March 26, 2013
LARAMIE, Wyo. -
It was an early wake-up call for the Wyoming Cowboy Football team on Tuesday as they conducted their first practice of 2013 spring drills at 6:30 a.m. in Wyoming's Indoor Practice Facility. A total of 91 players were in attendance at Tuesday's practice. Included among those 91 players were 10 new scholarship Cowboys who joined the program this semester.
Head coach Dave Christensen has decided to conduct morning practices for the first time this spring -- his fifth spring guiding the Wyoming Football program.
"I thought from an energy level, they're going to be a lot fresher in the morning from a physical standpoint, and they'll definitely be wide awake when they go to class," said Christensen. Mentally, I think they should be sharper when they get to class. I thought over the past few years that when we were taking the practice field after four o'clock, it's already been a long day for those guys, so we decided we would like to get them at the beginning of each day rather than at the end."
Wyoming's remaining spring practices will be held at 8 a.m. in either the Indoor Practice Facility or War Memorial Stadium, leading up to the Spring Game on Saturday, April 27 at 2 p.m. All spring practices are open to fans and media.
Following completion of Tuesday's two and one-half hour practice, Christensen met with the media and gave his impressions of the opening day of spring ball.
"The effort was good and the intentions were good today," said Christensen. "Obviously, we have a long way to go and have some habits we've got to get changed. We're doing some things differently --upping the tempo of the entire practice, but everyone knows what they need to do. We've just got to keep improving."
Incorporating the 10 new scholarship players -- four freshmen and six junior-college transfers -- along with some new walk-ons was also accompanied by the addition of four new full-time assistant coaches with the Cowboys. Jamar Cain (defensive line) and Jason Gesser (quarterbacks) are in their first season with the Cowboys. Cain was formerly the defensive line coach at Cal Poly. Gesser was the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Idaho in 2012, and also served as interim head coach for the Vandals the final four games of last season. Wyoming's other two new full-time coaches were both graduate assistants with the Wyoming program in 2012. Renaldo Hill, a 10-year NFL veteran most recently with the Denver Broncos in 2010, is UW's new cornerbacks coach, and Nick Danielson was elevated to coach the Cowboy tight ends.
While much of the first day was filled with fundamental drills, there was a seven-on-seven passing period and 11-on-11 offense vs. defense period. During those two periods, four quarterbacks took reps. Junior Brett Smith completed 11 of 19 passes (.579) during the two periods and was intercepted once. Sophomore Jason Thompson completed 8 of 17 passes (.471), with one interception. Senior Colby Kirkegaard was 4 for 7 (.571) passing, and freshman Tommy Thornton went 5 of 8 (.625), and threw one interception.
For the defense, the three interceptions during the 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 periods were made by junior strong safety Chad Reese; first-year, junior-college transfer safety Jesse Sampson; and freshman cornerback Cooper Wise from Powell, Wyo.
Christensen was disappointed in the turnovers by the offense, but was pleased to see his defense force turnovers.
"Too many turnovers, from an offensive standpoint, which was positive from a defensive standpoint," said Christensen. "We've got to protect the football better. We didn't throw and catch the football real well today -- I didn't think. But I know we'll improve upon that.
"Again, I thought the guys came out with good intentions. They were excited and ready to go. We just need to get better each day. That's why we practice."
Practicing at an up-tempo has been a staple of practices under Christensen's staff, but the head coach emphasized they want to increase the tempo even more this spring.
"We're practicing faster. We've always practiced a lot of reps around here, but we want to practice even faster this year," Christensen commented. "We want to practice faster than anyone in the country. We didn't today, but we will. They will learn from this, and we will be much faster tomorrow."
As he met with media at the conclusion of practice, Christensen was asked about a couple different position groups and their development. One question had to do with the search for offensive tackles -- specifically where redshirt junior Connor Rains fits into that competition -- with the graduation of 2012 starters Josh Leonard and Kyle Magnuson.
"From a physical standpoint, Connor (Rains) has made some progress," said Christensen. "As long as we're in just helmets and sweats, it's hard to tell with a lineman. We need to put the pads on and then we'll be able to get a better evaluation of where we're at from an offensive line standpoint. But I believe he has made progress since he came here.
"Again we'll find out more when we put the pads on for a few days and see how he reacts to different situations under fire. But we expect him to be able to handle those situations. It's been a good developmental year for him."
Another position group that Christensen was asked to comment on was Wyoming's deep receiving corps that returns, along with some young talented receivers coming up. The Cowboys return five of their top six receivers from a year ago, including a quartet of receivers who all had 30 or more receptions last season in: senior Robert Herron (31 rec., 657 yards, 8 TDs); junior Dominic Rufran (39 rec., 529 yards, 5 TDs); junior Jalen Claiborne (34 rec., 490 yards, 5 TDs) and senior running back Brandon Miller (30 rec., 309 yards, 2 TDs). Herron was a 2012 Honorable Mention All-Mountain West selection. That group of veterans will be joined this spring by junior Justin Berger, who earned a scholarship this year, and talented redshirt freshmen Nico Brown, Eric Nzeocha and Trent Sewell.
"We were able to redshirt some young players last year that we think will be able to compete and add some good size and speed to that group," said Christensen. "We've got a lot more depth there, that is for sure. But the younger guys still need to play faster to be able to show us that they can earn some playing time."
The final question regarding the offense that Christensen was asked to comment on was his decision to take over offensive play-calling duties this season and how his closer involvement may affect or change the Cowboy offense.
"We're not going to make a lot of changes in our offensive system," said Christensen. "We're going to try and play faster, and put more emphasis on trying to run the football -- develop our running game more. Other than that, we'll be doing the same things. We may incorporate some more shifts and motion, but there won't be drastic changes.
"I am excited about getting back to calling plays. I enjoyed it when I did it for 12 years (as an offensive coordinator at Toledo and Missouri), and I am looking forward to the challenge."
On defense, Christensen was asked to evaluate the return this season of a valuable player for the Cowboys. Senior linebacker Devyn Harris returns after missing 11 of 12 games last season due to injury.
"Devyn's got a lot of experience," said Christensen. "He's been around here a long time. It's good to have him healthy and running around out there. When I get a chance to watch the video, I'll be able to evaluate him better. I thought our linebackers made some plays today."
The next spring practice for the Cowboys will be Wednesday, March 27 at 8 a.m. See the complete schedule of practices that follows.
2013 University of Wyoming Football Spring Practice Schedule
Tuesday, March 26 - 6:30 a.m. (Non-contact, Practice #1)
Wednesday, March 27 - 8 a.m. (Non-contact, Practice #2)
EASTER BREAK: Friday, March 29 Through Sunday, March 31
Monday, April 1 - 8 a.m. (Shoulder Pads, Practice #3)
Wednesday, April 3 - 8 a.m. (Full Pads, Practice #4)
Friday, April 5 - 8 a.m. (Full Pads / 50% of Practice Will be a Scrimmage, Practice #5)
Monday, April 8 - 8 a.m. (Full Pads, Practice #6)
Wednesday, April 10 - 8 a.m. (Scrimmage #1, Practice #7)
Friday, April 12 - 8 a.m. (Non-contact, Practice #8)
Monday, April 15 - 8:30 a.m. (Full Pads, Practice #9)
Wednesday, April 17 - 8 a.m. (Scrimmage #2, Practice #10)
Friday, April 19 - 8 a.m. (Full Pads, Practice #11 / Coaches' Clinic)
Monday, April 22 - 8:30 a.m. (Full Pads, Practice #12)
Wednesday, April 24 - 8 a.m. (Shoulder Pads, Practice #13)
Friday, April 26 - 8 a.m. (Non-contact, Practice #14)
Saturday, April 27 - 2 p.m. (Spring Game, Practice, #15)