ANALYSIS: Will tight ends be more involved in passing game?
LARAMIE -- Fall camp is on the horizon -- we hope.
We will pretend here all is right in the world and Friday the Cowboys will hit the practice field in Laramie to kickoff the seventh season under head coach Craig Bohl.
Wyoming finished 8-5 overall in 2019, including a 4-4 mark in Mountain West play. It all culminated in a 38-17 victory over Georgia State in the Arizona Bowl.
So, let's breakdown the current roster by position group.
Who are the play makers? Who's returning? Is there depth?
Today, let's take a look at Wyoming's tight ends. A group that didn't make the stats sheet much in 2019, but was crucial in the Cowboys' running attack that finished 23rd in the country.
(R-Fr.) Parker Christensen, 6-2, 225, Sheridan, Wyo.
(Soph.) Jackson Marcotte, 6-7, 257, Mt. Carmel, Ill.
(Fr.) Nick Miles, 6-5, 250, Parker, Colo.
(Sr.) Jahmari Moore, 6-2, 236, Oak Park, Ill. (Also plays fullback)
(Soph.) Colin O'Brien, 6-6, 235, Mission Viejo, Calif.
(Jr.) Nate Weinman, 6-7, 267, Creston, Ohio
(Soph.) Treyton Welch, 6-3, 230, Buffalo, Minn.
Shannon Moore (2nd season)
214.8 rushing yards per game (23rd in the nation)
.433 third down conversion rate (32nd in the nation)
5.15 penalties per game (26th in the nation)
136.2 passing yards per game (123rd in the nation)
.822 red zone percentage (75th in the nation; 21 rush TD, 5 pass TD)
21 sacks allowed (32nd in the nation; 1.62 per game)
350.9 yards per game (106th in the nation)
Heading into the 2019 campaign, Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl stressed the importance of utilizing his group of young, talented tight ends.
At Mountain West media days in Las Vegas, he talked about the high percentage passes this unit could provide an inexperienced quarterback.
When the dust settled, the tight ends were more essential as sixth -- and sometimes seventh -- offensive linemen.
In the receiving department, production was sparse just like it was for wide receivers. Cowboy tight ends -- Josh Harshman and Jackson Marcotte -- combined for just 29 catches and 391 yards. Both caught a pair of touchdown passes.
As far as blocking, throw in a couple of other names like Nate Weinman and Treyton Welch. These bruisers didn't get their hands on a pass, but they put plenty of defensive ends, linebackers and safeties on the turf, paving the way for a Wyoming rushing attack that ranked second in the conference, behind only Air Force.
Harshman, a fifth-year senior from Casper, became a reliable target for signal callers Sean Chambers, Tyler Vander Waal and Levi Williams. He caught a unit-best 20 passes, just three shy of team leaders, Austin Conway and Raghib Ismail Jr.
Marcotte snagged just nine balls. The 6-foot, 7-inch redshirt freshman from Illinois didn't fill up the stat sheet, but he caught everything that came his way.
Check out this over-the-back catch that might have saved the Cowboys at Texas State last September:
Marcotte suffered a season-ending injury in Week 8 in Logan, Utah. He was hammered low in the knee area. He left the field on a cart.
He held onto the ball.
Marcotte told me at the Pokes' NFL Pro Day that he was feeling great and would be 100 percent when the season rolled around.
Yesterday, we talked about the offensive line and the pressure a balanced attack could take off them.
With the Cowboys expected once again to feature a run-heavy scheme, we chatted about how the element of a passing game could take this team to the next level.
Check out this play last year against UNLV.
The Rebels -- for good reason -- were overly focused on Chambers and the Pokes' running back Brett Brenton. They forgot to cover Harshman, who was 15 yards behind every UNLV defender:
That was an easy six.
Now, let's fast forward to a drive in the fourth quarter. Wyoming was already up big and had gashed the Rebs to the tune of more than 250 yards on the ground already.
UNLV linebackers couldn't help but suck in and sellout to stop the run.
This was the result:
Marcotte -- wide open.
So, what't the point? A devastating run game can set up the pass. Over and over again.
If the Pokes are going to pound the pavement the way they did in 2019, these plays will be open time and time again.
Think Air Force.
Look what the Falcons did to Wyoming in the season finale, leading by just four points with 2:15 remaining in the fourth quarter:
When you play Air Force, you have to respect the run. See how Wyoming cornerback Azizi Hearn gets caught looking in the backfield? It only took a split second and boom.
More teams should be on the other end of plays like this when facing UW.
Marcotte is back. So is Weinman and Welch. In the offseason, Bohl and Co. also added junior college transfer, Colin O'Brien. The 6-foot, 6-inch sophomore adds yet another big body to the group.
The Cowboys also have Sheridan native and former 2018 Wyoming Gatorade Player of the Year, Parker Christensen, at their disposal. He redshirted last fall, but could be in the mix for playing time.
As always, theses guys will be expected to play the part of additional linemen. They excel at it. Plus, that's just the way the offense works in Laramie.
However, there is no reason why these guys can't become legitimate threats in the passing game on a more consistent basis.
That will only help Chambers and Williams make those high percentage throws Bohl talked about last offseason. It could also soften up the middle of the field for a mix of veteran and rookie receivers to find seems in the secondary.
The tight end is an often overlooked position. But why? Especially when your guys are all taller than 6 foot, 3 inches tall. That's a big throwing radius for Wyoming's young quarterbacks, who have shown accuracy is not a strength -- yet.
If we are being realistic about expectations for this group, running the ball has to be the first thought.
These guys are big and athletic. Getting hands on linebackers and safeties has not been an issue and will only help backs like Xazavian Valladay, Titus Swen and Trey Smith get loose.
If that happens the way it did last season and the way it looks on paper today, those wide open opportunities over the middle should be a weekly occurrence. These guys can also go out and snag a pass and should be main targets on third down.
"Should" is the key word here.
It will be interesting to see if the tight ends have more of a role in the passing game. Under Bohl, the most production we have seen out of that position came in 2016. That was Jacob Hollister making 32 grabs for 515 yards and seven touchdowns.
Wyoming also won the Mountain Division that season and played for a conference title. Coincidence?