Wyoming Football – Breaking Down the ‘Boys: Defensive ends
LARAMIE -- Craig Bohl and the Wyoming football team are starting spring football a tad late this season.
Last year, COVID-19 put a halt to it all together. So, better late than never, right?
There's a method to Bohl's madness. 1) He wants more time to pass so the virus will hopefully be well under control. 2) He wants to see quarterback Sean Chambers at full strength.
There's arguably never been a more important training camp than this one in Bohl's eight seasons in Laramie. He is "re-engineering" his offense and has a pair of new coaches on that side of the ball, including Tim Polasek, who replaces longtime offensive coordinator Brent Vigen.
April 6 is when it all starts, culminating with the annual spring game May 8. So, what better time to break down this roster position by position?
We've already touched on the Cowboys' safeties, cornerbacks and nickelbacks Now, let's move to the defensive front and the guys that bring the heat around the edge -- the defensive ends.
Who are they: Solomon Byrd (Soph. 6-4, 247, Palmdale, Calif.), Jack Boyer (Soph. 6-4, 220, Arvada, Colo.), Garrett Crall (Sr. 6-5, 233, Hicksville, Ohio), DeVonne Harris (R-Fr. 6-4, 217, Big Lake, Minn.), Sabastian Harsh (Fr. 6-3, 220, Scottsbluff, Neb.), Victor Jones (Jr. 6-4, 245, Sacramento, Calif.), Leevi Lafaele (Soph. 6-2, 224, Sacramento, Calif.), Teagan Liufau (Soph. 6-3, 232, Fort Collins, Colo.), Oluwaseyi Omotosho (Fr. 6-2, 225, Houston, Texas), Jaylen Pate (R-Fr. 6-3, 241, Chicago, Ill.), Braden Siders (Fr. 6-3, 215, Thornton, Colo.), Davon Wells-Ross (Jr. 6-5, 214, Omaha, Neb.), Tyce Westland (Fr. 6-5, 220, Pleasanton, Neb.)
How they fared in 2020: Wyoming was on pace to rack up 34 sacks a season ago. Just 6.5 of those came from the Cowboys' defensive end group. No unit was hit harder than UW's edge rushers when it came to opt outs, injuries and suspensions. Year one under Marty English was disoriented from the word go.
Solomon Byrd, a Freshman All-American and the team's leader in sacks with 6.5 in 2019, decided he wasn't going to play last season due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Losing Byrd was going to be challenging enough. Then Devon Wells-Ross also decided to opt out. Garrett Crall, a team captain who had 4.5 sacks the prior season, wasn't cleared from offseason foot surgery until Week 6. He played in the Cowboys' final three games.
Victor Jones was forced to the interior of the line because of opt outs and lack of depth. He was suspended before the Cowboys game against UNLV for a violation of team rules. True freshman Cameron Smith suffered the same fate before the season finale.
Couldn't get much worse, huh?
There were some positives that came out of that COVID-19-shortened six-game season, though.
Let's start with Crall. When the senior did return to the field against UNLV, he was a terror from the opening snap -- literally. Crall registered a tackle for loss, hammering Charles Williams in the Rebels backfield. He tallied five tackles, a sack and batted down a pass. That continued through the final two games. Crall racked up a dozen tackles against New Mexico and closed the season with four tackles and a sack against Boise State.
Thanks to the NCAA ruling that seniors wouldn't lose a year of eligibility, Crall is back.
DeVonne Harris, Jaylen Pate, Teagan Liufau all saw playing time in 2020. Harris finished with nine tackles, Pate had seven and a sack and Liufau tallied a tackle.
Analysis: Without the services of Byrd and Wells-Ross, the Cowboys were missing 58 tackles, 8.5 sacks, three forced fumbles, a fumble recovery and a pass breakup.
Tack on the fact that Crall and Jones missed three games and the rest of the defensive end room was filled with inexperience. It was truly a one-week-at-a-time approach when it came to who would play and how much. UW head coach Craig Bohl was impressed with the growth of this group, though it didn't always end up on the final stat sheet. Pate earned starting time and Harris was a monster in the snow against Boise State, racking up five tackles.
All in all, this group played well. They certainly weren't a liability.
This unit also looked much different when Crall returned from injury. Quarterbacks were on the run and very uncomfortable over the final three games. Wyoming tallied six sacks and 22 tackles for loss in those contests.
All those guys listed above are back. Byrd is one of the most feared pass rushers in the Mountain West. Crall is right there, too. With the added depth of Pate, Wells-Ross and Harris, along with Liufau, Leevi Lafaele, Braden Siders and Oluwaseyi Omotosho, this unit should be a major strength for the Pokes in 2020.
The added quarterback pressure can only mean good things for a cornerback group that is lacking experience. It should also bode well for Wyoming's opportunistic linebackers and safeties. These ends aren't one-trick ponies, either. They can stop the run. Cowboys' defensive ends accounted for 58 tackles last fall. In 2019, they registered 166.
A year -- a full year -- under English should really help this group. He is known as a players' coach and a mentor guys want to play hard for. Just ask former Cowboys Gabe Knapton, Brain Hendricks and Mitch Unrein.
Questions: What will Byrd look like after taking a year off? Does he still have that quick first step and ability to get around the corner? Has Wells-Ross added any pounds to his 6-foot-5, 214-pound frame? Foot issues have impacted Crall for the better part of two seasons. Can he stay healthy?
Losing Smith hurts. Despite being a true freshman and spending a chunk of fall camp in quarantine, the Colorado product did pick up a pair of sacks to go along with a forced fumble and a recovery. His impact was felt immediately. Now, he's in the NCAA Transfer Portal after Bohl suspended and eventually kicked him off the team last November.
Who will step up and add that much-needed depth in this group? Harris was impressive against the Broncos in the finale. Pate showed flashes, too.
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