Wyoming Football – Breaking Down the ‘Boys: Safeties
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?
Let's start with the Pokes' safety group.
Who are they: Rome Weber (Soph. 5-11, 188, San Bernardino, Calif.), Braden Smith (Sr. 5-10, 186, Lakewood, Colo.), Keshaun Taylor (Fr. 6-0, 195, Denver, Colo.), Esaias Gandy (Sr. 6-1, 198, Aurora, Colo.), Buck Coors (Fr. 5-11, 170, Loveland, Colo.), Cameron Murray (Soph. 6-1, 175, Aurora, Colo.), Isaac White (Fr. 6-1, 195, Pottstown, Penn.), Miles Williams (Jr. 6-1, 194, Oxnard, Calif.), Wrook Brown (5-11, 175, Salado, Texas), Andrew Johnson (Fr. 6-1, 185, Cheyenne, Wyo.), Tommy Wroblewski (Fr. 6-2, 185, Saint Paul, Neb.)
How they fared in 2020: The first outing of the COVID-19-shortened season was a mostly forgettable one for this unit. Nevada's Carson Strong torched the secondary for 420 yards and four touchdowns in a 37-34 overtime win over the Cowboys in Reno. Braden Smith had a rough time with big Wolf Pack receivers and 6-foot-6 tight end Cole Turner, who snagged seven receptions for a team-high 119 yards and two touchdowns. Smith, who filled in for former starter Rome Weber, who opted out of the 2020 campaign, was hardly the only one to struggle in Reno that night. Nevada running backs also found success on the ground, racking up 101 yards on just 23 carries. Esaias Gandy tallied five tackles in the loss.
First-year defensive coordinator and safeties coach, Jay Sawvel, got the ship righted quickly. The following week in Laramie, Hawaii's standout quarterback Chevan Cordeiro actually had negative passing yards on his stat line late in the first half. He finished with just 110 through the air as the Cowboys rolled to a 31-7 victory. Five sacks from the Cowboys from seven helped the cause, but Cameron Murray, Gandy and Smith took care of business.
This group continued to impress over the final four games of the season. Wyoming landed No. 29 overall in the nation in passing yards allowed at 202.4 per game. Smith and Murray had plenty to do with that. The Pokes rush defense was even better, allowing just 125.3 yards per outing on the ground. Gandy, who was replacing first-team All-Mountain West strong safety Alijah Halliburton, was second on the team with 43 tackles. He even registered a sack against Colorado State. Miles Williams added seven tackles on the season. Smith picked up this groups lone interception of 2020 in a blowout road win over UNLV. He also had a sack to go along with 23 tackles.
Analysis: This unit, more so than most, will benefit from the NCAA's ruling that seniors can play an additional season. Gandy and Smith are coming back. So is Weber, who skipped out on last year's six-game season because of virus concerns. As a true freshman, Weber beat out Smith in training camp for the free safety spot. He responded by tallying 38 tackles, a sack, four pass deflections and a pick. He also forced a fumble. He will be a huge addition to a group that was one of the best in the Mountain West a season ago. Murray and Williams were also good in spot duty in 2020 and will add much-needed depth to Wyoming's special teams group.
True freshman Keshaun Taylor entered his name in the NCAA Transfer Portal after the season. He decided to stay. Former UW cornerback Derrick Martin was his coach at Thomas Jefferson High School in Denver. He is still high on his former safety, saying he's a mix between "Halliburton and Tashaun Gipson." Those are two pretty good names to be compared to. Wyoming brought in three more safeties in his latest recruiting class: Andrew Johnson, Wrook Brown and Tommy Wroblewski. None of those three will compete in spring ball in Laramie as they wrap up their high school careers.
Questions: There aren't many question marks surrounding this unit heading into 2021. Mainly, can Weber pick up where he left off in 2019? Can this group as a whole continue to build what they started last fall? Gandy was on track to rack up 86 tackles if they Pokes' played a full season. Can he come close to Halliburton's 130-tackle performance from 2019 with a full schedule -- and a full year under Sawvel? Will Williams, Murray and Smith take another step forward? How good can these safeties be? Remember, there has been a stud or two roaming UW's defensive backfield in Bohl's tenure in Laramie: Marcus Epps, Andrew Wingard, DJ May and Halliburton.
Not to mention historically: John Wendling, Trent Gamble, Chris Prosinski, Al Rich, Matt Lehning, Brian Lee, Ron Rockett, Gipson and Shamiel Gary, among many, many others.
Wyoming's safeties should be a major strength this season in both the pass and run game. Depth is already in place and coming up, too.