Fullbacks continue to evolve for Cowboys this spring

Everything was new for the Wyoming football team last year with a new coach, new schemes, etc., one of the newest positions continues to be a work in progress — fullback.

“I like the upward trend we’re on,” UW running backs coach Mike Bath said. “This offseason was big for these guys.”

Drew Van Maanen

Drew Van Maanen

UW returns all of its fullbacks that were on the roster last season, including the two that played in sophomore Drew Van Maanen and junior Jordan Ellis. Others who return include redshirt freshmen Wade Cicierski and Matt List.

The fullback isn’t asked to carry the ball much — if at all — for UW. Ellis was the only guy that did, and had just one carry for five yards. Blocking is the top priority for this group, although Van Maanen and Ellis caught two passes apiece last season.

Van Maanen saw the most playing time, and Bath said “with every snap he gets, he gets better. Now we’re building on the fundamentals from last season and refining them.”

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Nzeocha latest to go down with season-ending injury

The news was expected, but still bad nonetheless.

Mark Nzeocha

Mark Nzeocha

Wyoming football coach Craig Bohl said prior to Tuesday’s practice that senior outside linebacker Mark Nzeocha is “extremely doubtful” to be back this season because of a knee injury suffered in the first half in last Saturday’s 27-20 overtime loss to San Jose State.

Nzeocha leads UW with 59 tackles, and also was one of the team’s better players on special teams.

“Mark played critical roles on the punt team and the kickoff coverage team, and we view all those things as critical as well,” Bohl said. “When all those defensive starters get hurt, typically there’s a residual effect that comes on special teams. We are preparing for that right now.”

Nzeocha joins senior free safety and co-captain Darrenn White as defensive starters lost due to knee injuries. And, you can make a strong point that both guys are the two most important players on UW’s defense this season.

Nzeocha is a four-down linebacker who is good against the run and the pass. He played middle linebacker in nickel situations this season. White was the quarterback of the defense making calls and also making sure guys were lined up right.

The two combined for 101 tackles, six pass break-ups, two fumble recoveries and two forced fumbles.

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A look at position battles for UW heading into fall camp

Fall camp begins Monday for Wyoming football, and a lot needs to be figured out prior to the season-opener Aug. 30 against Montana.

But in terms of position battles, things likely will be relatively quiet.

UW’s depth chart prior to fall camp lists three positions that are “or” in terms of the starter. But no matter who the starter is, let’s make one thing clear: both guys at those positions will play — and need to play. All three are on defense, which is dangerously thin in terms od depth to begin with.

With that said, here is a breakdown of those three spots and who will likely end up as the starter.

Middle linebacker

Candidates: Jordan Stanton, Sr., 6-0, 246; Alex Borgs, Sr., 6-2, 229.

Jordan Stanton

Jordan Stanton

Who will start: Stanton, because he led the team in tackles last season — his first at UW after transferring from junior college — with 134. He also was tied for second with 10 tackles for loss and led the team with two interceptions. He simply is productive, which is what you want from your middle linebacker. Borgs has six career tackles in three seasons. However, he has a want-to that many coaches would like to see from all their players. Borgs is from Germany and has had to deal with numerous defensive schemes and changes over his career. If he picks up where he left off from spring drills, he will be a good backup behind Stanton and can give UW some quality snaps. It is vital that Borgs can, even in a backup role, so Stanton is not on the field so much.

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Bohl wants to see Cowboys finish

Wednesday marked the final spring practice in full pads for Wyoming prior to its spring game at 2 p.m. Saturday.

And, first-year coach Craig Bohl said after Wednesday’s practice he could tell that some of the players may have been looking ahead to Saturday’s spring game, a Friday practice in just sweats and the end of spring drills in the coming days.

“I think some of our guys might have had the attitude that they want to get through today’s practice and spring ball is about done,” Bohl said. “We have to learn how to finish, and I don’t think we are there yet.”

“It’s a process. They want to do well and want to win, but I’m not confident they know how to win.”

UW continues to work on its kicking game this week. Senior kicker Stuart Williams looked good kicking several field goals from different distances.

The Cowboys continue to work with different kickoff returners. Senior receivers Jalen Claiborne and Trey Norman, sophomore receiver Trent Sewell and redshirt sophomore D.J. May and junior Shaun Wick — both running backs — are getting reps.

Here are some highlights of that, and other early portions of Wednesday’s practice:

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Pokes look to be getting healthier

Wednesday marked the ninth spring practice for the Wyoming football team, and there seemed to be fewer guy wearing red jerseys due to injuries.

All of UW’s receivers who were out or limited on Monday were back on the field: senior Keenan Montgomery, and sophomores Tanner Gentry and Trent Sewell.

Junior offensive guard Jake Jones also was back at practice for the first time in about a week. Junior tight end Jacob Hollister returned after an ankle/leg injury last week.

Here is what first-year coach Craig Bohl said after practice:

There was one player in street clothes — redshirt junior cornerback Tyran Finley. Finley was not in a walking boot, cast or brace of any kind. His head hit the turf hard during Monday’s practice, but later returned. His injury/ailment does not appear to be serious.

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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 wyosports.net.

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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Receivers catching on for Cowboys

Among Wyoming’s top five receivers, senior Chris McNeill leads the way with 56 catches for 629 yards.

The fifth guy (in terms of catches) is junior Robert Herron with 18. But he’s missed four games due to injury, but he’s averaged a touchdown catch a game. Or, one in every three catches is for a touchdown.

UW’s top five receivers have combined for 168 of the team’s 205 catches, 2,179 of the 2,513 yards and 21 of the 24 touchdowns from the passing game this season.

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UW scrimmage thoughts

It’s hard for me to compare Wyoming’s third and final scrimmage of fall camp from the first two because I didn’t see the first two.

But from what I saw Wednesday morning, the offense had its best scrimmage, at least the No. 1 offense did.

I thought sophomore quarterback Brett Smith was sharp, and he was in the second scrimmage as well. He ran and threw the ball well. He finished 9 of 13 for 79 yards and a touchdown — a 14-yarder to senior Chris McNeill. He led the team with 66 yards on 10 carries, including a long of 44 yards.

UW will go as far as Smith can take them. Would like to see more production from other offensive players, but for now, Smith is still the guy.

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UW fall camp — Day 2

The Cowboys’ second practice of fall camp started at 8:45 a.m. Tuesday, and lasted about 2 1/2 hours. It was similar to Monday’s first workout as players were in shorts and helmets and did a lot of fundamental work.

But two days in and the first practice in full pads on until Friday, sophomore quarterback Brett Smith likes what he sees.

“Compared to last spring, last fall camp and this spring we are far beyond where we were in installing our offense,” he said. “It took us a while to get things down. We hit the ground running (Monday) and today was good, too. I feel like I have a lot of chemistry with the guys and the receivers out there.”

“What I love and I know the team loves, is that we install it, we already knew it and we’ve blown through it a high level.”

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