Thoughts on MW preseason poll, team

For the most part, the Mountain West Preseason All-Conference team and predicted order of finish was similar to what I submitted.

There were 30 people who voted. Here’s the predicted order of finish:

1. Boise State (27)            296

2. Nevada                            244

3. Fresno State (2)           231

4. Wyoming                        213

5. San Diego St. (1)          173

6. Air Force                         170

7. Hawaii                              116

8. Colorado St.                   111

9. UNLV                                63

10. New Mexico                   33

I had Wyoming third, San Diego State fourth and Fresno State fifth. Other than that, everything was the same.

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UW spring football notes

Spring football at Wyoming begins March 19, or two weeks from Monday.

Been doing interviews with players and coaches for stories leading up to the start of practice, but wanted to share a few notes with you now:

–Sophomore quarterback Brett Smith won’t go through any contact drills and won’t scrimmage this spring after surgery earlier this winter. Smith, coach Dave Christensen and offensive coordinator Gregg Brandon all told me the surgery went well and Smith is expected to be fine for fall camp in August. “We don’t hit him anyway,” said Brandon about Smith and any of UW’s quarterbacks during practice.

Smith has been throwing the ball around lately and working out with teammates. UW doesn’t disclose injuries to specific players, but through social media Smith had surgery stemming from an injury to his right thumb/hand.

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Week 1 depth chart is out

No big surprises among the starters and backups. This first depth chart pretty much held true from the start of fall camp in early August. Here is the link to the depth chart: http://www.wyomingathletics.com/auto_pdf/p_hotos/s_chools/wyo/sports/m-footbl/auto_pdf/depth-chart

Some things that caught my eye:

–The two junior-college defensive tackles: Kurt Taufa’asau and B.J. Sumter are both No. 3. Taufa’asau worked with the No. 2s a lot during camp. Sophomore Ben Durbin and true freshman Tyler Strong are the backups behind sophomore Mike Purcell and redshirt freshman Patrick Mertens.

“Both those kids have a redshirt year and we think they can be great prospects here,” Christensen said. “If we can redshirt them and they had a year to grow in our program they both could be impact players for us.”

Christensen added the decision to redshirt those two isn’t final, merely and option at this point.

–The depth chart listed sophomore James Caraway and true freshman Robert Herron as the No. 1 kickoff return duo. But during his news conference Christensen said sophomore outside linebacker Ghaali Muhammad will join Caraway. He said it was an “executive decision.” Herron is still in the mix, but Christensen wanted a more experienced player out there in Muhammad.

Last year’s top duo was cornerback Marcell Gipson and running back Alvester Alexander. Both averaged between 22 and 23 yards per return. Gipson said he was disappointed not to be returning kicks, but understood the move when the coaches told him they wanted to keep him on the field more as a cornerback. Alexander is the only running back on the roster with game experience.

–UW will have a linebacker return kicks in Muhammad and a linebacker kicking the ball off in junior Oliver Schober.

“I’m glad we’ve got a guy that can kick (the ball) in the end zone, and it doesn’t matter that he plays linebacker and looks like Vin Diesel.”

Schober also is listed as the backup behind junior Brian Hendricks at middle linebacker, and Christensen said Schober will play in the opener.

As far as the possiblity of getting Hendricks and Schober on the field at the same time, Christensen said: “I don’t know. We’ll have to see.” Christensen later said it’s a possibility both will play at the same time.

–Secondary coach Alex Grinch said the first cornerback to come off the bench in passing situations will be true freshman Marqueston Huff. Huff also is listed as the backup behind junior Tashaun Gipson.

–The Cowboys played 12 true freshmen and started eight last year. According to the two-deep heading into this game the only freshman starter is Mertens, but he is a redshirt freshman and was in the program last season.

–As far as the No. 2s go on offense and defense, 15 of the 22 have never played in a game at UW, including all five offensive linemen. Three are true freshmen: Huff, Strong and right tackle Justin DiRe.

–Christensen said he doesn’t plan to rotate guys in and out along the offensive line right now.

“I like our second guys, but our first five are definitely our first five at this point and time,” he said.

See Tuesday’s Wyoming Tribune Eagle www.wyomingnews.com and Laramie Boomerang www.laramieboomerang.com for more on UW’s first depth chart and other news and notes.

And a reminder that I will have a live chat at 3 p.m. Friday to discuss the Cowboys’ opener and anything else UW or sports related. A link will be posted later this week. And I will live blog Saturday’s season-opener beginning at 6:30 p.m.

UW practices in full pads Monday

Wyoming’s first practice in full pads, and fifth overall of fall camp is in the books. The Cowboys worked out for about two hours in War Memorial Stadium under cloudy skies and cool conditions early. The sun came out near the end to heat things up.

And speaking of heating up I think putting the pads amped up the intensity — at least at times.

“The physicalness was good, but it wasn’t where we want it to be,” coach Dave Christensen said.

UW scores just about every drill of every practice, and Christensen said the defense won this practice by 2.5 points.

One of the more intense periods was the one-on-one tackling and blocking drills. The hit or highlight of this came when true freshman linebacker Oliver Schober picked up sophomore running back Alvester Alexander and slammed him to the turf. Well, it wasn’t exactly a slam, but the attempt was there. Alexander didn’t like it and some pushing and shoving started, but ended about as fast as it started. Just a part of fall camp.

The Cowboys had a couple of receivers go down with injuries with senior Travis Burkhalter and junior DeJay Lester, and junior defensive tackle Alex Stover may have aggravated his nagging groin injury. Stover stayed on the field after he was hurt and I asked him if he was OK and he said yes. Christensen didn’t have an injury report after practice.

Starting and backup jobs have not been won or lost yet, but some interesting patterns are forming:

–Alexander, Nehemie Kankolongo and James Davis are all rotating at running  back with all three offensive units. Davis is having a good camp and may be in the rotation when the season begins. See my story in Tuesday’s Wyoming Tribune Eagle and Laramie Boomerang on that.

–Two true freshmen offensive linemen are getting a lot of work with the No. 2 unit — Skyler Hinton at center and Justin DiRe at right tackle.

–UW returns all four of its starters in the defensive secondary, but right now, the two backups at cornerback are sophomore (and converted running back) James Caraway and true freshman Marqueston Huff. Sophomore Luke Ruff and junior Eric Mitchell are getting most of the reps at both safety positions with the twos.

–As far as defensive tackles go. Stover and redshirt freshman Patrick Mertens are No. 1, but when Stover went out sophomore MIke Purcell took his place. Sophomore Ben Durbin and JC transfer Kurt Taufa’asau worked with the twos. B.J. Sumter and true freshman Tyler Strong were with the threes.

–True freshman Emory Miller Jr. is the No. 3 quarterback right now behind sophomore Austyn Carta-Samuels and senior Dax Crum. True freshman Sam Stratton is No. 4.

The catch of the daywent to JC transfer and walk-on receiver Jonathan Aiken. He leaped high in the corner of the end zone for a TD on a pass thrown by Miller Jr. Aiken looks impressive.

UW also added another receiver, a freshman speedster from California. See my story tomorrow for more on him at www.wyomingnews.com and www.laramieboomerang.com