The Wyoming Cowboys will wrap up the 2017 edition of spring football with their annual Spring Game on Saturday at 2pm at War memorial Stadium. The Spring Game counts as the final of 15 practices allowed by the NCAA as football teams around the country look to prepare for the upcoming 2017 college football season. Coming off an 8-6 record with a division title head Coach Craig Bohl will be looking to keep the Wyoming football program on the rise and for that to happen, the Pokes will have to answer some key questions this spring, summer and fall. The Spring game is just one step on that journey and here are five things to look for as the Pokes wrap up spring ball and head into summer conditioning.
No Major Injuries
Spring has been pretty kind so far to thew Cowboys on the injury front. The flu bug went through the team which knocked some players out of commission for a few weeks but other than the Achilles injury to safety Anthony Makransky, all the injured Pokes including star safety Andrew Wingard (who has a broken hand) will be ready to go come fall camp. It will be key for Wyoming not to suffer any major injuries during this Spring Game that will have a major impact on the depth chart come this fall.
Wyoming took a blow in the depth department earlier this spring when three players (DT Ja’Chai Baker, LB Drew Harvey and FB Zach Taylor) were kicked off the team for a violation of team rules. An additional 6 players (WR Austin Conway, RB Mike Green II, CB Antonio Hull, S Tim Kamana, LB Adrian King and LB/DB Chavez Pownell), were indefinitely suspended and will not take part in the spring game. Otherwise, the Pokes have made some strides in building depth at the offensive line position with Ryan Cummings and Brinkley Jolly out due to injury and at safety as well with Anthony Makransky and Andrew Wingard out allowing Josh Boyd and Alijah Halliburton to take major reps.
Wyoming will use the spring game to evaluate depth along the offensive line, defensive line and the linebacker position as they look to take the next step as a football program. It will be important to monitor which young or inexperienced players will impress the coaches with solid film and be in consideration for playing time as back-ups or new starters come the fall.
Playmakers at RB, WR and TE
Everyone knows that the Pokes lost a boat load of production at the running back and wide receiver positions with Brian Hill declaring for the draft and Tanner gentry and Jake Maulhardt leaving the program due to graduation. So far this spring Coach Bohl has praised the work of the three top returning wide receivers in CJ Johnson, Austin Conway and James Price. As mentioned above, Conway has been suspended for a violation of team rules. It will be important for Johnson and Price to continue improving their connection and trust with QB Josh Allen, so the Wyoming passing game can be productive in the air as they were during the 2016 season. With Conway suspended there might be more opportunities for tight ends Austin Fort, Tyree Mayfield and Josh Harshman who are looking to replace the production of the graduated Jacob Hollister.
At running back, the three main players include Nico Evans, Milo Hall and Kellen Overstreet all of which are coming off a strong scrimmage last weekend. A running back by committee is still likely for most of this fall but a very strong spring game could lead to one of these backs becoming the lead hand this fall. With two of the three backs being on the smaller side look for the screen game to be more off a staple of the offense going forward perhaps we will see some of that in the Spring Game.
Backup QB Improvement
Any backup QB is just one play away from being the starter. We saw that all too well in Laramie in 2015 when both Cam Coffman and Josh Allen were injured at points in the season. Those injuries saw QB Nick Smith forced into playing time as a redshirt freshman. After a year where he did not play much due to Allen’s good health, it will be worth noting how much the junior to be has improved as a player. Early returns in the scrimmages are positive and it looks like Smith is much more comfortable in the system as a passer. It will be important for him to continue to take strides forward as he could be called upon to play at any time.
New defensive coordinator Scottie Hazelton is said to have simplified the defense a bit with the focus on getting the players to play faster so they can rally to the ball. This is a hallmark of a good defense and the less they think and the more they can react the defense will be in better shape. During the Spring Game we need to see progress with this new philosophy and hopefully, see a decline in big plays. Last season Wyoming allowed 98 plays of 20 yards or more ranking the Cowboys last in the country. For the Wyoming defense to get on par with the offense this is the number one stat that must improve greatly in 2017. The tone for such play needs to be set in the Spring Game.