Wyoming Cowboys Begin Spring Football Drills on Saturday, March 5
March 1, 2011
LARAMIE, Wyo. -Spring football will kick off for the Wyoming Cowboys on Saturday, March 5 as the Pokes begin their third season under head coach Dave Christensen. Saturday's practice will be the first of 15 spring practices for Wyoming. During 2011 spring ball, the Cowboys will conduct three scrimmages on Saturday, March 26; Saturday, April 2; and Saturday, April 9. All three of those scrimmages will be open to media and the public. All other spring practices will be closed to the media and the public.
Saturday's first practice will start at 9 a.m. and will conclude around 11:30 a.m.
Christensen and his staff will welcome back 37 lettermen -- 15 on offense, 21 on defense and one on special teams. Wyoming returns 16 of 24 starters from 2010, including seven on offense, eight on defense and its starting punter.
Of the 16 returning starters, seven received postseason honors following the 2010 season. Earning Second Team All-Mountain West Conference honors was defensive end Josh Biezuns, who will be a senior in 2011. He will be joined on defense by 2011 seniors Tashaun Gipson (CB), Brian Hendricks (LB) and Gabe Knapton (DE), who all earned Honorable Mention All-MWC honors last year. On offense, running back Alvester Alexander and center Nick Carlson both earned Honorable Mention All-Conference honors as sophomores in 2010. UW punter Austin McCoy earned Honorable Mention All-MWC honors for the second time in his career, and will return for his senior year as one of the nation's top punters.
Joining the four defensive starters who earned All-Conference recognition last year are returning starters Mike Purcell, a junior, and sophomore Patrick Mertens at the two defensive tackle positions and sophomore outside linebacker Devyn Harris. The other returning starter back from last year's defensive unit is junior outside linebacker Ghaali Muhammad, but Muhammad is switching to the offensive side of the ball to team with fellow junior Alexander at running back.
Alexander and Carlson lead the seven offensive starters returning. The other returning starters on offense are: senior offensive guard John Hutchins, senior offensive tackle Clayton Kirven, junior offensive tackle Josh Leonard, junior wide receiver Chris McNeill and senior H-Back Bryson Studnicka.
There are a number of elements about his third Cowboy squad that has Christensen looking forward to spring drills.
"First and foremost, we're going to have close to 90 kids out for spring ball this year, so we're starting to get our numbers back in line with a major (NCAA) Division I program," said Christensen. "That allows us to get the kind of competitive reps in each and every practice to begin becoming a better football team.
"Second, athletically, this will be the most athletic team we've had. Although we're young from an experience standpoint, the key for us is to take that athleticism and translate it into making football plays. We're excited about the numbers and the athletes we have out their, but we're still an extremely young football team. It's crucial this spring that a number of guys, who haven't played for us yet, get the type of reps that put them in a position to compete for starting spots and backup spots heading into fall camp."
Another key factor that Christensen is very positive about as he looks toward the season ahead is the returning leadership on his team.
"From a leadership standpoint, I think this is as strong a leadership group in our senior class that we've had since I've been here," said Christensen. "There is good leadership through all of our other classes, but the senior class really has a good group coming back. I believe the kids have stepped up and understand what it takes to be leaders."
Defense is definitely where most of the experience lies for the Cowboys. Four seniors have started over 20 career games. Gipson leads the way with 37 consecutive starts at cornerback. Right behind him is Knapton, with 36 career starts. Biezuns has started 27 career games, and Hendricks has started 22. On offense, senior tackle Kirven has started 34 career games. Junior center Carlson has started 20 games his first two seasons. McNeill has 19 career starts at wide receiver to his credit, and Alexander has started 16 games at running back over his first two seasons. Rounding out that experience is four-year starting punter, McCoy, who has been Wyoming's starting punter for the last 35 consecutive games.
"On the defensive side of the ball, we have a number of players returning who have played a lot for us over the past three years," said Christensen. "We have guys there who've been in the battles on the field. Offensively, we have to replace some linemen. We've got some good skill at receiver, but their young. At running back, I think we'll be as strong at running back as we've been since I've been here. Obviously, we're going to be young at quarterback, but I think we have as much talent at that position as we've ever had."
The areas that Christensen is anxious to see develop in the spring on offense include quarterback, receivers and the offensive line. Defensively, while the defensive line returns all four starters, the secondary returns only one starter in Gipson and the linebacking corps will need to develop depth behind Hendricks, Harris and senior Oliver Schober.
"On offense, the receiving corps and offensive line are both groups I'm looking forward to seeing how they improve and develop during spring," said Christensen. "We have a number of individuals who redshirted for us last year at those positions.
"Our (defensive) secondary will have eight or nine kids back there competing for playing time. We feel that we have a good group who have the potential to play, so I'm looking forward to seeing how they come along. We also have some new guys at linebacker.
"From a special teams standpoint, we will have the best depth that we've had as far as having key performers across the board in our special forces.
"There are a number of guys on both sides of the ball who we are excited about. The spring will help us evaluate which ones are ready to help us right away."
During the offseason, Christensen has added two new assistant coaches, and two new administrative personnel. Former Cowboy assistant coach and Bowling Green head coach Gregg Brandon takes over as Wyoming's offensive coordinator and quarterbacks' coach. He replaces Marcus Arroyo, who accepted the quarterback coaching position at the University of California. Danilo Robinson, who played and coached at Utah State, as well as Navy and Louisiana Monroe, takes over for Jerry Montgomery on the Cowboy defensive line. Montgomery accepted a similar position at the University of Michigan. Christensen's former Director of Recruiting, Matt Rahl, has moved into an assistant-coaching position and will team up with Robinson to coach the D-Line. Brent Vernon, the offensive graduate assistant for UW the past two seasons, will take over as Director of Recruiting, and Brian Wilkinson takes over as Director of Football Operations. He was the Assistant Director of Football Operations for Cal last year. Wilkinson replaces Rick Mallory, who was named the new offensive line coach at UAB.
"It always indicates that you've hired good people when BCS teams hire your coaches," said Christensen. "We're going to miss the ones who have left, but from a staff standpoint I think we've strengthened our staff. Gregg Brandon has had a great career as an assistant coach and head coach. He has been very effective in developing quarterbacks and in developing the spread offense that we run here. He and I working together has been a lot of fun these last few weeks, and I think it will solidify what we want to do offensively. On defense, Matt Rahl and Danilo Robinson will both be working with the defensive line, so we will be able to give our D-Line a lot more individual attention. Brent Vernon is an extremely bright young man, who served as our offensive graduate assistant my first two years. He will pick up right where Matt (Rahl) left off in directing our recruiting efforts. We've also added an outstanding football ops guy in Brian Wilkinson from Cal, who is as good as any ops guy in the country. Brian will allow me to be more efficient, and will allow me to be more involved in working with our offense. I believe we are as strong as we've ever been top to bottom."
As the Cowboys prepare for the beginning of spring drills, Christensen likes the attitude his players have carried throughout winter conditioning and into spring camp.
"Our kids are extremely positive and excited about spring practice coming up," said Christensen. "The competition in our `Winning Edge' program has been very good this winter. I think our kids understand how important it is to compete each and every day, whether it be in the weight room, the classroom or on the football field."
Players Who Earned Scholarships Entering the 2011 Season
Players Switching Positions in 2011
Injured Players Who Won't Participate in Spring Drills
2011 University of Wyoming Football Spring Practice Schedule