A number of Wyoming veteran football players took a more active role in practice on Wednesday as the Cowboys’ conducted a lighter morning practice focused on execution of assignments and mental preparation. The morning practice was to be followed by a heavy lifting day in the weight room Wednesday afternoon.Among the key Cowboys who are healing up from a variety of muscle pulls in fall camp are senior wide receivers Tanner Gentry and Jake Maulhardt and junior cornerback Robert Priester. All three were more active in practice on Wednesday morning. Head coach Craig Bohl was asked how good it was to have those veteran players back.
“It’s great! We are getting more guys back, who don’t have red shirts on, so that is encouraging,” said Bohl. “As you start getting closer to playing a game, guys start getting healed up. Part of it is their bodies are feeling better, but I also believe those veterans know the first game is right around the corner and they certainly want to get out there and get prepared.”
Bohl also spoke to the reasoning for Wednesday’ schedule when he met with media after practice.
“We wanted to balance some things in today’s schedule between heavy lifting (in the weight room) this afternoon and incorporating some more mental work into this morning’s practice,” said Bohl. “Those are all important elements of fall camp. We planned our practice schedules out the first part of July, and through the years you kind of know when you need to start giving guys’ bodies time to recover. That is why we went a little bit lighter in practice today.”
Thursday will be the final day of two-a-day practices for the Pokes. Bohl was asked what he and his staff had planned for the final two-a-day practice sessions.
“Today was a lighter day, so tomorrow morning will be a heavier practice and in the afternoon we’ll work on some things that we need to brush up on,” said Bohl. “There are certain situations that come up during the course of a season that you need to cover in fall camp. For example, what do you do after a safety if the opposing team decides to kickoff to you versus if they decide to punt the ball to you. We’ll cover a number of those type of situations tomorrow afternoon.”
Another area of the team that the head coach shared his thoughts on with media following practice was the Cowboy special teams.
“Cooper (Rothe) has done a nice job on kickoffs, which is an important part of the game,” said Bohl. “We’ve also tried to put him under some pressure field-goal kicking situations. It is difficult to replicate in practice exactly what it feels like to be out there when you have to kick a game-winning field goal. But thus far, he’s really answered the bell and done some good things. He’s a competitive guy.
“I think our punting game has come along well, as have our coverage teams. That is an area that we certainly have to improve.
“When you mature as a program and you develop more depth, particularly among linebackers, secondary players, maybe some running backs -- those are the guys that are normally your excellent special teams players.
“Some guys like Nico Evans, who may not be a starter at running back for us right now, but if you look between the NFL and great college football teams those are the guys who end up being really good special teams players.”
On the topic of running back, junior running back Brian Hill carried the ball 281 times as a sophomore in 2015. That ranked as the second most carries in a single season in school history -- second only to Ryan Christopherson’s 300 carries in 1994. Bohl was asked if he would like to see Hill carry the ball that many times again this year.
“We would be disappointed,” said Bohl. “We would like to have as many yards (Hill rushed for a school record 1,631 yards in ‘15), but not as many carries. I think part of that will be dependent on how Shaun (Wick) continues to come along, as well as our other running backs.
“Brian was a workhorse last year, and our team got to be pretty one dimensional last year. For us to be effective, we need to spread the ball around more. By no means did Brian ever say ‘I’m beat up. I can’t carry the ball that much’, but I think in an ideal world we need to shift some of those carries. What that ratio is -- I can’t tell you, but we would certainly like 1,600 yards again.”
The head coach was asked about a couple of younger players on the Cowboy team and how he saw their development during fall camp. True freshman safety Alijah Halliburton was one of the young Cowboys that Bohl was asked to comment on. Halliburton came to Wyoming from Overland High School in Aurora, Colo., the same high school as current Cowboy defensive end Kevin Prosser and current wide receiver Austin Conway.
“Alijah (Halliburton) has been good. He’s an athletic guy, who we knew a lot about coming out of high school as we have a lot of guys from his high school,” said Bohl. “He was an active player when we watched him in high school. He is still learning to play the secondary at this level, but we’re pleased with what he is doing. I think there is a pretty good likelihood that he will not redshirt. We haven’t made any final determinations on him, but he’s certainly showing some promise.”
Another young player who returned to the Cowboys last spring after playing at the junior college level last year was sophomore tight end Austin Fort. Fort orginally came to UW from Gillette, Wyo., where he was an outstanding high school quarterback. He redshirted at Wyoming in 2014, and then transferred to Chabot Community College in California for the 2015 season to pursue his dream to play quarterback. After the 2015 fall semester, Fort contacted Bohl and his staff about returning to Wyoming, which he did in the spring of 2016. Fort is now competing for playing time at tight end.
“Austin’s (Fort) return has been good,” said Bohl. “I think he is still on a little bit of a learning curve in terms of playing the tight end position. He ‘s running well. Our pro-style offense is complicated, so he has a ways to come, but we are encouraged by some of the things we’ve seen from Austin.”
Thursday will see the Pokes conduct two practices for the final time in fall camp, followed by a single practice on Friday and a closed scrimmage on Saturday. Next Monday, 2016 fall semester classes begin and the Cowboys will transition to their regular-season practice schedule as they prepare to host Northern Illinois in the season opener on Saturday, Sept. 3 in War Memorial Stadium.
Fans interested in purchasing tickets to 2016 Wyoming Cowboy Football games may: go online at www.GoWyo.com/tickets, email firstname.lastname@example.org, call the UW Athletics Ticket Office at (307) 766-7220; or stop by the ticket office on the west side of UW’s Arena-Auditorium.
2016 University of Wyoming Football Fall Practice Schedule
(Times of Practices are Tentative)
Thursday, Aug. 25 9:20 a.m. (Practice #21)
4:00 p.m. (Practice #22)
Friday, Aug. 26 9:30 a.m. (Practice #23)
Saturday, Aug. 27 10:30 a.m. (Closed Scrimmage, Practice #24)
Monday, Aug. 29 First Weekly Press Conference at Noon in Rochelle Athletics Center WAR Room