Spring football starts today for the Wyoming football team with the first of fifteen spring practices culminating with the annual Spring Game on April 22nd. Head coach Craig Bohl and his staff will be looking to keep Wyoming football on the front foot after an 8-5 season by filling some positions with key departures and increasing depth on both sides of the ball. Spring football is the time to evaluate and develop that depth and here are three story lines to watch for this spring.
Replacing Brian Hill
It will be next to impossible for the Cowboys to replace their all-time leading rusher Brian Hill who finished his UW career with 4,287 yards and 35 rushing touchdowns. Chances are several running backs will be called upon to replace Hill’s production. The good news is with four returning starters on the offensive line a talented group of running backs will have their chance to prove they can be productive at the running back position this spring. Running backs in the mix this spring include:
- Nico Evans, Los Angeles, CA
- Mike Green, Sacramento, CA
- Milo Hall, Denver, CO
- Kellen Overstreet, Hamilton, MO
Each of these young men could win the job outright this spring and fall with a series of strong performances. Chances are though no lead dog will be picked until a few games into the season (if at all). Winning a spot in the two or three running back rotation can be done this spring, so be sure to listen for how the coaches evaluate these backs. Are they physical enough? Can they read the offensive line properly? Then most importantly, are they effective in pass protection? Those are all things to listen for this spring as the coaching staff evaluates the running backs.
Finding the next batch of Productive Wide Receivers
The graduation of Tanner Gentry and Jake Maulhardt is a big blow to the Wyoming offense. The two combined for 111 receptions for 1,940 yards and 18 touchdowns in their senior seasons. This accounted for 52% of Wyoming’s receptions and 60% of their receiving yards on the season. The cupboard isn’t bare though as Wyoming returns three wide receivers who were contributors to last year’s high scoring offense. Those players are: C.J. Johnson, Austin Conway and James Price who will be looking to become the next great receiver at a place formerly known as ‘Receiver U’. There are also two talented redshirt freshman who will be hoping to make an impact in Parker Dumas and John Okwoli. They have had a year in the program to get bigger, faster and stronger as well as a year to learn the offense. It wouldn’t surprise me if Okwoli is one of the biggest surprises of spring ball.
A big plus for these returning wide receivers is their very mobile and strong armed QB Josh Allen returns and this spring and summer will be big for them to develop a chemistry. Allen had a huge amount of trust with Gentry and Maulhardt and it will be important for Allen to be on the same page with his new starting wide outs. This spring be sure to listen for buzz words like chemistry, timing, crispness and route running as the coaches and Allen evaluate the wide receivers.
Lastly, don’t ignore how these receivers are as blockers in the running game. That could give the bigger wide receivers such as Price, Dumas and Okwoli a leg up on their WR counterparts.
Defensive Improvement Under Scottie Hazelton
With the losses at the offensive positions above there is a good chance Wyoming’s offense will not be as prolific as in 2017. That means the defense will have to make strides in order for the Cowboys a more complete football team. The sacking of defensive coordinator Steve Stannard and the hiring of former Bohl assistant Scottie Hazelton from the NFL was designed just to do that. The defensive scheme isn’t going to change but Bohl will be hoping that Hazelton can improve the defense through better teaching and technique and perhaps a few new wrinkles in the Tampa-2 scheme.
Eight starters return defensively which should provide the Pokes a solid base of experience for the coming season. All four starters return in the secondary and four from the front seven as well. Defensive depth and improvement is the most important story line of 2017 spring football for the Cowboys. The Wyoming defense has allowed over 30 points per game the last five seasons and to reach the championship aspirations the program has that number needs to be closer to 24. It is time for the defensive side of the ball to become the unit Craig Bohl envisions.