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 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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UW-New Mexico football postgame thoughts; with VIDEO

It was a game Wyoming should have won.

But even though the Cowboys put together one of their better offensive games, and did some good things on defense late in the contest, they lost their season-finale at New Mexico 36-30 Saturday.

UW (4-8 overall, 2-6 Mountain West) had 541 yards of total offense, ran 94 plays compared to New Mexico’s 39 and held the ball for nearly 42 minutes.

But with the ball at the New Mexico 5-yard line in the final minute of the game, the Cowboys couldn’t score. A false start penalty on senior offensive tackle Connor Rains — the lone senior on that offensive line — didn’t help. But the offense got no closer than the 4-yard line.

Here is video of the final few plays, including a nice 44-yard catch made by sophomore receiver Tanner Gentry to get the ball down to the 5.

A defense that gave up scoring plays of 75 and 69 yards settled down. But it was too late despite not allowing any New Mexico points in the fourth quarter. Then again, UW’s offense also didn’t score in the fourth quarter.

A special teams unit that blocked a field goal in the fourth quarter, also allowed a 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. New Mexico junior Carlos Wiggins, who now has four kickoff returns for a touchdown, ran one back 97 yards late in the third quarter in what proved to be the game-winning touchdown. Why UW kicked to him I will never know. Coach Craig Bohl didn’t really answer the question after the game. There was word in the press box that Wiggins changed positions on the kickoff late in the formation. Maybe, but it wasn’t addressed by UW, and there was some missed tackles.

Here is Bohl after the game:

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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 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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Upon further review …

First-year Wyoming football coach Craig Bohl talked to the media for the first time Monday since last Saturday’s first scrimmage of spring drills.

After looking at the film, Bohl said there was a lot to be encouraged about.

As of now, the top two quarterbacks are redshirt senior Colby Kirkegaard and senior Sam Stratton. Bohl said sophomore Aaron Young is still learning, but doing some good things, and sophomore Tom Thornton is behind the other three — as of now.

For more on that, see Tuesday’s Wyoming Tribune Eagle and Laramie Boomerang, and log on to

Here is what Bohl said after Monday’s practice:

Bohl said redshirt sophomore D.J. May and junior Shaun Wick have separated themselves at the running back spot. “D.J. has more breakaway ability,” Bohl said. “Shaun is really paying attention to the details, and is getting his reads and assignments down.”

UW’s starting defensive line of senior Sonny Puletasi and junior Eddie Yarbrough at the ends, along with senior Patrick Mertens and sophomore Uso Olive at defensive tackle is solid. Depth behind Mertens and Olive is not.

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Scrimmage notes and quotes

Normally after Wyoming football or basketball games I offer some postgame thoughts.

Can’t do that after UW’s first scrimamge of fall camp Saturday in Laramie since it was closed to the public and media.

The scrimmage was not scored, but the offense scored one touchdown and made two field goals. The offense gained 255 yards of total offense (3.8 yards per play) and turned the ball over once. But the day belonged to the defense as it had seven sacks, nine tackles for loss and one fumble recovery.

Here is what first-year UW coach Craig Bohl had to say after the scrimmage:

The defensive standout was senior outside linebacker Mark Nzeocha with a scrimmage-best nine tackles and five solo stops. Nzeocha also had a sack, two tackles for loss, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.

“I was encouraged with Mark, and he’s done as well as anybody picking up the defense,” defensive coordinator Steve Stannard said. “He’s a smart guy, not vocal, but very smart. He’s athletic and has a great burst. He’s (strongside) right now and (weakside) in or nickel package.”

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Cowboys ready for first scrimmage

The first six spring practices for the Wyoming football team were not easy, and there was some hitting.

But the real hitting will be Saturday as the Cowboys hold their first scrimmage of spring drills at 11 a.m. The scrimmage is not open to the public or media.

“I’m ready to hit some running backs,” said senior linebacker Jordan Stanton. “(Redshirt sophomore running back) D.J. May has been cutting back a lot in practice, so I am ready to lay some licks and have some fun.”

Senior offensive tackle Connor Rains heard what Stanton said and laughed.

“He has to touch (the running backs first),” he said with a laugh. “He is not going to chase down D.J. or Shaun (junior Shaun Wick).”

Rains also said he’s “anxious to hit” Saturday.

Here are some highlights from the early portions of Friday’s practice:

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Bohl not a fan of morning practices

All of Wyoming’s weekday spring practices are in the mornings. The previous coaching staff did that last spring and last fall. Due to the way the players’ class schedule was set up for this semester, new coach Craig Bohl and his staff had to go along with it.

But Bohl said after Monday’s fourth practice that won’t be the case in the future.

“These morning practices after this semester are going to be done,” he said. “I’m convinced it is a great schedule for the coaches, but it’s not for the student-athlete. It’s not about the coaches, its about the student-athlete. After 30 years of coaching, I’m not convinced this is the best thing for the student-athlete.”

The Cowboys split time inside and outside Monday morning. Here is some video from Monday’s practice:

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VIDEO: Connor Rains

Wyoming junior offensive tackle Connor Rains is one of 19 players from California on the Cowboys roster. He talks about playing in his home state this week against San Jose State, and also about last week’s 52-22 home loss to Colorado State. The interview was done on Monday, Oct. 21, 2013 in Laramie, Wyo.

For more on UW’s newly found California recruiting connection, see Thursday’s Wyoming Tribune Eagle and Laramie Boomerang, and log on to