monday morning practice: junior starting quarterback Brett Smith.

“He was driving in this morning and had to pull over and throw up,” said coach Dave Christensen, who added that Smith had flu-like symptoms. “We sent him to see a doctor. If it is contagious we don’t want him to give it to the rest of the team.

“I talked to him at 10:30 last night. He called me and woke me up at home to tell me how excited he was. He was’t sick then.”

Sophomore backup Jason Thompson took all the snaps with the No. 1 offense. His first pass during an 11-on-11 drill was intercepted by junior outside linebacker Mark Nzeocha. Later during a 7-on-7 drill, Thompson was intercepted by true freshman free safety Xavier Lewis in a ball that was tipped by a receiver on a high throw from Thompson.

“It was just another day to come out and get better,” Thompson said. “There was nothing different scheme-wise, but just getting on the same page with the rest of the guys. It was kind of tough playing with a different group ,but it got better near the end.”

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

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UW post-spring defensive analysis

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:

Defensive line

Eddie Yarbrough

Eddie Yarbrough

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.

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