June 26, 2002
LARAMIE, Wyo. -
By any measurement, Wyoming's football team enters the 2002 Fall Camp a better football team than a year ago. After a successful spring training that focused on fundamentals, Vic Koenning believes his third Cowboy edition can realize marked improvement.
Beset by injuries over the past two seasons, the Cowboys' spring training was successful for no other reason than the fact that major injuries were few. That fact alone allowed for more individuals to make more improvement.
"There is no question we are a better football team now than we were two years ago, in every phase of our game," Koenning said. "This group headed into winter conditioning with great resolve, dedicated to being a better football team. The fact that we were not plagued with injuries during spring ball gave us a chance to continue that dedication, and to improve.
"We entered spring training with definite goals in mind, not only to improve fundamentally, but to strengthen ourselves in several positions. We were able to do that in specific areas, but overall, we made ourselves better by concentrating on the basics, the little things. There is no question we still have some 'ifs', but we have improved ourselves, and expect to build on that improvement with a great summer conditioning program, and a productive pre-fall camp."
While the focus on fundamentals was one of the primary goals of spring training, there were some specific areas of concentration, making up a six-step plan. That plan included: 1) Development of the tight end position; 2) Improvement in the running game; 3) Shoring up of the secondary by means of midyear transfers; 4) Finding help at linebacker; 5) Development of the defensive front hard-hit by graduation; and 6) Developing a more physical personality as a team.
Koenning was pleased with the progress made in all of those areas.
"I thought we made tremendous progress at tight end," he said. "That position has now become an important part of our offense. It should be vital to any offense, but we were lacking in that area over the past several seasons. We now have personnel in place who can make a difference, by making plays. We have a threat at tight end, something we have not had for awhile.
"I thought we showed marked improvement in the running game," Koenning continued. "Sure we have a ways to go to get where we want to be, but we did make a lot of improvement. Derek Armah certainly improved himself over the winter, and we feel very good about what he can give us.
"The improvement in the secondary was maybe the highlight of spring training. We brought some guys in at midyear whom we felt could help us. But you're never sure of how that is going to go until you take a look at them on the field. We were really pleased with those guys, their attitudes, and how they improved our athleticism. I would have to say that the secondary was my biggest concern going into spring training. We feel very good about it now as we head into the season. We have added more physical, more athletic players there. I also believe that the newcomers raised the bar sufficiently enough that the guys we have returning stepped up their respective games. It made for a very good situation, and transformed an area that now could be a strength for us.
"We did find some help at linebacker although we must count on guys recovering from injury to carry a good portion of the load during the season. But individuals like Shane Powell and Andy Deselms really gave us a big lift. Obviously, Herman White's return to full strength (shoulder surgery) is a huge key for us. He is a team leader, and a very good football player."
A question, that remained unanswered heading into the summer was the status of junior-college transfer Ryan Zodda. A player the coaching staff believes could impact the position in a big way, Zodda must take care of summer academic issues in order to be eligible. If he and White are available, linebacking stock will go up appreciably.
The defensive front did produce major improvement during spring training due in large part to the return of redshirt junior Brandon Casavan. Hampered by injuries through his career, he finally has returned to full health, and should be an impact player for the Cowboys. Veterans Josh Rollins and Chad Beuhler are a couple of excellent football players. More solid depth has been developed there, as well.
"After going through last season, one of the things that had to change among the players in the program was the team mindset," Koenning said. "We just were not physical enough, not as tough as we needed to be. Wyoming has always been noted for its toughness, that edge has been missing a little bit over the past several years. We worked hard during spring training at becoming more physical, at being tougher. Developing a tougher personality was an important goal for us. I believe we have taken some major steps towards that goal. We just have to become a more physical team than we have been."
One of the goals of preseason camp will be the return of the receiver corps as a cohesive unit. The Cowboys' top three receivers, Ryan McGuffey (shoulder), Malcom Floyd (knee), and Brock Ralph (shoulder) sat out spring training to mend fully. They have done that. The challenge, now, is to make sure they return to the cohesive unit they have been. Along with that, the tight end position must continue to develop.
"I want to see improvement in the offensive line," Koenning said. "That is a veteran unit that has a chance of being outstanding. I do want them to develop that tougher persona we've been talking about. There are some good leaders along that front, and I want them to step up, get tougher.
"I want to see continued development from Casey (quarterback Bramlet). He has made great improvement, and if he continues that progress he can be as good as there is. He certainly has all of the tools.
"Defensively we want to continue teaching these guys to play at a higher level than they thought they could. Athletically, I think the secondary is as talented a group as I have ever coached."
Koenning also indicated there would be preseason emphasis on the kicking game. "We have a chance to be a dominating special teams outfit," he said. "We have an outstanding punter and kicker. But we must get better in the areas of kick returns, and kick coverage. I think we can get to where we want to be with the personnel we have in place.
"We have come light years from where we were two years ago, and even last year," he continued. "I think we are on the verge of becoming a very good football team. The schedule certainly will be a challenge. We must be a lot better to compete against a schedule like that.
"Confidence is what these guys need. They have to believe that they are going to win. Each player must have faith in every other player that they will all get it done."
Koenning's Evaluation by Position:
Offensive Line: "Our objective was to become more physical in this area," said Koenning. "We have some outstanding veterans, who are good players, and good leaders. Yet we felt we needed to be stronger, acquire more of an attack mentality. I think everyone bought into it very well. We also worked a great deal on becoming better fundamentally. We want these guys to develop a personality, and I think they began doing that during spring training. We did do an excellent job of improving fundamentally. Part of that is because we have a lot of veterans, guys who take pride in being in the right place, moving their feet, doing a better job of holding blocks. I like how they progressed during spring training. But I do want to see how much more physical they can become during two-a-days. I believe we may have as good a tackle tandem as their is in the league. Adam Goldberg (6-7, 330, Sr.) has a chance to be as good as there is. He has a tremendous amount of experience, and he is an excellent technician. He should be a highly-honored player. His tackle mate on the right side, Rob Kellerman (6-6, 305, Sr.) also is an outstanding technician. He is a big, physical player. Those two guys are going to be two of our best leaders offensively. Behind Goldberg, on the left side, is a redshirt freshman who has made a lot of progress, Dan Fisher (6-5, 290, RFr.). He came to Wyoming as a tight end. He outgrew that position and has adjusted to tackle very well. On Kellerman's side, we have another redshirt freshman, Brandon Avery (6-4, 275, RFr.). Coach (Lawrence) Livingston calls members of his offensive line, 'The Corps', and there are four tackles in that group with a possible fifth in David Gough (6-6, 250, So.). David has outstanding feet, but he is a light load. He must put on weight if he is going to compete for a spot in that rotation. We thought our guard positions came along very well during spring. Sophomore Isaac Morales (6-5, 303, So.) is going to be a very good football player and will start for us at left guard. He is big, and very athletic. He saw action last year, and was a starter for the majority of spring training. The backup at left guard will be another sophomore Tim Riley (6-2, 265, So.). Riley is a very aggressive player. He makes up for his lack of size with his toughness and athletic ability. At right guard is junior Henry Randle (6-3, 301, Jr.). Veteran Mike Irvin (6-3, 276, Sr.) has been moved from the center spot to right guard behind Randle. While Irvin is not large, as offensive linemen go, he is the ultimate team player. He began his career at center but has moved where needed. He will begin the season as a backup at right guard, and at center. At center, Trenton Franz (6-3, 272, So.) had an excellent spring and is ready to have an outstanding season. He has made great strides, and has made himself into a very solid football player. He consistently graded out the best a season ago. Jeff Warren (6-2, 271, RFr.) is our third center behind Franz and Irvin. There is a possibility that we may bring in one more offensive lineman before the season begins."
Tight End: "These guys improved, and became a much larger part of the offense. All four of our tight ends showed marked improvement during spring training. Marshall Schaap (6-4, 245, Jr.) solidified himself as our number one guy. He had an excellent spring. He has been a good blocker for us, but he really improved at catching the football. Scott Sorensen (6-4, 243, Sr.) came along very well, and is a solid backup. He will see lots of playing time. Our most improved offensive player also is in the mix at this position, Chris Cox (6-7, 255, So.) Chris worked very hard to make himself a better player. He has the size and athleticism to be a very good tight end. Aaron Robbins (6-4, 250, Fr.) also made a great deal of progress, and we believe he will be an excellent tight end in the years to come. He has a great deal of potential. We certainly were concerned about this position a year ago, but we have made great strides."
Wide Receivers: "Without question, our most talented area of the team. We believe we have a stable of excellent weapons. Spring training was important for a number of young people who received an opportunity after we held out our top three guys--Ryan McGuffey (6-1, 204, Jr., shoulder) , Malcom Floyd (6-6, 210, Jr., knee) and Brock Ralph (6-3, 182, Sr., shoulder). Guys like Scottie Vines (6-2, 203, Sr.), Jovon Bouknight (6-1, 180, RFr.), Leonard Jones (5-9, 163, Jr.) and Sean Bowman (6-2, 210, So.) took advantage of the opportunity. I just can't imagine having a more talented group, or a group that can make more big plays. It's just really hard not to play all of them. McGuffey has a chance to be as good a receiver as there is in the country, and Malcolm and Ralph are not far behind. All three will be tremendous weapons for us. They are outstanding receivers who can catch in a crowd and gain yards after the catch. I thought Vines and Bouknight did a great job during the spring in their stead. Fall practice will be important in that we need to concentrate on getting everyone back together into a strong, cohesive unit. Keeping those frontline guys out of spring training made us even better because more of our younger guys received more reps. But, while the position is very strong, we can always get better. We do have more flexibility because of our veterans, so we will do some different things, change it up a little bit. We are getting to the point where we can be much more diversified. It is an outstanding group, and we're looking for great things from these guys."
Running Backs: "We were really happy the way our running backs came along during the spring. Derek Armah (5-10, 205, Jr.) really jumped out ahead of everyone, and had a most productive off-season and spring. He has worked very hard to make himself a better football player. He is quicker, and he does a much better job of hitting the hole quickly. We feel very good about him. Kit Bradshaw (6-1. 208, So.) also had an outstanding spring. I think he can be a big factor for us. C.R. Davis (5-10, 190, RFr.) and Kevin Fulton (5-9, 195, So.), young guys like Bradshaw, also came along very well. We are certainly looking forward to the arrival of Reymon Murphy (5-9, 170, Jr.). He is an individual who will give us more quickness. We think he is the kind of break-away threat that every backfield must have. We like our depth here. We have individuals who run hard, who can catch the football and who are effective blockers. I really like this bunch. With the addition of Murphy, we should have an effective stable of backs."
Quarterbacks: "Casey Bramlet (6-4, 200, Jr.) continues to get better and better. I believe he can be as good a quarterback as there is in the country. He has learned so much, and that experience will be a major factor for him this season. He has now been through the wars enough to recognize coverages, feel pressure, and know when to throw and when not to throw. He has figured out how to feather a pass in a certain situation, and rifle one in another situation. More and more, I think he understands it's not the quarterback's job to go out and win the game, but to go out and make sure he doesn't lose the game. He had an excellent spring. He did not throw an interception, and completed 75 percent of his passes. He just has a much better grasp of what we want to accomplish. His brother, Corey (6-4, 205, RFr.), has a tremendous future ahead of him. Not only does he look like his brother, he has similar skills. His time is coming. J.J. Raterink (6-1, 205, So.) is a classic overachiever, and I mean that as the greatest compliment. He has improved more than anyone because he works so hard. We have three good football players here. All of them are tough, and all of them demonstrate outstanding leadership qualities. We are excited about what this position can do for us this season. It all starts with these guys, and we believe they are equal to the task."
Defensive Line: "We made as much progress in this area as just about any area on the team. Young guys stepped up during spring ball, and along with a couple of veterans, made this area a strength for us. Veterans like Brandon Casavan (6-5, 286, RJr.)--who is finally healthy--Chad Beuhler (6-2, 265, Sr.), Josh Rollins (6-3, 267, Sr.) and Casey Adams (6-5, 260, Jr.) had outstanding springs, and are looking forward to big seasons. Casavan, especially, has become a special football player at tackle. He always had that potential, but injuries prevented him from reaching that. Beuhler also had an outstanding spring at the other tackle spot. Another veteran tackle, Tam Pruitt (6-3, 274, Sr.), is a much improved player who has earned our confidence. He will see a lot of playing time. Adams came along as well as anyone, and will battle Rollins for that starting defensive end position. In fact, that was probably one of the most heated battles on the team during spring ball. Rollins played very well for us last year, and entered the spring as the guy, but Adams really came along. He made himself stronger, and will make a heck of a run for the starting spot during fall ball. Whatever happens there, both will see plenty of time on the field, and both will be impact players. If he is healthy Jon Aimone (6-4, 238, Sr.) will make a huge difference at the bandit. He is a guy who can cause all kinds of problems for an offense because of his desire and athleticism. Opponents must find where he is at all times. But what has really gotten me excited about the defensive line is the improvement and maturation of our young guys. Jacob Bonde (6-3, 280, So.), Drew Severn (6-1, 283, RFr.) and Derrick Glasper (6-1, 275, RFr.), at tackle, and Zach Morris (6-2, 265, So), at bandit, really began coming into their own during spring training. These are guys who were pressed into service, because of injuries to starters, before they were ready, and are now ready because of the maturation process. They have made us very deep in the defensive line. Morris had a great spring, as did another young player Anthony Jones Jr. (6-5, 250, So.) at bandit. All of those guys make us a much better football team. The improvement demonstrated by all of these guys is exciting, but what is really attractive about our defensive line is the fact we have so much quality depth. We have enough bodies who will fight, scratch and claw. They have all improved because they have paid attention to detail. We spent a lot of time working on that with our guys, and they are really beginning to understand that attitude and hard work can make them successful. They all made a great effort to get better. I just really like the way this area came along during spring training."
Linebacker: "We have a lot of 'ifs' in this area. We lost some very good football players to graduation, so we have had to retool a little bit here. There are two very large keys for us, keys that we are not sure about as we enter the fall. The first is Herman White (6-0, 226, Sr.). Herman sat out spring ball after shoulder surgery. If he can come back healthy, he will be a force for us in the middle. He is a veteran, he is proven. But health problems have prevented him from becoming an impact player. He will enter the fall battling John Wilson (6-3, 238, Sr.) for the starting mike (middle linebacker position). If White is available, we have many more options. The other 'if' is Ryan Zodda (6-2, 230, Jr.) at weakside linebacker. A transfer from Scottsdale (Ariz.) Community College, he is an impact player. But he must take care of some things academically before he is eligible for us. We simply will have to wait and see on him. If he takes care of his academic business, and is available, it could mean a great deal. During the spring, we prepared as if neither would be available, and lots of guys made a great deal of improvement. Wilson had an outstanding spring, and will wage quite a battle with White for that starting spot. John (Wilson) has made tremendous improvement because he worked extremely hard, and wants to be a good football player. He is much stronger, and he can run. Shane Powell (5-10, 220, So.) moved over from offense and fit in very well at Mike. He will be the backup to White and Wilson. He had an excellent spring. On the weakside, Tyler Gottschalk (6-4, 235, Jr.) earned the starting spot with an outstanding spring. Tyler needs to continue to improve, but he has made great strides. He has all of the tools to be an outstanding backer. Andy Deselms (5-11, 211, Sr.) and Matt Chase (6-1, 215, Fr.) will be the backups. Deselms could be a factor for us. We really like the way he came along during the spring. Zodda is the key here. If he becomes eligible, he will certainly strengthen the position. The concern at linebacker is the experience factor. Not a lot of these guys have seen a lot of time on the field. Wilson and Gottschalk are the only two who went through spring training who have logged a lot of playing time. White will add to that if he is 100 percent and ready to go. This will continue to be an area of focus through the fall."
Secondary: "Without question this is the most improved area of our football team. We had some excellent players returning, but we really helped ourselves with midyear transfers. Our safeties are a mix of returnees and transfers, and they worked very well together during spring training. Guy Tuell (6-1, 202, So.) could be one of the best in the league at strong safety. He can officially be listed as a veteran at strong safety since he saw so much action there last season as a true freshman. He is exactly what you want as a safety. He is a smart player who is a good hitter and can cover ground. He made so much progress during his freshman season that we are expecting him to have an even better year as a sophomore. He has a chance to be a very special player. His backup, Tom Vincent (6-2, 199, Jr.), also had a very good spring. He is a tough, hard-nosed player who has the kind of attitude we are looking for at the strong safety position. We are excited about our free safeties. Both Armand Woodson (6-1, 190, Jr.) and Nate Young (6-1, 175, Jr.) came to us at midyear from the junior-college ranks, and both fit in very well at free safety. They proved that they have the capabilities to be impact players for us. They are both dynamic individuals with all of the tools. Both are excellent hitters, as well as cover guys. I feel the same way about our rovers. Jacque Finn (6-2, 196, Jr.) is an experienced veteran who had his best spring. He has emerged as a team leader for us, and will be an outstanding player. He waged a heck of a battle during the spring with another of our midyear guys, Jay McNeal (6-1, 190, So.). Both are outstanding football players. We do need to develop a couple more backup players at rover and free safety. I think we have two solid starters at the corner spots. Gary Wright (5-9, 168, So.) is our most gifted one at the field corner spot. He is a standout, a player who is our best cover guy, and an excellent tackler. The other starter is boundary corner Roderrick Jackson. Rod improved dramatically from last season. He had a springtime battle with transfer Chris Dixon (6-0, 180, Jr.). Both players are very capable, and we feel good about either one being in the game. Ryan Calahan (5-10, 188, Sr.) was very solid for us during spring ball, and he will continue to be a contributor for us. Two-a-days, as always, are vital. We want these guys to improve during the off-season. The summer conditioning program will be huge for everyone on our football team, but in particular the secondary. The entire secondary has made some giant steps. Along with the defensive line and the tight ends. I think we have really closed the gap in the secondary."
Special Teams: "I think we are very fortunate with our punter and place-kicker. J.D. Wallum (5-11, 195, Sr.) could be as good a place-kicker as there is in collegiate football. He has a strong leg and is so mentally tough. He also does a tremendous job with our kickoff team. Luke Donovan (6-0, 188, Jr.) also is quite a football player. He is a very good athlete, who has proven to be effective in all phases of punting. He averaged just over 40 yards per kick per game last season. I very definitely believe he is capable of more. I think both he and J.D. need to control where they are kicking the football. They are becoming more consistent., and both had very good springs. We are going to have to work hard on kickoff returns and punt returns. Last year, people gained too many yards off of punt and kickoff returns. We must shore that up. Believe me it will be a major area of concentration for us in the fall. We are going to look at a number of different things regarding our coverages and our personnel during two-a-days."