(UW Athletics release)
LARAMIE, Wyo. — As the Wyoming Cowboys completed their 11th practice of fall camp on Wednesday, head coach Craig Bohl said there were still position battles in play as the Cowboys work to solidify their depth chart at a number of positions. The Cowboys haven’t released a fall depth chart yet.
One of those key position battles is of course at quarterback where redshirt freshman Tyler Vander Waal and senior Nick Smith have been competing since last spring. Bohl had this to say when asked about the quarterback competition.
“I think right now Tyler (Vander Waal) is continuing to do good things,” said Bohl. “We’re really pleased with Nick (Smith), as well. Both of them have pushed one another to get better. I would say right now that Tyler has the upper hand.”
An area of the offense that has seen changes this past week, due in part to players currently sitting out of practice with injuries, is the offensive line unit. While seniors Zach Wallace at left tackle and Kaden Jackson at right guard are the stable veterans heading into this season, the other three starting positions have seen a variety of players rotate in with the No. 1 unit. Redshirt freshman Keegan Cryder, who came out of spring practice as the projected starter at center, has been taking reps at left guard over the past week. Eric Abojei (redshirt freshman) and Gavin Rush (junior), who were listed as co-starters in the spring, have both missed practices this week with injuries. Sliding into the center spot has been another redshirt freshman, Patrick Arnold. At right tackle, sophomore Alonzo Velasquez and junior Pahl Schwab have been out with injuries, which has led to redshirt freshman Rudy Stofer being inserted.
Commenting on the center position, Bohl said, “He (Patrick Arnold) has responded well, but to say that position has been solidified would be an overstatement. Patrick has done some good things. We will do some shotgun snaps in our offense again this year, so it will be important that we get the ball back (to the quarterback). I think he’s got good strength. He had a really good winter and a good spring practice, so he’s going to be a guy that will figure in the mix.”
One of the Cowboys’ key losses from last year’s offense is 2017 senior and team captain Drew Van Maanen at fullback. The players competing to fill that role this season include juniors Jaylon Watson and Austin Lopez and sophomores Jahmari Moore and Jeff Burroughs. Bohl was asked on Wednesday how he assessed the progress of that position in fall camp and whether or not the Cowboy offense would utilize an experienced group of tight ends to also help fill the void left by Van Maanen as both a blocker and a receiver.
“Having three senior tight ends has really helped,” said Bohl. “There was a time where we hardly had a tight end in the program. Certainly they can help in both our blocking schemes and are good receivers in their own right. Jaylon (Watson) had done some good things at fullback. Burroughs is doing some good things. He’s a walk-on who’s added some value.”
On special teams, place-kicker Cooper Rothe is entering his third season as Wyoming’s starting kicker. Last year as a sophomore, Rothe led the Mountain West and was 21st in the nation in field-goal percentage, making 15 of 18 field-goal attempts (83.3 percent). Bohl, who coaches the kickers, said he likes what he has seen so far from Rothe this fall.
“Some real positive things this fall camp,” said Bohl. “We haven’t done tons of field-goal work, but we’ll do some of that tomorrow. I’ve worked with Cooper (Rothe) some in pre-practice. I think he is improving his accuracy and his range.”
Earlier in fall camp, Bohl addressed the kickoff rule in college football that allows a team to fair catch a kickoff inside its own 25-yard line, resulting in the ball being placed at the 25 to start the series. He was asked on Wednesday how the Cowboys planned to handle that new rule in the 2018 season.
“We’ve done some work on kickoffs. We brought all of our kickoffs out in the scrimmage,” said Bohl. “I think every coaching staff is going to handle it differently. You could cut your losses and say you’re going to fair catch every time. I do know we have a dynamic returner, so we would probably like to give Tyler (Hall) an opportunity to return the football. It is going to be a feeling out period for every coach in Division I. We think it is a good rule, but how we implement it and how coaches look at it I think is going to vary.”
Updated weights from the Cowboy strength and conditioning staff show that the summer conditioning program resulted in several players adding quality weight. Among those players are junior linebackers Logan Wilson, weighing in at 250 pounds — up 10 pounds from the spring, and Cassh Maluia, up five pounds to 248. Senior quarterback Nick Smith is up to 235 from 228 in the spring. Sophomore safety Braden Smith is up 13 pounds from 182 to 195. Running back Kellen Overstreet is weighing in at 220 pounds, up from 209. Senior tight end Josh Harshman has gained 10 pounds and is up to 240 pounds. Among the Wyoming offensive line, senior tackle Wallace gained seven pounds to 321. Redshirt freshman Stofer is up seven pounds to 297. Cryder is up eight pounds to 291, and sophomore Velasquez is up 17 pounds to 305. Two redshirt freshmen tight ends Mason Keeler and Nate Weinman are up eight and 12 pounds, respectively. Keeler is weighing in at 248 and Weinman is at 260. On the defensive line, sophomore Javaree Jackson is weighing in at 288, up 15 pounds. True freshman running back Jevon Bigelow was listed at 195 pounds when he signed with Wyoming. He is now weighing 215 pounds.
In terms of what he saw in Wednesday morning’s practice, Bohl said, “We did a two-minute drill at the conclusion of practice today. I thought our defense had the better part of that battle.
“We were not in full pads today. We’ve got quite a few guys who are injured, but it’s a chance for us to continue with our work and stay mentally sharp, and we’ve got to stay strong in the weight room. It was a good to get another good day in the books.
“We’ll be in full pads tomorrow on the North 40.”
On the injury front, Bohl said that freshman safety Cameron Murray has some tendinitis in a knee, but is expected back in the next few days. Bohl added that Wyoming’s veteran running backs Kellen Overstreet and Trey Woods are both scheduled to see the doctor on Thursday to see if they will be cleared for full contact. Both have been taking part in some phases of practice, but not full-contact drills. Sophomore wide receiver Jared Scott has returned to practice after missing several days going through concussion protocol. Bohl also said that junior offensive tackle Pahl Schwab was getting closer to returning from concussion protocol.
The Cowboys will practice in full pads on Thursday morning. Practices are closed to the public.