LARAMIE, Wyo. - With a year under his belt, Wyoming Head Coach Dana Dimel expected his second spring training with the Cowboys to be a productive one. He was right.
With 48 lettermen in camp, including 14 starters, there were a lot of individuals who had gone through the Dimel system last year, and knew exactly what was expected. The result: a highly successful spring that should serve to propel the Cowboys into a very positive 1998 season.
"It all started with our winter conditioning," Dimel said. "We could tell then that our players were ready to make something special happen.
"We entered our spring camp with a couple of things in mind, one to become physically and mentally tougher, and two, to improve our fundamentals and become very sound in that area. Because we did not have to do as much teaching as last year, and because we weren't facing many personnel shifts, we were able to accomplish those goals.
"Yes, there were some positions we were concerned about, and I think we made great strides in those areas. But at the same time other areas demonstrated why we felt so positive about them. It was a very successful and productive spring training for the Cowboys."
Another factor for the success of spring practice came in the quarterback position. With the starter--Jay Stoner--returning from last year, the Cowboys were already much further ahead than they were 12 months ago, when there was a huge question as to whom would be the starter.
Making the situation even more of a strength was the improvement of redshirt freshman Matt Swanson. Like Stoner, he had an outstanding training session. Along with the improvement there, the receiver position made great strides, especially during the last two weeks of spring. An area of disappointment a season ago, the receiver corps became much more consistent as the training period drew to a close.
If there is an unsettled area offensively for the Cowboys as they enter the fall, it is in the line. "I think we shored up that area," Dimel said. "I believe we have our five starters. But we are going to need a good fall camp to feel solid in this area."
On the other side of the football, speed is the name of the game. Since his arrival, Dimel has emphasized defense, and especially defensive speed. He wanted people who could run well at each position. By the end of spring training, he had arrived at that goal. Wyoming's defensive team speed is probably the best in school history. The linebacking corps is especially speedy. The Cowboys are athletic and very quick at all four of those spots.
The defensive line came along very well during the spring, especially nose guard Jeff Boyle. Only a sophomore, he may prove to be a dominating WAC player. Heading into the spring, the secondary was expected to be a bright spot, and it proved to be just that. The safety positions took some big steps. And, although he missed much of the spring with a broken index finger, corner Robbie Duncan could be one of the league's best, according to Dimel.
In the specialist area, the Cowboys emphasized the kicking game. Aaron Elling seemed to be the odds-on favorite to be the place-kicker. He has a strong leg. Experience, or lack there of, is the problem. Aron Langley is as good a punter as there is in the country. The Cowboys also seemed to have found a long-snapper to replace the graduated Stuart Hanson. Scott Allmon did an excellent job in that underrated, but so-very-important position.
Dimel had his Cowboys select team captains prior to the spring game. "In successful programs, captains can make a big difference in the leadership area during summer conditioning and fall camp. That's why I think it's important to select them during the spring. Being a captain is a big responsibility. You are accepting a huge load on your shoulders. I expect our captains to handle that load, and understand that it is an honor and a privilege that you carry the rest of your life.
"The importance of the 'team' is another attitude that is beginning to permeate our players. I see us moving closer to an attitude where football is hugely important to each and every player. Our young men seemed to come out of spring with a sense of unity among themselves. I also feel this team is getting to the point where it expects to be successful."
Wyoming's captains for the 1998 season are center Jeff Smith and tackle Demetrius Hamilton offensively and linebacker Brian Brown and safety Greg Van Leer defensively. The special teams' captain is Aron Langley. Dimel indicated he would name a special teams coverage player for the season as the 1998 season draws nearer.
Dimel's Assessment Position-by-Position
Offensive Line: "We felt like we left spring ball with five solid starters," said Dimel. "The strength of the line will be on the left side and at center. Jeff Smith at center, Demetrius Hamilton at left tackle and Dan Delcorio at left guard. All three played significantly last year. We really feel good about those three. Nate Selk has the size and the frame at right tackle, and he had a solid spring. I thought Jason Wilhelm also had an outstanding spring. He has good size, strength and speed.
"The solid backups heading into fall practice are Trifon Demos and Chris Cichosz at tackles, Terry Staggs and Pat Hutchinson at guards and Scott Allmon at center. Cichosz could step in and start at any position. Staggs is a good, solid player as is Demos. I thought Allmon had a solid spring, and saw a lot of starting time. Hutchinson is still a little young yet.
"I think there is some versatility with this group. We can move people around. This group gelled during the last two weeks of spring training. I really want to see them continue to improve during fall camp, if they do, we have a chance to be very effective. I have high expectations for these guys. I think we are getting closer to what I've been used to. When you talk about Jeff, Dan and Demetrius those are three pretty good football players. We do need to develop toughness and an attitude as a unit. Often you have to lean on your offensive line, and that requires them to have leadership and a toughness about them. They are just as large a factor as any of our skill positions."
Tight Ends: "Sterling Kihei had an outstanding spring, and is a very talented player. He is gifted pass catcher, and has a very good knack of leverage in the run game. Kirby Drube is big, tall and strong. He has the size and frame that you want in the tight end position. He also is a very hard worker. Julian Hooker is our swing guy at tight end. He's our best pass catcher. He is a very versatile player. We feel like all three of these guys are starters. They are all going to be listed on the same line. Each brings a little something different to the table."
Wide Receivers: "I think we left spring ball feeling like we had four wide receivers who all had very solid springs. This group had a tough year last season. We had a lot of dropped balls, a lot of near catches. I think to a man, this group wants to have a big year. During the last two weeks of spring, I thought all of them caught the ball extremely well. A key for them is to continue to improve over the summer, catch a lot of passes and work hard on it. They did improve during the spring, and they will continue to do so, if they continue to work.
"Certainly Wendell Montgomery has the physical tools to be an outstanding player. He certainly had a nice touchdown catch in the spring game. Wendell has the capability to be a big-time receiver. Kofi Shuck had a very good spring. He was probably our most reliable guy a year ago. Wendell and Kofi have really stepped it up, and are going to be very solid players for us. Brahms Derenoncourt and Willie King also bring a good number of things to the table.
"There are two additional receivers who will see some time for us in Tommy Nash, who missed spring ball with a hamstring injury, and Ryan McClendon. Wide receiver is a position that must come up big for us. It is vital to the continuity of our offense."
|The duo of Marques Brigham (pictured) and Tim Beasley should be one of the best in the WAC.|
Running Backs and Fullbacks: "I think we have five running backs, all of whom can contribute various things to our package. Marques Brigham is a veteran who has excellent speed. He had a good spring, and we expect him to be a big part of our offense. We feel the same about Tim Beasley. He has that size and speed combination. Although Jon Jennings missed some practice, he will contribute. He is a shake-and-bake running back. Arlen Smith, who had a very good spring, is the big, heavy, hard-nosed back, while Aaron Frude, who really came along in the spring, can give us a smaller, quicker back who is also tough. We certainly feel comfortable with our depth.
"The competition really helped the position. I was very pleased with the work ethic. Each of these guys seems to be able to do a little something better or different than the other guys, and that will help create their specific roles.
"At fullback, Jared Jarnagin is the all-purpose fullback. He is a thinking man's fullback with the size that you want. He also has the ability to catch the football. Then, there is the youngster, Darth Tesinsky. Darth is a big fullback who proved to be a very solid runner, as well as a tenacious blocker during the spring. We are comfortable that we have two quality fullbacks."
Quarterbacks: "Jay Stoner put together a very strong spring after a pretty good freshman year. He was under the gun last year as a true freshman. But he has made the natural progression that one makes from freshman to sophomore year as far as seeing the big picture. He understands the offense much better, and thus makes much better decisions.
"Matt Swanson had an outstanding spring. He runs very well, has great elusiveness, and is a creator within the offense. Like Stoner he has a very bright future here.
"Tim Glynn, was injured for the last week of practice, but he proved that he has the ability to be a solid quarterback for us in the future. He has excellent size for a quarterback. I certainly feel good about the situation."
Defensive Line: "When we start talking about our defensive line, the talk usually turns to the noseguard, Jeff Boyle, and the tackle, Brian Van Emmerik. Both of those two individuals possess a lot of talent and gained a lot of experience last year. Jason Dreessen was perhaps one of our most improve players this spring. We've moved him from tackle to nose guard, and are excited about his development.
"Jon Mathis is a junior-college transfer who joined us at the semester. Jon has progressed as quickly as we could expect a jaycee transfer to advance. He is very athletic for his size (270 pounds), and will give us good depth at the tackle spot. Aaron Willett gives us a third man at the noseguard position, and I see him getting into some ball games and contributing.
"I expect Eric Bridges to come in as a freshman and challenge for some playing time on the defensive line. We aren't in a position where we need a lot of help at that position, but we feel like he's a guy who can give us depth at two positions (noseguard and tackle).
"At the defensive end position, obviously Pat Hirsch is a returning starter from last year. He played bandit a year ago, which is an outside linebacker position, but in our defense the two positions share a lot of similarities. Jay Wojtkiewicz will provide solid backup, as will Jerel Haynes who missed all of last season. Jerel was a starter two years ago before breaking his ankle in spring ball a year ago.
"Kendrick Rawls will give us some playing time at that position. As we look at the front three, we feel we are solid. But the backups are going to be the key ingredients. How much Dreessen, Mathis, Wojtkiewicz and Haynes bring to us will be very important in our success."
Linebackers: "At the bandit position, which is a cross between an outside linebacker and a defensive end, we have a couple of talented young players in Patrick Chukwurah and Adrian Hill. Both had outstanding springs, and both are very interchangeable. They are quick, athletic players. We really feel good about both of them. Leo Caires is a young player who stepped up at that position, and can be a very capable backup.
"At the weakside we have a guy who is very familiar, but who sat out all of last year with a shoulder injury. Richard Peprah is our starter, and is an outstanding player. He has become so much better with the instinctive part of his game. He is a little ahead of Cortney Barnes due to that instinct. Barnes has a world of athletic ability and strength. He is going to be a very,
"In the middle we have the old veteran Brian Brown. An extremely intelligent player, he was a Second Team Academic All-American last year and was our leading tackler. He is performing to a level even better than what I expected of him. The backup right now is one of concern with Marcus Ford or Antwan Floyd battling that out. They are both redshirt freshmen. We also have a true freshman, Scott Fuller, coming in next fall who may compete for that backup spot. But as you can see we are very young there. If D.J. Eliot returns from off-season shoulder surgery, that will help the depth there.
"On the strong side, Josh Amundson is a solid, returning starter. He is the second strongest individual on the team after Jeff Boyle, and he ended the spring so much more comfortable at the position after playing weak-side linebacker a year ago.
"We feel like we are very athletic, and very quick at all four positions. I would put our speed up against anyone in the league. They say there is no substitute for speed because it makes you much more versatile. You can do so many more things. That speed allows us to be more aggressive. We were second in the nation in sacks a year ago, and a good part of that was due to our speed."
Secondary: "Robbie Duncan is a stalwart, and as talented, with as good a knack for the position, as any defensive back I've been around. He will be our boundary corner. T.W. Steele had an excellent, excellent spring backing him up. He received a lot of reps because Robbie broke his index finger early in spring ball. Those reps really helped T.W., and he proved he will be very solid for us.
"The other corner is J.P. Williams. He was our nickel back a year ago, and has stepped in as a full-time starter replacing Je'Ney Jackson at the field cornerback spot. He has great speed, and needs to step from the junior mentality to the senior mentality. Backing him up as we head to fall will be Mark Sheller, along with Adrian Boston. Those two are still battling for the backup position, and that is a spot where we need to solidify a second guy.
"At free safety, Al Rich, coming off a fine true freshman season, really improved. He improved himself athletically. He is faster, and he is quicker. He worked hard at that. The junior-college transfer Matt Lehning is the backup, but proved that he's going to make the fall battle a very interesting one. He is a very physical tackler in the secondary. He and Al are very close. There's really not a major difference between the two players, and that will make it very interesting.
"At strong safety, returning starter Greg Van Leer is solid. He had a great year last year, and we're looking for that experience to make him even better next fall. His instincts and understanding of our scheme make him so valuable. Trent Gamble has been very close in the battle for that starting spot. They will have an excellent battle in the fall. We have a complicated defensive system. It's one that takes some time to learn. I think our players feel comfortable with it, and what they do best in it. I think we can now make better adjustments because they understand the little intricacies of our scheme. Our defense is the strength of our team, and I think the players understand that."
Specialists: "If there is a better punter in the country than Aron Langley, I want to see him. I think he's the very best. His 70-yarder on the fly in the spring game is an indication. He is very gifted, and is an All-American in every sense.
"I believe that Aaron Elling is also gifted at the place-kicking position. He has an exceptionally strong leg, and with experience will be an outstanding place-kicker. The problem is that experience word. I think as far as his hang time on kick offs and his distance on field goals, he is very comparable to Cory Wedel (just graduated), and Cory was the third-rated kicker coming out of the draft. In other words, Elling has a special leg, as well.
"I thought Scott Allmon really came along as far as our deep snapping is concerned. That is such a critical, and underrated area.
"Brahms Derenoncourt and Tim Beasley have shown us good things in their kickoff return abilities. Brahms seems to have a knack on those returns especially.
"Robbie Duncan will be very sure-handed as our punt return man. I feel like we are pretty set on our special teams. We devote a full-time coach to that area, and we spend a lot of time on it. We want to win those battles the majority of the time. We feel like we have the ability with our athletes to do that, and have really put an emphasis on a lot of speed on our coverage teams."