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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Cowboys coaches will be busy during bye week

Wyoming may not have a football game this week, but its coaches will be plenty busy.

The Cowboys held their first practice Tuesday since their 56-14 loss at No. 10 Michigan State last Saturday. They will practice Wednesday and Thursday, and will return to practice Saturday.

But starting Thursday, several UW coaches will be on the road recruiting for a couple of days before heading back to Laramie for Saturday’s practice, which will be in the afternoon.

Craig Bohl

Craig Bohl

NCAA rules prohibit coaches from talking about specific recruits until they have signed, but first-year coach Craig Bohl said UW will have coaches in Wyoming, Nebraska, Colorado, Minnesota, Arizona, California and Utah.

Utah is the interesting place, and specifically, UW will be in Salt Lake City. There is a lot of competition for players in the Beehive state with Utah, Utah State, Brigham Young, Weber State and Southern Utah. But Utah, and specifically the Salt Lake area, has a lot of football talent.

UW has not recruited that area steady for a long time. There are junior colleges there, but could the Cowboys get some prep prospects from there?

Bohl said now that he and his staff have had some time to get established in Laramie, he said recruiting — or at least interest in UW — has “significantly improved” from when he was hired in early December of last year.

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Michigan State gave UW the blueprint of being physical

A bye week doesn’t mean the Wyoming football team won’t be busy.

First-year coach Craig Bohl said the team will work on its Oct. 11 game at Hawaii, work on fundamentals, get players stronger and healthy and send coaches on the road recruiting later in the week.

Bohl said again this is a good time for a bye week. UW is 3-2 and both of its losses were by a combined 76 points to top 10 teams. Bohl said both Oregon and Michigan State may be top four teams.

The Cowboys lost 56-14 last Saturday at No. 9 Michigan State — now No. 10 in the polls — and Bohl said the Spartans played with a purpose and physicality that UW would one day like to be.

Bohl has talked about that a lot since he was hired as coach, but the players got to see first hand what that was all about.

Sam Hardy

Sam Hardy

“It was a whole different game there,” sophomore right guard Sam Hardy said. “They were physical, and you felt it on every play. That’s where we want to get to. It can happen, but it takes time. You can’t just wake up and be a physical team.”

Added senior linebacker Mark Nzeocha: “(Michigan State) was the most physical team we’ve faced. I wouldn’t say we weren’t prepared. We knew what was coming, but it was definitely something to get used to. It took us a while, and they took advantage of it.”

Bohl said it didn’t feel good for his team to witness first-hand how good and physical Michigan State was, but also said it was “critical” that it happened. “That should send a message to a lot of the younger players for them to say ‘that’s what coach is talking about.’ (Michigan State) was aggressive, coming off the ball and manhandling people. Sometimes you can talk until you are blue in the face, but until they see what it’s like is another things. They will learn from that.”

Here is video of Bohl’s Monday news conference:

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Kamana has extra motivation to play this week

Saturday will be a homecoming of sorts for Wyoming redshirt freshman strong safety Tim Kamana when the Cowboys (3-1) play at No. 9 Michigan State.

Kamana’s father, Carter, lettered at Michigan State as a cornerback from 1981-84. Tim Kamana said his dad took him to a Michigan State football camp before his junior year of high school, and he also went to one before his senior year.

Kamana said Michigan State showed some interest in him, but there was no scholarship offer.

Saturday, with his dad in attendance and his sister, who attends Michigan State, Kamana gets to play in the same stadium his dad did 30 years ago.

And, Kamana could make his first-ever start as senior Jesse Sampson injured a knee in last Saturday’s 20-19 UW win over Florida Atlantic in Laramie.

Kamana’s uncle and grandfather both played college football at USC, so football is in the family blood. Here is what Kamana said about Saturday’s game:

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UW football coach breaks down Cowboys after three games

First-year Wyoming football coach Craig Bohl spoke to the media for about 25 minutes Monday during his weekly news conference, and one of the questions he was asked to assess the Cowboys after three games.

Craig Bohl

Craig Bohl

“We have two good running backs (junior Shaun Wick and sophomore D.J. May). A quarterback (senior Colby Kirkegaard) who is making progress and shown he can make plays when he has to, has made decisions under duress and done some good things. He’s still inconsistent at times.

“Our offensive line is making progress, but is not as dominant as what we like. We have an experienced and capable receiving corps. I think they can make a lot of plays. We have a big, strong and physical defensive line that plays really hard, but we’re not as explosive as where we need to be. Our linebackers are solid. (Senior outside linebacker Mark Nzeocha has shown he can run and play with most anybody out there.

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UW-No. 2 Oregon postgame thoughts

I don’t think anyone was surprised Wyoming lost 48-14 at No. 2 Oregon Saturday at Autzen Stadium in Eugene.

But there were some surprises that came from the game.

Even though Oregon’s offense is loaded with speed and athleticism, I thought the Cowboys would stop the Ducks at times. But they didn’t.

Oregon rolled up 556 total yards and scored touchdowns on seven of 10 drives. On the ones it didn’t score on, it went 78 yards on the first drive of the game and UW made one of its few stops of the day on a fourth-and-2 play from the Cowboys’ 3. The other two were when the backups were in late. ne drive was at the end of the game as Oregon ran out the clock after UW was held inside the Ducks’ 10-yard line.

The Ducks punted only once — with their backups in the third quarter.

Here is senior outside linebacker Mark Nzeocha, who had a game-high 11 tackles, on the Oregon offense.

Oregon junior quarterback Marcus Mariota showed why he is a leading Heisman Trophy candidate. He was 19 of 23 for 221 yards and two touchdowns, and ran 5 times for 71 yards and two TDs. UW coach Craig Bohl said if the voting was today, he would vote Mariota for Heisman, and urged those in the media who have votes to seriously consider Mariota for the award.

Here’s what Bohl said after the game to the media:

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UW-Montana notes and quotes

Here are some notes and a few quotes for Saturday’s Wyoming-Montana football game:

–“I think I’ve come far enough, but I wouldn’t say I’m done growing.” — UW senior strong safety and team captain Darrenn White. White was a starter last season, but suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in the sixth game of 2013.

Craig Bohl

Craig Bohl

–When UW coach Craig Bohl was at FCS North Dakota State, his teams didn’t play Montana a lot but came close in two of the last three years in the FCS playoffs where the Bison won three straight FCS national titles. Bohl and many of the staff members he brought with him from North Dakota State to UW scouted Montana plenty. Could that be an advantage for the Cowboys today, and could Montana be at a slight disadvantage not knowing completely what UW will do? “It means a little bit, but we’re not going to do tons of different things that we did at North Dakota State. There will be some new things we do different offensively and defensively to adapt to our personnel here. I’m sure (Montana’s) coaches have taken a look at North Dakota State film. A lot of their guys on their team we tried to recruit (at North Dakota State) so we know a lot about them.”

–Bohl was 7-3 against FBS teams while at North Dakota State. Now he is on the other side of that fence at UW. “A lot of it comes in a point of reference. The years we played a Big Ten school it had some impact. But with (UW and Montana) being bordering states like this, you can throw all the numbers out. This is going to be an excellent game and we’re excited to play it.”

Sam Hardy

Sam Hardy

–“At first I started second-guessing myself if I made the right decision. But as time went on I liked it way more than playing defense.” — UW sophomore offensive guard Sam Hardy, who could start today at right guard, on the move he made from defensive line to offensive line last season.

–Montana junior receiver and return specialist Ellis Henderson is listed as an ‘or’ starter at receiver for the game. Henderson did not do much during fall camp due to an illness. He is one of the Grizzlies’ top big-play threats at receiver and in the return game.

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Kiely confident UW offensive line is ready for season

What is one of your biggest concerns about the Wyoming football team heading into this season?

There may be many, but one many fans have talked to me about — and I share their concerns — is the offensive line.

Rafe Kiely

Rafe Kiely

Can this group make the transition from a finesse spread offense and to a more physical pro-style offense — and be effective?

UW junior starting center Rafe Kiely thinks so.

This is what he told me earlier this week about that:

“Biggest shift we’ve made since the spring is we’re getting the finer details of this offense down. We can go to the line now and know what we’re going to do before we even seen the defense. I didn’t think we had that in the spring.

“After this first game comes, I think all the questions are going to be answered as far as our physicality. I know over the last few years here at Wyoming there have been questions if the offensive line is tough enough and can they do it, and they don’t seem to like to hit. A lot of that has to do wiht the ofense we ran. It wasn’t very aggressive for an offensive line. Now we are taught to go knock people out. That’s a huge difference people will see on Saturdays. It’s not read and react, it’s us attacking them and they better be ready for it.

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Wyoming team captains talk Monday

Wyoming announced its four captains for the 2014 football season Monday.

They are redshirt senior Colby Kirkegaard, senior receiver Dominic Rufran, junior defensive end Eddie Yarbrough and senior free safety Darrenn White.

Here is Kirkegaard and White about that and Saturday’s season-opener against Montana.

Said UW senior cornerback Blair Burns about the captains:

“It’s a group that definitely deserves it. They’ve been working had like the rest of us to be the best we can be and those guys have been pushing guys to the limits. I am proud of D. White and seen him grow from a shy guy to the vocal leader he is today.”
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UW fall camp – Day 18

The schedule says Thursday was practice No. 22 of fall camp, but as senior quarterback Sam Stratton led the team break after stretching, he said it was the start of game week preparation for the Aug. 30 opener against Montana.

And, there was some evidence of that as true freshmen quarterbacks Nick Smith and Austin Fort wore No. 10 jerseys — the same as Montana senior quarterback Jordan Johnson.

Either way, UW practiced in shoulder pads and shorts in War Memorial Stadium.

Ethan Wood

Ethan Wood

Sophomore punter Ethan Wood was back for the first time since his parents were killed in a plane crash Aug. 9. Prior to practice Wood and senior Stuart Williams did some punting. There was no punt rush or anything like that. However, Wood looked pretty good as he got some good height and distance on many of his at or near his own end zone. Wood drew some praise from first-year coach Craig Bohl.

UW started practice with some 11-on-11 work. There was not a lot of big plays by the offense, but redshirt senior Colby Kirkegaard threw a nice, medium-ranged pass to senior receiver Jalen Claiborne along the sideline. Kirkegaard was accurate throughout the drill. Sophomore Tom Thornton, Kirkegaard’s backup, was the only other quarterback to take snaps in the drill.

The Cowboys rotated guys along the offensive line. Sophomore guard Sam Hardy took snaps at both the left and right side. Junior Jake Jones did as well. Sophomore Chase Roullier also took some snaps at center, as did sophomore Jacob English.

Here is what Bohl said after practice:

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