Wyoming Football – Breaking Down the ‘Boys: Linebackers
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?
Who are they: Brady Bohlinger (Fr. 6-2, 211, Windsor, Colo.), Easton Gibbs (R-Fr. 6-2, 216, Temecula, Calif.), Charles Hicks (Soph. 6-3, 228, San Diego, Calif.), Chad Muma (Jr. 6-3, 227, Lone Tree, Colo.), Connor Shay (Fr. 6-2, 210, Danville, Calif.), Shae Suiaunoa (R-Fr. 6-3, 227, Houston, Texas), Read Sunn (Fr. 6-2, 226, Wasilla, Alaska), Brent VanderVeen (Fr. 6-2, 190, Sedro-Woolley, Wash.), Tommy McEvoy (Fr. 6-2, 195, Clarkson, Neb.), Sam Scott (Fr. 6-2, 215, Omaha, Neb.)
How they fared in 2020: Two words come to mind when I think back to last season's linebacker play -- Chad Muma.
Here was the scenario entering the season: Replace Logan Wilson and Cassh Maluia, a pair of linebackers who both heard their names called in the 2020 NFL Draft.
No big deal, right?
Muma sure didn't make it seem like a big one.
The junior from Lone Tree, Colo., in just five-and-a-half games, tallied a team-best 71 tackles. That's a whopping 28 more stops than the next closest teammate, safety Esaias Gandy.
Muma was the third-leading tackler in the nation and first in the Mountain West Conference. And remember, Muma was ejected for the second half of the New Mexico game for a helmet-to-helmet hit.
Muma spent most of his first three seasons in Laramie on special teams and in a reserve role behind Wilson, an All-American who was selected in the third round by the Cincinnati Bengals. When it was finally Muma's time to shine, he did just that.
Muma also led the Cowboys' defense with three sacks. He also forced an recovered a fumble. Those numbers earned him first-team All-Mountain West honors to the surprise of absolutely no one.
Muma was great. Charles Hicks wasn't too shabby himself.
The sophomore from San Diego racked up 27 tackles and a pair of sacks as he stepped in for current New England Patriot, Maluia, on the outside. Hicks also picked off a pass and recovered a pair of fumbles.
An injury sidelined Hicks in the season finale against Boise State, opening the door for redshirt freshman Easton Gibbs. He didn't look out of place one bit in his lone start, recording 13 tackles, including one for loss in a driving snow storm. He was quietly the team's third-leading tackler in 2020 with 42. Freshman Shae Suiaunoa also saw playing time, baking up Muma. He tallied eight tackles.
Analysis: Aaron Bohl saw the interim tag removed from his title in January of 2020. It was a fresh start for the Cowboys' linebackers and its coach.
No other position was tasked with replacing so much productivity.
Wilson and Maluia combined for 166 tackles, 1.5 sacks, eight pass breakups, six interceptions, a forced fumble and a touchdown.
Muma and Hicks were on track to do this in a regular 12-game season: 196 tackles, 10 sacks, two pass breakups, two interceptions, two forced fumbles.
And remember, that 2019 duo played 13 games with the Arizona Bowl. Muma and Hicks played in 10.5 games -- combined.
The makeshift defensive line exceeded expectations. The secondary was solid. This linebacking group, at times, was elite. Their worst day came in a 34-24 Border War loss at Colorado State. Muma said all week the goal was to limit Rams' tight end Trey McBride. That didn't happen. McBride snagged five passes for 90 yards. He tacked on two touchdown grabs. Muma led the Cowboys with 17 tackles.
There were more good nights than bad under first-year defensive coordinator Jay Sawvel.
Wyoming held Hawaii to just 233 yards of total offense. The Rainbow Warriors and their star quarterback Chevan Cordeiro were coming off a 34-19 road win over Fresno State. Cordeiro racked up 345 yards of total offense by himself in that one. The Cowboys also held UNLV to just 290 total yards, including 132 on the ground. New Mexico's two quarterbacks threw for just 92 combined yards.
All four of the linebackers mentioned above will be back in the fold in 2021. Look for Muma and Hicks to once again be the cornerstones of this defense, which ranked 16th overall in total defense, allowing just 328 yards per outing.
Questions: Imagine if this unit reaches the heights it could have in a full season in 2021. Imagine what that would mean for this defense. Heck, this team in general. Muma solidified himself as the leader of this group and in the locker room as a whole. He didn't make fans forget about Wilson -- that won't ever happen -- but, boy, that transition was smooth, huh? Like Maluia, can Hicks continue to grow with each start? His trajectory looks really promising as of now. So does that of Gibbs and Suiaunoa. With no seniors in this group, coupled with the NCAA ruling that all players will receive an additional year of eligibility because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, there aren't many questions surrounding this position. They answered most of those in just six games a year ago.
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