Miller Jr. leaves UW

Just got confirmation from Wyoming a little while ago that redshrit freshman quarterback Emory Miller Jr., is leaving the team for personal reasons. From what I can gather, and I have not confirmed it, this has nothing to do with Miller Jr. getting into trouble or anything like that. Sounds like family/personal issues.

That leaves UW with two quarterbacks on scholarship — true freshmen Brett Smith and Adam Pittser. The likelihood of one of these guys being the starter was pretty good prior to Miller Jr., leaving. Now, it appears obvious.

In two scrimmages and the spring game, the 5-foot-11, 190-pound Miller completed 56.4 percent of his passes for 277 yards with a touchdown and four interceptions. He also ran for 38 yards, but most of his snaps came against UW’s No. 1 defense.

Against mostly backups, Smith completed 72.6 percent of his passes for 469 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions. He also ran for 88 yards and a touchdown.

Still, Smith looked like a more complete quarterback to me with more tools and a better skill set. With 15 spring practices under his belt, he’s got to be the early favorite to be the starter.

Pittser was arguably the most highly-touted recruit in UW’s 2011 class. He was the 19th-ranked dual-threat quarterback in the nation by Rivals.com, and the No. 25 quarterback overall by Scout.com.

In about a two-year span, UW has had three quarterbacks leave. Junior-college transfer Robert Benjamin left after the 2009 season after he lost his starting job in the season’s fourth game to then true freshman Austyn Carta-Samuels.

Carta-Samuels, unexpectedly, left after the 2010 season for “personal reasons.”

Now Miller Jr.

What can you read into this? All had different stories and circumstances. I don’t see a pattern here. With Benjamin, you bring in a JC guy to play, and if he doen’t t play you expect them to leave. Benjamin didn’t move on to bigger school for his final year of eligiblity. Carta-Samuels’ departure still raises questions, but in the end the brief, roller-coaster relationship between ACS, his teammates and the coaches ended and probably needed to end. If Miller Jr., has family/personal issues, then those should come before football.

What do you think, and who do you think will be UW’s starting quarterback? Are you concerned about the quarterbacks that have left? Perhaps UW will try and bring in a JC quarterback in fall camp to add depth? Maybe, but it will be hard to find one now.

UW post-spring depth chart

Wyoming just released its football depth chart heading into fall camp.

Here’s the link: http://www.wyomingathletics.com/auto_pdf/p_hotos/s_chools/wyo/sports/m-footbl/auto_pdf/4-14-11depthchart

Coach Dave Christensen said after the spring game, and after he talked to the media, that the depth chart would be done to please the pre-season college football publications if for nothing else. Most, if not all of the spots will be up for grabs when fall camp starts in early August.

Some quick thoughts:

–A little surprised at the starters along the offensive line, although they were they ones who played the best near the end of spring ball. The starters are: LT John Hutchins, LG Tyler Strong, C Nick Carlson, RG Brandon Self and RT Kyle Magnuson.

No surprise on Carlson and Magnuson since they kept those jobs all, if not most of spring. Good to see Self, a senior, emerge. The biggest surprise is Strong. He moved from defensive line this spring. Guys with starting experience like LT Clayton Kirven and RT Josh Leonard are listed as backups. A lot can change in fall camp. If he comes back healthy, don’t be surprised of redshirt freshman Daniel Fleischman overtakes Kirven and Hutchins as the starer at left tackle.

–Sophomore Brandon Miller listed as the starter at running back over junior Alvester Alexander, who didn’t do much this spring with an injury. Alexander was in this spot last year at this time, but I think he will be fine. Nice effort by Miller, a former walk-on who earned a scholarship this January. Sophomore Nehemie Kankolongo fell to fifth in the depth chart. Even true freshman Kody Sutton is ahead of him. Kankolongo missed the spring game for a violation of team rules.

–Emory Miller OR Brett Smith is how the depth chart looks at quarterback. No surprise there.

–Good job by junior Luke Ruff to keep his starting strong safety job heading into fall camp. He still will battle JC transfer Luke Anderson, who was timed in the 4.2-second range in the 40 prior to spring ball. Both likely will play, but Ruff did a good job of competiting and keeping the starting spot. … for now.

–Despite missing the spring game for a violation of team rules, JC transfer Korey Jones is listed as a possible starter at one of the two outside linebacker spots. It’s Jones OR true freshman Mark Nzeocha. Sophomore Devyn Harris will backup senior Oliver Schober inside, which gives UW some nice athleticism out there. Senior Brian Hendricks is the other starter outside, and the efforts of sophomore Todd Knight in the spring earned him the backup job. Knight was arguably UW’s most productive defensive player this spring. He needs to get bigger at 6-2, 210 pounds.

–Right now sophomore Marqueston Huff will be the No. 1 punt returner and will join Brandon Miller as the No. 1 kickoff duo. But there wasn’t much kickoff, punt or any kick coverage work done the spring so that also could change in fall camp.

Would love to hear your thoughts on the depth chart.

Spring game notes and quotes

If Wyoming’s spring football game were a real game, fans would have been in for a treat.

The Gold beat the Brown 14-13 as redshirt freshman defensive lineman Riley Lange sacked redshirt freshman quarterback Emory Miller Jr., on a two-point conversion attempt to seal the victory with 30 seconds to go.

There were good plays by the offense and defense. Not much from the kicking games. No live punt or kickoff coverage, and no field-goal attempts.

I liked how both quarterbacks played. True freshman Brett Smith struggled against the No. 1 defense in last week’s scrimmage, but against a mix and match of starters and backups, he was 16 of 24 for 153 yards and an interception for the Gold. He also ran for 22 yards and a short TD run. I really like how Smith handles himself, and if he gets more comfortable against the No. 1 defense in fall camp I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s the starter.

Miller Jr. is just steady, and always seems to play big when it matters most. He led the team on an impressive 13-play, 59-yard touchdown drive late in the game to cut the lead to 14-13. He also threw a TD pass to senior receiver Mazi Ogbonna. However, he threw two interceptions and four total in two scrimmages and the spring game.

Sophomore receiver Robert Herron was outstanding with five catches for 76 yards for the Gold. Drops have been his issue this spring, and even last season. Not today, or in last week’s scrimmage. He looks to be UW’s go-to guy.

Got to love redshirt freshman running back Brandon Miller. He played for both squads due to a lack of depth at running back, and he scored a touchdown for each team — both in the fourth quarter. The former walk-on earned a scholarship in January and he isn’t taking it for granted. I don’t know if he will play that much this season, but you can’t help but want to root for a kid like that.

Coach Dave Christensen said 15 players expected to contribute this season didn’t see action in the spring game due to injury or suspension. But he indicated they should all be ready for fall camp.

UW handed out several most improved awards at halftime of the game. See my story in Sunday’s Wyoming Tribune Eagle www.wyomingnews.com and laramieboomerang.com for that list. But when I asked him who in particular had good springs, he said both quarterbacks, true freshman linebacker Mark Nzeocha and junior linebacker Korey Jones, who ironically was suspended for the game for a violation of team rules. However, I don’t expect that was too serious of a violation or Christensen wouldn’t have singled him out. Jones also won UW’s most improved linebacker award for the spring.

Here are some quotes from after the game:

–“From a depth stand point and a speed stand point we’re certainly further than we’ve been since I’ve been here.” — Christensen

–“I think if we put both offenses together we can do some damage this season.” — Herron

–“It shows a lot about Emory that he led the team down the field in the last two minutes and scored.” — Brandon Miller on QB Emory Miller’s final scoring drive in the fourth quarter.

–“I’d give them both an A. They both mange the offense really well and have the things like that you look for in a quarterback.” — senior receiver Mazi Ogbonna on both quarterbacks.

–My confidence is getting up there. There’s a lot I still have to learn and I have to put on more weight.” — Lange, who added he is 250 pounds now and wants to get up to 275 by the start of fall camp.

–“Let’s talk about the team that’s here. I have no comment on that. I have two quarterbacks that have done extremely well and I’m excited about the one coming in. We’ll have a great quarterback when we start in the fall.” — Christensen on the Internet rumors that former QB Austyn Carta-Samuels may return to UW.

Drops continue to hurt UW receivers

Sophomore Robert Herron has caught 15 passes for 100 yards for Wyoming in its two spring scrimmages, which are team-highs in both categories.

More importantly, Herron didn’t have any dropped passes in last Saturday’s scrimmage. Drops have been a problem for UW’s receiving corps this spring.

But UW coach Dave Christensen said Herron dropped a touchdown pass in Monday’s practice in the school’s indoor practice facility, and is tired of all the drops he’s seen this spring.

“You can’t drop touchdown passes and think real highly of guys,” Christensen said. “You’ve got to catch the football in this offense no mater how quick or fast you are.

“The great news is there are five receivers coming this summer and the comeption is going to heat up like someone threw karosine in it.”

Those five receivers coming in are all true freshmen: Josh Doctson (6-4, 185), London Muse (5-11, 185), Trey Norman (6-1, 170), Kevin Robertson (6-4, 210) and Dominic Rufran (6-0, 185).

Herron is one of the fastest players on the team, and seems to be a go-to guy this spring for both UW quarterbacks — redshirt freshman Emory Miller Jr. and true freshman Brett Smith. No one else on the team has caught more than nine passes in the two scrimmages.

“If you’re open the quarterback is going to throw it to you, so I try to get open a lot and try to catch the ball,” Herron said.

“A lot of times I try to run with the ball before I catch it. I’ve got work on calming down and catch the ball first.”

And the goal for Saturday’s spring game for Herron, who played both receiver and running back last season as a true freshman: “No drops, at least as many catches I had in the last scrimmage and to score.”

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Some news and notes from Monday’s practice:

–First-year offensive coordinator Gregg Brandon said as of today Miller Jr. is the No. 1 quarterback with Smith a close second. Brandon said Smith struggled in his first extensive time against the No. 1 defense in last Saturday’s scrimmage. Brandon also said of Miller’s two interceptions, one was a bad throw and the other was when he tried to throw the ball out of bounds and his arm was hit by a defender.

–Brandon on Smith: “He’ll be fine. The kid should be in the prom. We keep forgetting about that because you want him to step up and be a guy. He will be. He’s just a young player.”

–Herron on the progress of Miller and Smith at quarterback: “I don’t see nobody over each other. they both make plays when they’re out there.”

–Even though the defense beat the offense 72-41 last Saturday, Brandon was quick to point out both the No. 1 and No. 2 offense scored touchdowns against the No. 1 defense.

–Christensen said the offense won Monday’s practice 4-2, and this was the last practice in full pads before Saturday’s spring game.

–Christensen hopes to have a player draft for the spring game, which is at 2 p.m. Saturday. Weather will determine if it is play inside or outside. Early forecasts look like it will be indoors.

–No scholarship players were hurt in last Saturday’s scrimmage. However, Christensen said junior defensive tackle Kurt Taufa’asau was hurt in Monday’s practice. Christensen didn’t know the extent of the injury. Practices are closed to the media and Christensen does not discuss specific injuries to players with the media.

See Tuesday’s Wyoming Tribune Eagle www.wyomingnews.com and Laramie Boomerang www.laramieboomerang.com for a story on how BYU may have helped UW find a new receiver this season.

Also, join me Tuesday at 3 p.m. for another live chat. Check out the top of the blog for the link.

Scrimmage quick hits

Some thoughts and observations from Wyoming first spring football scrimmage Saturday, which consisted of 116 plays and was held indoors at the school’s indoor practice facility:

–I really liked the way true freshman quarterback Brett Smith looked. He was 21 of 27 for 208 yards and two touchdowns, and ran for a team-high 73 yards. He did this mostly against the No. 2 defense, but it was impressive nonetheless. Will be curious to see if and when Smith gets a chance to work with the No. 1 offense, and go against the No. 1 defense.

–Redshirt freshman quarterback Emory Miller Jr. wasn’t horrible, but the No. 1 defense gave him fits. Miller was 13 of 22 for 83 yards. He scored on a 9-yard TD run, but finished with minus-16 rushing yards mostly due to sacks.

–First-year offensive coordinator Gregg Brandon told me about 75 to 80 percent of the offense has been installed, and that he likes the progress the entire group — including his quarterbacks — has made after seven spring practices.

–Senior receiver Jonathan Aiken caught a 38-yard touchdown pass from Smith, and finished with three catches for 40 yards. Coach Dave Christensen said Aiken won’t move up the depth chart until he takes care of some academic issues.

–Sophomore receiver Robert Herron caught a scrimmage-high eight passes, most of which were from Miller. “Me and Emroy are growing on each other. Every time he sees me open he triesto get it to me,” Herron said. (Miller and Smith are not being made available to the media this spring).

–I thought junior safety Kenny Browder played well at free safety. He had three tackles and two pass break-ups. He looked fast and broke to the ball well. Maybe my feature today on him and sophomore cornerback Marqueston Huff didn’t jinx them. Here is the link: http://www.wyomingnews.com/articles/2011/03/26/sports/19sports_03-26-11.txt

–Many got a laugh from watching the players UW has right now at kicker. There are a pair of redshirt freshmen walk-ons in Everett Scott and Stuart Williams, along with senior linebacker Oliver Schober. Williams and Schober made all four of their extra-point attempts. Scott was 3 of 4. But the three were a combined 4 of 13 in field goals. Schober kicks the ball hard, but often too low. Schober could have hurt someone if the ball would have hit them. True freshman Daniel Sullivan is expected to take care of the kicking duties when he arrives this summer.

–There were 10 penalties for 63 yards in the scrimmage, eight of which were on the offense. That didn’t make Christensen happy. There were a couple of illegal blocks on some big plays that really made him mad. Another one, a taunting penalty on senior cornerback Tashaun Gipson on a Miller pass, nullified the pick and Christensen sent Gipson to sideline for a while. This is what Brandon said about the penalties: “If we give great effort, that’s not always good enough. You have to play smart football.”

All in all a pretty decent first spring scrimmage. By the way, the offense defeated the defense 55-37 in the elaborate scoring system for both sides. See Sunday’s Wyoming Tribune Eagle www.wyomingnews.com and Laramie Boomerang www.laramieboomerang.comfor more on the scrimmage, including a big day for one of UW’s new receivers.

A DB take on the QBs

Wyoming coach Dave Christensen doesn’t want redshirt freshman quarterback Emory Miller Jr. and true freshman Brett Smith talking to the media this spring. Those two are battling for the starting job, and will be joined by true freshman Adam Pittser later this summer.

Junior safety Kenny Browder has got a good look at both QBs in practice, and should today in the Cowboys’ first spring scrimmage at 9 a.m. at the indoor practice facilty in Laramie.

Here’s what Browder said about both: “Emory is really shifty. I’ve seen him shake a couple of linemen out there. It kind of makes me mad, but it’s good to see we have some moves back there. Brett is showing some ACS (former quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels) out there. A little show-and-go.”

For more on Browder and sophomore cornerback Marqueston Huff, see my story in Saturday’s Wyoming Tribune Eagle www.wyomingnews.com and Laramie Boomerang www.laramieboomerang.com.

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Here are some other news and notes from this week:

— Christensen’s assessment of his receivers: “(Junior) Chris McNeill has been very consistent. He’s battled some minor injuries that have slowed him down some. (Sophomore) Robert Herron’s done some good things. He’s shown great speed and quickness inside. (Senior) Mazi Ogbonna is making some plays and having a better spring than he did last year. He’s picked up a little bit where he left off last year.”

–I loved this quote from secondary coach Alex Grinch on what he told his players prior to the start of spring drills: “You can have a bad play but you can’t have a bad day.”

–On signing day back in February UW wasn’t sure what to do with true freshman Mark Nzeocha from Germany. At 6-3, 220 he was listed at a safety prior to spring drills, but has been taking snaps at middle linebacker. I’m really curious to see what he does there.

–As stated earlier this week on the blog, Christensen has been pleased, and perhaps a little surprised, with the play of the offensive line so far. The player I am most anxious to see in tooday’s scrimmage and the rest of spring is junior Kyle Magnuson at right tackle. Listed as a left guard prior to spring, the 6-6, 317-pound Magnuson played in only four games last season and started one. He didn’t play as a redshirt freshman in 2009. If Magnuson works out at right tackle, that would be a huge boost for an offensive line that remains a question mark heading into the season. I don’t think many of the coaches thought Magnuson would be a significant contributor this season. He’s getting his chance now.

More from UW’s new football coaches

Had a chance to speak with new offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Gregg Brandon and defensive line coach Danilo Robinson today.

As you would expect, both were excited for the opportunity, and for Brandon this opportunity came up fast. On Wednesday when UW announced its 2011 signing class, there was no indication a change was coming. Offensive coordinator and QB coach Marcus Arroyo introduced the players he recruited, and also talked to me about working with more young quarterbacks (a previous blog post http://wyomingcowboysblog.com/2011/02/02/arroyo-knows-young-qbs/).

In case you missed it, Arroyo is now at California, who was looking for an offensive coordinator after Andy Ludwig took a similar job at San Diego State.

You would think if this was in the works for a while Arroyo wouldn’t be talking about these recruits, or there at all on Wednesday. Then again, if he wasn’t there would be some suspecion.

Nonetheless, Brandon described the whole process to me as “bang-bang.”

Brandon was the receivers coach at UW for Paul Roach from 1987-90, and the Cowboys won WAC titles in 1987-88 and played in three bowl games during that time. He knows what it’s like in Laramie and all that. His connection with coach Dave Christensen was the biggest factor, having helped Christensen implement a spread offense at Missouri early in the 2000s, and their relationship goes back the better part of a decade.

Brandon was the head coach at Bowling Green from 2003-08, and his 2008 Bowling Green team embarrased UW 45-16 in Laramie — coach Joe Glenn’s last season. He said what’s impressed him the most about Laramie since he was a coach here is the facilities. He said the indoor practice facility is a heckuva upgrade from practicing in War Memorial Fieldhouse. He also was impressed with the Rochelle Athletics Center and the new Wildcatter suites.

“Wyoming wants to win and it shows with the upgrades in facilities,” he said.

Brandon said the task of finding a starting quarterback among redshirt freshman Emory Miller Jr., and true freshmen Adam Pittser and Brett Smith is “scary” based on their inexperience, but also exciting. Brandon added he will have the biggest learning curve because he needs to learn the terminology. He said the offense Christensen brought here is basically the same to the one he taught him at Missouri. There are some tweaks and changes that Brandon said he likes. But for the players, they will continue to learn what they’ve been learning.

As far as recruiting goes, Brandon said he recruited the Chicago area when he was at UW and said he still has ties there. He expects to recruit in the Houston area, where Arroyo recruited. He also said he has recruiting ties in Colorado.

Like I said in my previous post this morning, the timing of this seems odd since this all went down less than 48 hours after Wednesday’s signing day, but that’s how college football works sometimes. I like the fact Brandon, 55, brings more experience to the table. Not a knock on Arroyo, but it’s nice when your coordinators are the senior members of your offensive and defensive coaching staffs. Arroyo was only 31.

Robinson, 36, came to Laramie as an assistant at Louisiana-Monroe and twice as one at Utah State and lost to the Cowboys when Glenn was the coach.

He told me schemes don’t matter to him in terms of a 4-3 or 3-4 defense, but has worked mostly with the 4-3 which is what UW runs.

Robinson said he’s recruited all over the country in his career and feels comfortable where ever Christensen puts him. He came off as a young, enthusiastic and confident coach, much like Montgomery. This hire didn’t come as fast as Brandon’s. Montgomery’s been gone for nearly a month now. This was in the works for a while.

One last thought from this latest coaching shake-up. I know fans don’t like to see coaches leave UW for bigger and better things — even assistants. But this is a good sign for UW. If coaches are leaving for jobs in conferences like the Pac-12 (Arroyo to Cal) and Big Ten (Montgomery to Indiana and then Michigan) then that means UW is bringing in good coaches and Christensen knows where to find good coaches.

If assistants were leaving for lsimilar jobs at lower division schools then that would be a problem.

For more on UW’s two new assistants in Saturday’s Wyoming Tribune Eagle www.wyomingnews.com and Laramie Boomerang www.laramieboomerang.com.

Also see my mid-season analysis piece on UW men’s basketball.