Spring football will start for the Wyoming Cowboys tomorrow as they begin their official on the field preparations for the 2016 season. To get you ready for spring football here is the first of a two part series looking at a few key position battles to watch this spring, we start with the offense.
With senior transfer Cam Coffman exhausting his eligibility after starting nine games in his only season in Laramie the Pokes return just two scholarship quarterbacks with the transfer of junior to be Aaron Young earlier in the off-season. Josh Allen enters the spring at top of the depth chart but is listed as an “OR” with sophomore Nick Smith signifying the QB competition this spring is open for business.
Josh Allen appeared in two games last season completing four of six passes for 51 yards and an additional 40 yards on the ground on three carries. It was the third of those carries that was costly as Allen broke his collar bone in a start against Eastern Michigan filling in for an injured Coffman that knocked him out for the remainder of the season.
In the brief time we saw Allen on the field he looked to be a dynamic player who was an effective passer and runner. Now 100% healthy and throwing the ball with no constraints, Allen enters the spring as the favorite to win the starting job. Allen can make all the throws in this West Coast based offense and he is the most mobile QB the Pokes have had since Brett Smith. He just needs to learn to slide and not to look for contact when running down field to avoid a repeat of last season.
To secure the starting job Allen will have to display a good grasp of the offense and be the leader of the offense. As a runner the presence of Allen is great news for Wyoming running back Brian Hill because his ability to scramble and to call is own number should keep defenses honest allowing Wyoming to play 11 on 11 football opening up additional running lanes for the talented Hill.
Nick Smith, the sophomore from Florida appeared in five games last season and struggled completing just 45% of his passes for 245 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. Smith a former option QB in high school looked incredibly limited in the passing game and was much more comfortable as a runner where he gained 157 yards on 45 carries mostly running for his life behind a at times porous offensive line.
To have any chance to win the starting job or to even be a serviceable back-up Smith will have to improve greatly and there is a great chance he can do just that. Players often make a big leap between their first and second years of playing and the increased reps he will get this spring with just two scholarship QBs on the roster should be invaluable as he looks to find his feet in the passing game at the college level.
This is 100% Josh Allen’s job to lose and as mentioned above Nick Smith would have to have show some incredible improvement over the off-season to have any realistic chance at actually pushing Allen for the starting job.
Third Wide Receiver
The Wyoming Cowboys have two solid wide receivers in seniors to be Tanner Gentry and Jake Maulhardt. Gentry was limited to just seven games this season due to a shoulder injury that saw him catch 37 passes for 678 yards and four touchdowns with a 96.9 yards per game average good for 2nd best in the Mountain West behind Boise States Thomas Sperbeck who averaged 108 yards per game. Maulhardt filled in for Gentry the last five games of the season as the number one wide receiver upping his season total to 57 catches for 653 yards and a team high eight touchdowns. As a duo Gentry and Maulhardt finished 7th and 8th respectively in receptions in the Mountain West and after that the wide receiver position did not produce much.
The only other three wide receivers who saw playing time were James Price (12 catches, 143 yards) and Joseph Parker (7 catches, 68 yards) and Justice Murphy ( 1 catch, 17 yards). For the Wyoming offense to become more dynamic one of these sophomores mentioned above will have to become a productive third wide receiver. This is important because opposing defenses would not be able to stack the box as much to stop Brian Hill and the running game. In an ideal world that third wide receiver would be more of a slot WR like Parker (or sophomore Donzel Polite) forcing teams to sacrifice a linebacker for a defensive back for coverage purposes. Another player to keep an eye on is redshirt freshman CJ Johnson who stayed committed to Wyoming in 2015 even though he received a late offer from the University of Nebraska. Of the above players I think James Price has the best odds to step up and take control of this position behind Gentry and Maulhardt. Price showed flashes of ability last season but needs to work on his concentration as he had a few drops when he was wide open in a few key situations.
This is a wide open competition that probably goes into the fall as well but a strong spring could see one of these WR’s become entrenched on the depth chart. Although unlikely, an incoming true freshman wide receiver could make a quick impact come fall camp and enter the mix and three star Arizona product John Okwoli is the most likely true freshman to do that.