June 1, 2000
LARAMIE, Wyo. -
It was a very productive spring training for Wyoming's footballteam, but first-year head coach Vic Koenning cautions that much work must bedone during fall camp for the Cowboys to successfully navigate through avery difficult 2000 football schedule.
A total of 35 lettermen return for the Cowboys, but just fourstarters on offense and five on defense. While several starting jobs werewon during spring training, enough still remain to be won to make the fallcamp very interesting, according to Koenning. Some of those positionsremaining in question are the corners on defense, running back, guard, tightend and wide receiver offensively. Some of the help for those positions ison its way this fall via junior-college transfers.
"We still have questions at offensive guard, tight end, runningback and a couple of wide receiver positions," Koenning said. "I feelconfident that these questions will be answered during preseason camp. Whena team has a guy like Jay Stoner at quarterback, it gives you a great jumpon a successful season. He is an outstanding leader, an outstanding player,and he has done a great job of bringing along our offense. I think heshould be the odds-on favorite for league Player of the Year honors. Hereads defenses extremely well, and his mechanics continue to improve. Healso sees the field so much better, which should allow him to avoid sacks.
"We're going to have to develop depth at running back, as well ascontinuity in the offensive line. Our receivers still have a long way to goin the consistency area. I thought during the spring game that our offensebegan to develop a personality. We feel good about our offensive tacklesand the center position. We still must come up with more consistency at theguard spots. I saw some of that improving during spring training.
"We've changed the offense from a year ago, but it's one that Ithink everyone picked up real well. As would be expected, we got better asspring training progressed. It is an offense than can create a lot ofexcitement. I think we have the kind of personality on offense that we cancontrol the football and avoid mistakes. Last year, the goal was to scoreon every offensive play. We want to be the kind of offense that a defensemight be able to stop for awhile, but sooner or later we'll break one.Consistency, keep moving the chains, that's what we want to be all about."
While the offense continued to develop its personality, the Cowboydefense had an excellent spring even though several of its projectedstarters have not arrived on campus (via the junior-college route), andseveral others were shelved while recovering from injury. Both Jeff Boyle,at noseguard, and Pat Hirsch, at tackle, are rugged, talented footballveterans, who will anchor the defensive line. But both missed most ofspring training because they were rehabilitating from off-season kneesurgeries. Another veteran, safety Al Rich, also missed spring trainingbecause of off-season surgery. Those three will make a huge difference whenthey return.
"Even without those three, I thought the defense had an excellentspring," Koenning said. "Some of our younger guys played inspired football,and performed much better than we had expected, especially in the secondaryand the defensive front."
Because of the injuries to Boyle and Hirsch, some of the youngerguys up front received valuable playing time. Players like defensive endBrandon Casavan, tackle Jon Aimone and noseguard Chad Beuhler saw a lot ofaction that they wouldn't have under normal circumstances.
One of the veterans along the front who did see plenty of time andhad a great spring was "bandit" Patrick Chukwurah, a senior who could be oneof the most feared defensive players in the league. He returns as theCowboys' leading sacker. His leadership was outstanding all spring,evidenced by the fact his teammates chose him as their defensive captain.Offenses will have to locate Chukwurah on every down.
Another defensive area that Koenning was extremely pleased with wasthe linebacking corps. With the graduation of middle linebacker JaredJarnagin and the departure of outside backer Cortney Barnes due to academicdifficulties, there was some concern as to how that area would cometogether. If spring training is an indication, things will be just finethere. A couple of veterans picked up the slack at middle linebacker. BothKwabena Peprah and Herman White played well during the spring. They willbattle for the starting nod during the fall camp. Both are outstandingplayers who have experienced plenty of wartime. They should split duty atthat position.
Another veteran, Adrian Hill, patrols the strong side, and he shouldhave a breakout senior season. His backup, Tim Glynn, also could come intohis own as a junior. Koenning believes Glynn could be an outstandingplayer. Glynn also is the team's long snapper on extra points and fieldgoals. In Barnes' stead, senior Leo Caires stepped in and had quite aspring. He finished as the starter with Matt Klotz, another valuableveteran as a junior, supporting him. Caires also is a terror on specialteams, and was selected as a special teams captain.
Koenning and his staff are expecting some defensive help in the fallvia an infusion of junior-college transfers. That help is expected tobenefit the secondary more than any other area. The secondary did improveconsiderably with the help of redshirt junior Lamar James at corner andjunior transfer Pete Merrill at free safety. James was voted the mostimproved defensive player of the spring.
With the departure of Cliff Brye, the team's leading returningrusher, a couple of newcomers had to step in at running back. They did soadmirably. Redshirt junior Nate Scott and freshman Derek Armah improvedwith every practice. Scott is an outstanding talent. If he can avoidinjury, he could be a difference-maker in the backfield.
One of the biggest offensive question marks will be the tight endposition. Of the top three candidates, none has ever played the positionuntil now. Transplanted fullback Arlen Smith enters fall camp as number onethere. His backups are Antwan Floyd, moved from linebacker, and CaseyAdams, moved from defensive end. "We gave Arlen an opportunity, and hejumped on it," Koenning said. "He has done an outstanding job of adjustingto the position."
Another concern offensively is the guard position. While thetackles and center are manned with players who, although young, have seenplenty of action and have performed well, the guard position has new playersup and down the depth chart. There are five individuals battling for thetwo starting spots, but none have much experience and a couple have none,having moved from the defensive side of the ball.
In the special teams area the punting job is solid, the placementjob is not. Veteran Tom Waring is going to be the Cowboy punter. He had anexcellent season a year ago, and a very solid spring. The place-kickingchores are up for grabs heading into the fall, and whomever is mostconsistent during fall camp will receive the nod. Near the end of thespring, veteran Aaron Elling forged a lead over redshirt freshman JarvisWallum. Elling still must establish more consistency for the job to be his.One thing is for certain, Koenning is going to place a great deal ofemphasis on the kicking game. He wants a very "ride 'em Cowboys" attitudeon his special teams units.
"I was very pleased with our effort and our attitude during springtraining," Koenning said. "Our goal was to take steps forward every day.Maybe on a couple of days they wouldn't be giant steps, but steps forwardnevertheless. I think we did that. Only one practice--the Wednesday priorto the spring game--did we not make progress. Every other practice we did,and in some of those we made some giant strides. Sure we have much to finetune during the fall camp. But we will work on those things with a good,positive attitude.
"Everyone is looking forward to the season. Sure those are a coupleof tough games (at Auburn and at Texas A&M ) to open the season. But manyof these kids have been to Ohio State, Georgia and Tennessee. They knowwhat pressure is, and what big crowds can do to a team and its execution.They're looking forward to it, and I think it will be great incentive forthem to work harder during the summer to get ready for those two games rightout of the chute. Yes it's a very difficult schedule. The conference seasonwill be as hard as always. The fact that we play both Brigham Young andColorado State on the road is not going to be easy. But it is a challengewe are looking forward to, and I think our players will be prepared for it."
Koenning's Assessment Position-by-Position
Quarterback: "It is my opinion that Jay Stoner should be thepreseason Player of the Year in the Mountain West Conference. If he hasthe kind of season I think he is going to have then he should earn thathonor. I can't imagine a quarterback having a better spring than Jay. Hecompleted close to 70 percent of his throws during the spring. The greatthing about him is that he continues to improve. Here is a guy who willhave started for four seasons, yet he still wants to get better. It didn'ttake him very long to get into this offense. By the end of spring training,there were things that he was doing with the offense that he wasn't able toearlier. He is doing a much better job of seeing secondary receivers. Heis seeing the field better. Not holding the ball will prevent some of thesacks that he suffered last season too. If something were to happen to Jaythen I think Matt Swanson would be the guy who we would look to. We alsohave a great deal of confidence in Brandon Neill. Brandon received a lotmore snaps during spring and he responded well. Brandon was a little bangedup, especially during the last week of the spring game. He should be atfull health for the start of the season. The guy who probably made the mostprogress in the last week of practice was the redshirt freshman, CaseyBramlet. He doesn't seem to get rattled by pressure, and he delivers theball. He has a very strong arm, probably the strongest arm on the team.Because of the veteran nature of these quarterbacks, we're going to allowthem a little more freedom. We have an extensive audible system, and we aregoing to give our guys a lot of freedom, especially a guy like Stoner. It'sbeen said before, but he is a coach on the field."
Running Back: " I was proud of Nate (Scott) in the way he finishedthe spring. He had a big day in the spring game, and that was important tohim. I think he really began to understand what it takes to be successfulback there. He has had some nagging injuries, but he is starting to figureout that as a running back you have to play with those types of things. Hehas ability, he has speed. He has plenty of tools to make a big differencefor us. He is raw, so each day is a learning experience for him. He needsto improve his pass protection, and he's got to be a little tougher in theposition. He has a great attitude. He needs to have his body catch up withhis mind and his heart. When that happens, he's going to be a specialplayer. I thought Derek Armah really came on for us. He brings a greatdeal of toughness to this position. He continued to improve throughoutspring training. Sure, as a freshman he has some things to learn. He needsto run north and south a little more. I really liked his competitive edgeand how tough he was. He did a good job blocking for us. We also haveanother tough guy at running back in Aaron Frude. Aaron is a veteran whoyou love to have on your football team. He did miss some of springtraining with injury. But we know what he can do, and he too is verycompetitive. We're also anxious to take a look at some new guys. TravisShort is a junior-college transfer who has the speed and the shake. He'snot a big guy, but he brings a seriousness and competitiveness to theposition that only seeing him practice can give us the true picture. It ispossible that any one of three true freshmen could make an impression.Leonard Jones, who could play at receiver as well, Kit Bradshaw, theprototypical one back type of guy, and Roderrick Jackson, a guy withtremendous speed, will be candidates. Hopefully, though, we won't have tocount on these guys to play too much as freshmen."
Fullback: "Our fullback is going to be Darth Tesinsky. He is ajunior now, and it's his time. Darth is an extremely tough football player.He brings a mentality to the position that a fullback must have. He wasawarded the 'Cowboy Effort' award during spring training. We made a positionmove here during the spring and we think it is going to work out very well.We took Marcus Ford from linebacker and put him at the fullback position.The move seemed to agree with him. He really came along during the spring.He has a passion for it, and like Darth he is a very tough individual. Bothof those guys seem to have the kind of toughness we are looking for here. Iwas pleased when the spring was over that we had made ourselves better atthis position."
Wide Receiver: "Obviously this is a very young area for us. Thereis not a whole lot of experience. Our guys are still learning concepts.They are still trying to understand that they have to take what the defensegives them. They have to be able to read coverages. I think a good dealof the mistakes we made at this position during spring training was due tothe fact they were trying to figure all of that out. I think it is thenature of the position, but our receivers were having a hard timeunderstanding that if they do what they are supposed to do, they will besuccessful in the long run. If they become more disciplined, more patientthey will be fine. There were times when we looked very good, there weretimes when we weren't very good. That happens when there are so many youngplayers. Two of our most consistent guys were redshirt freshmen -- MalcomFloyd and Ryan McGuffey were very impressive. McGuffey is a very toughindividual. He's one of those guys who seems to say, 'throw me the ball,put it on my shoulders'. Floyd was voted the most improved player onoffense during spring ball. The Ralph brothers proved to be very effectiveat times for us, and they are guys we must count on. Brock is a guy who hasa lot of talent. He is one of those guys who needs to be more patient, moredisciplined. When he gets past that, he is going to be a very goodreceiver. I also like his brother, Dustin. He's not a big receiver, but heis a possession type of a guy. If you throw it his way, he'll catch it foryou. Alex English is a senior who had an up and down spring. He would makea big play for us, then he would go offside. He needs to be a leader for usat receiver. We're going to have to make some big strides in this areaduring fall camp. We want these guys to come back stronger both mentallyand physically. Obviously how these guys progress will be vital to us.This offense can be very effective if these guys are on the same page withJay and our other quarterbacks. They have some work to do."
Tight End: "Obviously the tight end was a concern heading intospring training. Since we didn't have one in our offense a year ago, we hadto find one. It turned out to be an opportunity for Arlen Smith, and Ithink he jumped on it and started believing he could do it. He's done agood job for us. He probably didn't catch as many balls as he would haveliked during spring training, but that was the scheme of what we were doingoffensively during the spring. He'll catch plenty of footballs in the fall.He did a nice job of adjusting to our blocking schemes. It's a position thatis an integral part of both our running and passing attack. Behind Arlen weconverted Antwan Floyd from a linebacker into a tight end. Antwan did adecent job. He's a bit undersized, but his great effort and determinationhelped him be successful. We also think that redshirt freshman Casey Adamshas a chance to help us at this position, as well as another redshirtfreshman Eric Haley. Haley has some outstanding tools and might be a (Jay)Novacek-type tight end. He has outstanding pass-catching abilities. He waschallenged big time during spring, and he rose to that challenge. I thinkhe could be a tight end of the future. We might have another tight endjoin us during fall camp."
Offensive Line: "This is an area that is young, although three ofthe starters have seen lots of action even though they are sophomores. I'mpleased with the tackles and the center and concerned about the guards.Certainly the tackle positions are key in protecting our quarterback, and wehave two fine ones in Rob Kellerman and Adam Goldberg. One very positivething that came out of spring training was the fact that our depth improvedin the offensive line. During the spring game that second unit was creatingsurges against the number one defense. Nate Reimers and Bill Bullert arebig guys, and their play made us feel more comfortable about our backuppositions. Junior Pat Hutchinson also gives us solid depth. We are hopinghe has a healthy season. I believe that Kellerman and Goldberg will be asgood a pair of tackles as there is in the league. Both possess athleticismand size and the best part is they want to work to be the best players theycan be. We are looking forward to having them for the next three years. Atcenter we have another guy who is a young veteran in Mike Irvin. Mikestarted at guard and center last season as a freshman. He has as muchability at his position as anyone on our team. He's beginning to grow as aperson and as a leader. We look forward to his continued development in theareas of toughness and leadership. Ben Murphy, who also is a sophomore, isthe backup. He needs a good summer to improve his size and his ability.Behind him is a redshirt freshman in Casey Phillips. It's a young position,but they are going to be good football players. The guard position is stillvery much up in the air. We have four, possibly five guys vying forpositions. At left guard we have a junior, Pat Hutchinson. He's beenaround, but has been injured through much of his career. Behind him wehave a junior-college transfer in Jay Dirks. I think he made some stridesduring spring training. The right guard is more of a question mark. TamPruitt, a sophomore who was converted from nosetackle on defense, finishedspring training as the starter. He's a tough individual, but has much tolearn about the position. Phillips is behind him, playing both center andguard. Another sophomore, Anthony Stannard is listed third at the position.All of these guys possess enough skill to be starters. It just remains tobe seen how it all plays out. We are looking for consistency. Thatobviously is the goal. There's several jobs to be won here before we beginthe season."
Defensive Line: "This is certainly an area of strength for us.When everyone is healthy this is the strength of the team. We have threeall-Mountain West Conference-type players in (Pat) Hirsch, (Jeff) Boyle and(Patrick) Chukwurah. All three are capable of dominating a game. In factwe are counting on them to be dominant. We're initially listing Hirsch as atackle. We have two linemen coming in the fall in transfers Daniel Gibsonand Damon Roark. Both are big guys and we'll see how they fit in. If theydo then we have the luxury of moving Pat around a little bit. He has hadexperience inside and at defensive end. Obviously we want to get our bestplayers on the field. We should have enough depth to make the positionsextremely competitive. Senior Kendrick Rawls and sophomore Brandon Casavanjoin Pat in that mix. All three are good football players. Casavan has atremendous upside, and Rawls plays so very hard. Another guy who made agreat deal of progress during the spring was Jon Aimone. He is undersized,but he caused a lot of trouble in there. He also works very hard. Jonearned the 'Cowboy Effort' award on defense during spring training. Thenthere's Boyle. He should be the anchor. Everyone knows what he can do inthere. He seems recovered from his surgery, and we are looking for a bigsenior season from him. Chad Beuhler, a junior, had a good spring at thatnoseguard position. An area that really came on for us during springtraining was the 'bandit' position. Chukwurah played better than I've everseen him play. He is an individual whom offenses are going to have to bevery aware of. He is so strong and so athletic. Two redshirt freshmen, JoeAnderson and Da'mon Frier played well. In addition, we have a couple of truefreshman linemen coming in whom we will take a good, hard look, in Tim Rileyand ER Wolf We liked both of them very much so we are anxious to see howthey look in a Cowboy uniform. The defensive front was a sore spot for uslast year because we just didn't have enough guys. We seem to have plentyof depth along that defensive front now. If everyone does as well as wethink they can, we potentially could be as good here as we've been in threeseasons."
Linebacker: "I am really pleased how this area of the teamprogressed during spring training. We weren't sure exactly how things wouldplay out, especially at the weak-side spot with the loss of Cortney Barnes.But Leo Caires continued to improve, and played very well. Matt Klotz, whomade a lot of big plays for us a year ago, is back. He will see plenty ofaction. The third guy there is Zach Rutten. We also expect Jason Jones, ajunior-college transfer, to make the battle for that starting spot verycompetitive. Leo is the kind of guy who will do whatever it takes to besuccessful, and I think that will make the position more consistent than ithas been. Klotz will help, as well, since moving from the strong side. Hewill be as solid a backup as we've had in awhile. The middle linebackerposition is still up for grabs between Kwabena Peprah and Herman White.Both bring different things to the table. First and foremost, both aretremendous people. They've got to function as leaders, and they understandthat. Leo could be a swing guy between the weak-side and the middle. Wecould be as good on the strong side as at any position on the team. AdrianHill continued to improve. We're looking for him to play like he practicedin the spring, and be the dominant player that we've been expecting him tobe. It is his time. Tim Glynn started off the spring like a man possessed-- like he was not going to be denied. He suffered a neck burner, and waslimited somewhat after that. We're looking forward to getting him back to100 percent health. He's the prototypical NFL-type outside backer just likeAdrian. Both are big and they can run. John Wilson, a sophomore, continuedto improve, and if he continues to do so, he will be a solid three,providing great depth and good special teams play. He has continued tomature and grow stronger. We think the world of him. He's a very smartfootball player. We're in excellent shape at linebacker. I feel very goodabout the position."
Defensive Backs: "This area surprised us. As a group they mademuch more progress than we expected them to. The secondary will probably beimpacted more by the new players coming here in the fall than any other areaof the team. At corner, we had our most improved player of the spring inLamar James at the boundary. He really made the most progress of anyonewe've got. His temperament and attitude improved tremendously. He islearning what it takes to become a Division I player. He works extremelyhard. We have a veteran backing him up in Mark Sheller. Sheller is asenior who has seen a great deal of work on the special teams. He is aseasoned performer. He also was selected as a special teams captain by histeammates. At the field corner, Sidney Lewis became a better player than Ithink we thought he would when we signed him. He has a great deal ofenthusiasm, and has a lot of toughness for a player his size. He reallyenjoys playing the game. He's physical, and brings a much-needed highemotional level out there. At the safety positions, we have a lot of thingsup in the air. Obviously, Al Rich is returning, and he is a proven playerwith outstanding skills. Where he ends up remains to be seen. He sat outspring training, so we'll see how he comes back in the fall. Initially wewill continue to utilize him at strong safety because of his man coverageskills. If we see that someone we are bringing in has that ability, and weneed Al to move back to free, then that's the way we'll go. Jacque Finncame along nicely, and can be an effective player for us. He brings aphysical nature, and a high skill level to the secondary. When springtraining was completed Pete Merrill and John Levingston were battling it outfor the starting spot at free safety. Merrill is a junior-college transferand Levingston is a redshirt freshman. Fall camp will tell who ends upbeing the starter. Both of them have good skill and a knack for thefootball. Probably both will play a lot. Sophomore Allen Bridgeman andsenior Rich Sweeny will be the backups and special teams guys. We have fourjunior-college players coming in the fall, and they certainly will be in themix. DeShawn Abram is a free safety, Marcus Freeman a corner, Eric Lee acorner and Gideon Smith a corner. It'll have to sort itself out, but we areanxious to get a look at them, and see if they can help this football team.
"We have made a big effort to improve in this area. We placedspecial emphasis on it during spring training. Right now Tom Waring, whois a veteran, will be our punter. Matt Swanson will probably be the backup.Based on his spring performance Tom punted very well. The kicking positionis up for grabs. I'd say that Aaron Elling began to forge ahead the lastweek of spring practice, but still wasn't as consistent as we'd like. JarvisWallum, a redshirt freshman, is the guy battling Elling for the position.Like Elling he has had problems with consistency. Elling will have everyopportunity to win the position again. That position is going to be much,much more emphasized this year. Right now, our long snapper for punts willbe Tim Glynn, who performed in that role last season. We will make anattempt to develop someone else in that spot, as well. Anthony Stannardreturns as the long snapper for field goals. We also will continue todevelop a long snapper in that area. Our punt returners and kickoffreturners will be positions that will be earned in the fall. Those spotsremain to be decided. I'm sure this season will be no exception in that agame or two will come down to the kicking game. We have an opportunity tobe very effective in this area. But we must become more consistent throughmental toughness and focus."