UW defensive, special teams depth chart for Nebraska

Friday I wrote what I thought Wyoming’s offensive depth chart for the Aug. 31 season-opener at Nebraska would look like.

Today I offer you what I think the depth chart will look like on defense and special teams. As always, I welcome your comments, thoughts and questions.

DEFENSE

Nose tackle

Patrick Mertens, Sr., 6-5, 295

Uso Olive, RFr., 6-1, 293

Chase Appleby, RFr., 6-0, 289

Defensive tackle

Justin Bernthaler, Sr., 6-2, 260

Troy Boyland, Jr., 6-2, 302

Defensive end

Eddie Yarbrough, So., 6-3, 257

J.J. Quinlan, Sr., 6-1, 248

Buck

Sonny Puletasi, Jr., 6-3, 251

Saiosi Hala’api’api, So., 6-2, 248

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UW post-spring defensive analysis

Spring was a time of experimentation for Wyoming.

Defensive coordinator Chris Tormey looked at a lot of players at different positions. Some moves look to be permanent, others remain to be seen.

UW will show both 4-3 and 3-4 looks. The buck position (combination defensive end and outside linebacker) often will dictate the formation — along with the down-and-distance and opponent.

Don’t get caught up in the formations. UW showed a lot of formations last season, and in the first four since Dave Christensen has been the coach. The goal is to get the best 11 players on the field. Some of those players emerged during the spring. Others already asserted themselves prior to spring, and others still need to be found when fall camp starts in early August.

The Cowboys will try to put more pressure on the quarterback in 2013, after just 14 sacks last season. That could come from a variety of different positions and angles. Those who follow the team also know the run defense must improve (232.3 yards per game last season) as does the third-down defense (51 percent conversion rate).

One thing I drew from the spring that the starting 11 guys should be decent — but not dominant. The depth after that still is a work in progress.

Here is my position-by-position breakdown of the defense, and some thoughts:

Defensive line

Eddie Yarbrough

Eddie Yarbrough

Projected starters: Patrick Merterns (Sr., DT or NT), Sonny Puletasi (Jr., DE), Eddie Yarbrough (So., DE or DT); Siaosi Hala’api’api (buck).

Who else plays: Uso Olive (R-Fr., DT or NT); Justin Bernthaler (Sr., DE or DT).

Need to see more from: Troy Boyland (Jr., DT); Chase Appleby (R-Fr., DT or NT); James Diamanti (Fr., DT); Sam Hardy (R-Fr., DE or DT).

My thoughts: Expect the starters, along with Olive and Bernthaler (who missed much of spring with an injury) to be in the rotation and all see a lot of snaps. Boyland is a junior-college transfer who is 6-2, 310 pounds, but needs to be in better shape and maybe drop some weight to be effective. Diamanti is a true freshman who did some good things along the line on special teams (blocked a field goal in the spring game), and could this season. He enrolled at UW in January and the time in the program helped a lot. UW would get a big boost if Boyland, Appleby and/or Hardy show improvement in fall camp. Hala’api’api moved from middle linebacker early in the spring, and could be good at the buck. Yarbrough was the team’s most improved lineman after the spring, and I think their best lineman overall. He is best at DE, but got some looks inside as spring went on.

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UW football practice news and notes

Wyoming coach Dave Christensen stayed after practice to watch his kickers work on kickoff placement.

He wasn’t happy with some of the placements by true freshman walk-on Justin Martin in last week’s game at No. 17 Texas — which dropped from No. 15 despite beating UW 37-17 last Saturday.

Martin is still the starter going into Saturday’s home-opener against Toledo. But sophomore place-kicker Stuart Williams and redshirt freshman Zack Berg are also getting some reps. I’ve been told Berg has a big leg, but his accuracy still needs work.

Sounds a lot like my golf game.

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UW depth chart vs. Texas

Not a lot of surprises here, and very similar to what I predicted on Sunday.

A little surprised redshirt freshman Zack Berg is the starter at SAM linebacker, and same with redshirt freshman Jake Jones at right guard. Expected both to play a lot in the opener Saturday at No. 15 Texas, and expect to see their backups as well.

The depth chart will be listed below, and I would love to hear your thoughts.

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UW spring game thoughts

Wyoming wrapped up spring drills Saturday with its spring game, and the Gold beat the White 20-7. This was more like a real game in terms of rules and scoring. There were four 12-minute quarters with a running clock in each quarter excpet for the final two minutes of the second and fourth quarters.

I thought the defense came out as the winner, although both teams consisted of a mix of starters and back-ups. The defenses on both teams forced three turnovers (two interceptions and one fumble) and allowed only 67 rushing yards (38 yards were lost on sacks of junior quarterback Colby Kirkegaard).

Kirkegaard quarterbacked both teams and took every snap. He was 28 of 47 for 324 yards including a 37-yard touchdown to sophomore receiver Dominic Rufran and a 33-yarder to sophomore Trey Norman. Kirkegaard missed on several long throws where receivers were open. One attempt was badly underthrown and intercepted by sophomore cornerback Darrenn White. Senior safety Kenny Browder returned a pick 34 yards and a touchdown on a play he read well, but that Kirkegaard shouldn’t have thrown.

Still, I think Kirkegaard improved enough in the spring to be a viable backup. But make no  mistake about it, this team needs to have sophomore starter Brett Smith back to his old form — and even better — in the fall.

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UW spring scrimmage No. 2 thoughts

Here were the my five things to watch I posted prior to Wednesday’s second spring scrimmage for the Wyoming football team. Below are my responses to those.

The finals score was 64-63 for the defense using UW’s unique scoring system.

1. Improved offensive play: There were six turnovers by the offense last week. That was cut in half Wednesday — all interceptions. The offense struggled to go on any long, sustained drives. But after a slow start the offense came together near the end, albeit a shorter field. Most of the success came inside the defense’s territory

2. Continued solid defensive play: The three interceptions were by redshirt freshman Zack Berg, sophomore cornerback Blair Burns and junior safety Andrew Meredith. Five sacs and 13 tackles for loss. On the last play of the scrimmage the defense stopped sophomore running back Kody Sutton on the 1-yard line. Overall, the defense had a pretty good day.

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Washington recruit verbals to UW

Zack Berg, a 6-foot-1, 200-pound linebacker and running back from Edmonds, Wash., verbally committed to Wyoming this week.

Berg likely will play safety for Wyoming. So far as a senior for Edmonds-Woodway High, Berg has rushed for 1,302 yards and 21 touchdowns. He also has 48 tackles, one interception and two fumble recoveries.

Berg is considered one of the best two-way players in the western part of Washington. He runs a 4.56-second 40-yard dash and has a 31-inch vertical leap.

UW now has eight verbal commitments for its 2011 recruiting class.