Pokes enter spring thin along O-line

Wyoming will not have a lot of numbers along the offensive line when spring drills begin Saturday, especially at tackle.

Redshirt freshman Justin DiRe’s career is over due to a medical condition, although he is still in school and involved in the program. Even though he was redshirted last season DiRe was listed as a backup most weeks.

Redshirt freshman Daniel Fleischman is out with an injury suffered in winter workouts and it’s uncertain if he will be ready for the start of fall camp in August.

UW does not release specific injuries to players.

DiRe and Fleischman were expected to compete for playing time and possibly starting spots this season.

Senior guard Travis Hillen also will miss spring with an injury, and missed most of last season with an Achilles injury. The Cowboys have six offensive linemen on scholarship this spring with game experience, and eight total on scholarship from last season.

“We don’t have enough numbers on the offensive line to get as many quality reps for all the defensive linemen that we have,” coach Dave Christensen said. “We’ll manage. We’ll probably do more seven-on-seven work because we’re deeper at the skill positions.

“We’re four-deep (on the defensive line) and about two-deep on the offensive line.”

Other players that will miss all of spring drills or be limited include: sophomore defensive end Mark Willis, senior linebacker Oliver Schober and junior defensive end Miraldo Michel.

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

Schober continues to shine

Oliver Schober continues to impress.

The Wyoming true freshman middle linebacker from Munich, Germany, not only could see the field on defense but may be doing the kickoff duties as well.

“One thing I know you didn’t see (last season) was the ball kicked into the end zone. Oliver went out there (Friday) and kicked seven of them six yards deep in the end zone,” coach Dave Christensen told a large group of people at UW’s media day Saturday afternoon.

“We now have have a starting kicker. The best news is, and most teams in America have this, is the guy that kicks off grabs his tee and runs off the field. Oliver leads the charge down field. It will be interesting to see No. 35 that is 240 pounds kick the ball and go down and make the tackle.”

There is a lot more about Schober than his kicking ability. See my story on him in Sunday’s Wyoming Tribune Eagle and Laramie Boomerang. www.wyomingnews.com and www.laramieboomerang.com

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Christensen said he thought Saturday’s thrid practice of fall camp was the best practice at any time since he became the coach back in December 2008. The team practiced in shoulder pads and helmets. The first practice in full pads is Monday morning.

Senior right guard Jack Tennant was out with a calf strain, but Christensen didn’t seem concerned. Tennant is the starter heading into fall camp. I wrote a feature on him following the first day of fall camp. I hope the Gagliardi jinx hasn’t struck already.

Junior John Hutchins practiced at right guard with the No. 1 offense Saturday.

Christensen expects some true freshmen to play this season, but other than Schober right now, he isn’t ready to say who. One who might pla is offensive tackle Justin DiRe, who already is with the No. 2 offense on the right side.

In terms of some of the position battles, senior Keith Lewis remains the starter at one of the outside linebacker spots while redshirt freshman Devyn Harris is No. 2. Junior Alex Stover and sophomore Mike Purcell have taken most of the reps at defensive tackle.

True freshman Nehemie Kankolongo took most of the snaps with the ones at running back over sophomore and last year’s leading rusher Alvester Alexander. However, Alexander did get some snaps with the ones Saturday.

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On a side note, Josh Dees, the son of former UW men’s basketball coach Benny Dees, got married in Laramie Saturday. Dees also was a walk-on for the Cowboys’ men’s basketball team for former coach Steve McClain.

I also got a Twitter message from former UW basketball player Brandon Ewing. He told me he played in Israel last season in a “real good league.” He currently is spending most of his time in Chicago and Atlanta.