March 4, 2010
LARAMIE, Wyo. -
Coming off their victory in the 2009 New Mexico Bowl, the Wyoming Cowboys will begin the second spring under head coach Dave Christensen when they hold their first of 15 spring practices on Saturday, March 6. Saturday's first practice will start at 9 a.m. and will conclude around 11:30 a.m. It is scheduled for the Indoor Practice Facility on the UW campus. All spring practices are open to the public.
Christensen and his staff will welcome back 35 lettermen -- 15 on offense, 17 on defense and three on special teams. Wyoming returns 16 of 24 starters from 2009, including seven on offense, seven on defense and both its starting punter and place-kicker.
Of the 16 returning starters, six received postseason honors following the 2009 season. On offense, quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels will enter his sophomore season after being named the 2009 Mountain West Conference Freshman of the Year and earning Offensive MVP honors in the New Mexico Bowl. The Cowboy defense will be led by senior free safety Chris Prosinski and junior linebacker Brian Hendricks, who both were named to the All-Mountain West Conference Second Team in `09. Senior wide receiver David Leonard and junior punter Austin McCoy received Honorable Mention All-MWC honors a year ago, while starting strong safety Shamiel Gary returns after being named a First Team Freshman All-American by the Football Writers Association of America.
Christensen became only the second Wyoming head coach in history to lead the Cowboys to a bowl game in his first season -- the other being Paul Roach in 1987 -- and Christensen became the first Cowboy head coach to win a bowl game in his first year. Now entering his second season in Laramie, Christensen doesn't see a lot changing in terms of how his team will approach spring football.
"We want to practice the same way we did a year ago -- at a high tempo with a lot of reps," said Christensen. "We just want to continue to improve on our practice habits and our fundamentals, making our guys physically and mentally tougher.
"The spring is always about teaching. We will start from scratch. The first day we will teach fundamentals -- getting in a stance, blocking, tackling, the base offense, the base defense and special teams.
"What we plan for practices one to 15 this spring will be pretty much the same as what we did a year ago. The only thing we hope will be different is fewer injuries this spring. Last year, we had so many injuries we had to start cutting things out of practices. We hope not to do that this year."
The Cowboys will have a number of skill players returning in `09. In addition to Carta-Samuels at quarterback, the offense returns senior wide receiver Leonard, who had 77 receptions to rank No. 30 in the nation. He also ranked 15th in the country in punt returns, averaging 12.9 yards per return. Another valuable offensive weapon returning is sophomore running back Alvester Alexander. While Alexander started only four games as a true freshmen, he led Wyoming in rushing with 640 yards and rushed for a career best 137 yards in the New Mexico Bowl victory.
"We didn't utilize all of our offense last year," said Christensen. "I think personnel dictated that a lot, but I think we can start moving toward what we originally envisioned for the spread when we came here. We have better-suited personnel to do what we want to in our offense.
"We'll put more of our offense in this season. Part of that is due to Austyn's (Carta-Samuels) growth in his first year, and we've also brought more playmakers into our program with these first two recruiting classes. The more playmakers we bring in the more we can fully utilize our complete offensive package. I believe we've improved our team athletically with the addition of these two recruiting classes.
"David (Leonard) had an outstanding season for us last year, and he has proven to be a good player in this league. What we hope to do this coming season with the experience we bring back at receiver and the additions we've made at that position is to distribute the ball more and become less predictable. We want to be more difficult to defend and to do that you have to have playmakers at all positions, and I think we are getting closer to that."
On defense, Wyoming returns its entire starting secondary led by senior Prosinski. Brothers Marcell and Tashaun Gipson return to start at the two cornerback positions for the third consecutive year, and Gary returns at strong safety after an outstanding true freshman season.
Prosinski and Hendricks not only earned Second Team All-Conference honors in 2009, but they both ranked among the nation's leaders in tackles. Prosinski ranked 10th in the NCAA, averaging 10.8 tackles per game, while Hendricks ranked 12th, averaging 10.5 per game.
The other two defensive starters returning in 2010 are former linebackers Gabe Knapton and Josh Biezuns. Both of the juniors are expected to move to defensive end in Wyoming's new 4-3 base defense. Knapton joined Prosinski and Hendricks as one of the nation's top tacklers a year ago. He averaged 9.8 tackles per game to rank 19th in the NCAA. Biezuns concluded last season ranked seventh on the team in tackles, and he made a huge play in Wyoming's goal-line stand versus Fresno State in the New Mexico Bowl that allowed Wyoming to capture a 35-28 double overtime victory.
Christensen has a number of reasons he believes a move to a 4-3 base defense will be beneficial for the Cowboys.
"One, I think that the 4-3 is more fundamentally sound in playing gap-control defense," said Christensen. "I think it allows us to put some more athletic players on the field. At linebacker, we can utilize players who are more like big safeties. With those types of players at linebacker, it can be like having five defensive backs on the field at times. I think it also allows you to put more pressure on the quarterback with your front four rather than always having to blitz someone to get a fourth rusher. Our base defense will be a 4-3, but we will be multiple in our looks."
While a number of skill-position players return, the defensive and offensive lines will be looking to replace a number of key individuals. All three starters on the defensive line were seniors in 2009, including First Team All-MWC defensive tackle John Fletcher and Honorable Mention All-MWC defensive end Mitch Unrein. Those two teamed with former Cowboy noseguard Fred Givens to start for three consecutive seasons. Also gone is fellow `09 senior defensive lineman Mike Neuhaus. The movement of Knapton and Biezuns to defensive end will help fill in for the loss of Fletcher and Unrein on the outside. Inside at the defensive tackle positions, the top two returners, Mike Purcell and Alex Stover, will both miss spring drills due to injury. Purcell had offseason surgery on left shoulder, while Stover reinjured a groin in the New Mexico Bowl that had forced him to miss eight games during the 2009 season. Stover's groin is still healing, and he is not expected to participate in spring drills.
On the offensive line, senior guard Sam Sterner, junior tackle Clayton Kirven and sophomore Nick Carlson all return after starting 12, 12 and eight games, respectively in 2009. Carlson played guard as a true freshman in 2009. He will switch to center this coming season. Lost to graduation were three-year starter at left tackle Ryan Otterson and 2009 team captain and center Russ Arnold.
"I think the development of both or our lines will be important due to the loss of senior starters from last year," said Christensen. "But I don't know that we will be able to fully address either line in the spring as we have a number of new players coming in the fall that we hope will help us.
"We also have some guys who will miss spring due to injuries, and because of that we will be particularly light on the defensive line this spring. We will have some guys playing out of position on the defensive line in the spring to just try and help us get through.
"On the offensive line we are in pretty good shape. We have most of those guys on campus and ready to roll, except for a few freshmen coming in the fall.
"We would like to have about seven offensive linemen in the rotation, who can play and be productive. On the defensive line, I wouldn't be shocked if we play seven or eight guys next year. We're going to be young on the defensive line, but I think we'll be athletic. It will be key to keep our guys fresh, and I'm hoping we will have the kind of depth we need to do that."
Special teams would look to be a strength for the Cowboys entering spring drills. McCoy not only earned Honorable Mention All-MWC honors at punter last season, but he also ranked 20th in the nation. Ian Watts, who won the starting place-kicking spot as a true freshman walk-on in 2009, made 80.0 percent of this field goal attempts (12 of 15), including hitting three game-winning field goals.
When asked what his expectations were for the spring, Christensen had this to say.
"I expect us to practice hard, practice fast and practice physical. Those are really the only expectations that I have for our football team in the spring, and to improve on a daily basis, which is something I feel we were able to do from the outset last year.
"There will be competition at every position. Our depth is better than it was a year ago, but there will be a lot of competition to earn spots on the depth chart."
Christensen also likes the practice plan that he and his staff have put in place for spring football.
"I believe the longer you can stretch out your spring ball, the better it is for teaching, learning and keeping players healthy," said the second-year head coach. "You're not practicing on back-to-back days, which is physically better on your players and allows them to feel fresh every time they go out there for our 15 practices. We can use the days in between to meet, teach and have kids come in and watch practice video of themselves to see what they are doing right and what they need to improve upon. I like the plan we have to get three practices in prior to going to spring break. We always had spring break during practice at Missouri, and I always thought that was a nice way to break up spring drills."
2010 University of Wyoming Football Spring Practice Schedule