Craig Bohl looking for “2% more” from this Wyoming Football Team
* University of Wyoming press release
LARAMIE -- As the second of five weeks of Spring Football practice nears completion for the Wyoming Cowboys, head coach Craig Bohl discussed areas the Cowboys are working on, as well as one significant position move that has been made on the roster.
“Great to be out at practice again today. I think we’re making progress,” said Bohl. “One of the guys I’ve really been encouraged about is (cornerback) Kolbey Taylor,” said Bohl. “He’s a guy that has a tremendous amount of physical ability. He’s learning how to play football. He’s listening to coaching. It’s hard to coach 6-foot-4, as a corner, so I’m staying the heck away and letting Coach (Benny) Boyd continue to work with him.
Taylor is one of three returning cornerbacks with playing experience for the Cowboys. The other two are graduate Deron Harrell and senior Jakorey Hawkins.
Hawkins made nine starts in 2022, while Harrell started five games. Taylor came on strong at the end of the season, playing in eight games as a redshirt freshman in 2022 and earning his first career start in the Barstool Sports Arizona Bowl. Unfortunately, he was disqualified early in the bowl game due to a targeting penalty called against him. Bohl was asked after Thursday’s fifth practice of spring if he was excited about the depth returning at the cornerback position.
“I don’t know if we have enough depth yet,” said Bohl. “I will say that Jakorey (Hawkins) had surgery on his shoulder and he’ll miss the rest of spring. Having Kolbey out there has really been encouraging and it’s been exciting seeing him come along and mature. If you can have one dominant corner, you can leverage that. It would be great to have two dominant ones, but if you have one dominant corner you can do some things. We’re hoping one will really rise to the forefront.”
The one big position move that Bohl announced after Thursday’s practice was the move of former Cowboy linebacker Sam Scott to running back.
Scott, a 6-2, 230-pound sophomore from Omaha, Neb., spent his first two seasons at Wyoming playing linebacker. But when the Pokes needed another running back for the Arizona Bowl, Scott, a standout high school running back at Skutt Catholic, was asked to step into that role. Bohl announced Thursday that Scott’s move to running back has now been made permanent.
“Sam (Scott) was really a good running back in high school. It’s always been my thought that guys who can playing running back can be a good linebacker, which I think he could have been, but he’s just more naturally gifted at running back,” said Bohl. “He’s an excellent pass protector, which is quite important in our league. Along with that is he’s a big strong guy, he’s 230-some pounds.
“He’s embraced that change. We’re excited about him. He’s making progress and it’s going to be important for us to have a stable of running backs. Those guys get dinged up, they need to be fresh. I also know this, when a defense gets used to all their fits that this running back runs this way, Dawaiian (McNeely) is going to add something. Harrison (Waylee) is going to add something, and Sam (Scott) is going to add something. We’ll be a run-first football team and those running backs are going to be important. That’s not to say that we’re not working on the passing game. We’re working on the passing game everyday.”
MORE UW FOOTBALL NEWS VIA 7220SPORTS:
Regarding the passing game, Bohl is encouraged about the development of the quarterback position early in spring practice. In addition to returning graduate starter Andrew Peasley, who earned Honorable Mention All-Mountain West honors last year, Bohl had good things to say about the other Cowboy quarterbacks competing in spring, including sophomore Evan Svoboda, junior Jayden Clemons and sophomore Hank Gibbs.
“I think Evan Svoboda is making some real progress at the quarterback position,” commented Bohl. “Andrew Peasley continues to do well. Jayden Clemons has been out there competing. We’re staggering our repetitions and a lot of that had to do with the number of repetitions Jayden had last year. Evan is a guy who we feel has a real strong arm but his refinement to play the quarterback position wasn’t there last year. We’re giving him ample opportunity to grow this spring. There’s going to be competition there, but right now we’re giving quite a bit of work to Andrew. Evan is getting some and Jayden is getting the rest and he’s been the ultimate team player along with Hank Gibbs.”
At wide receiver, Wyoming fans got a glimpse of what current junior Alex Brown was capable of when he caught the winning touchdown pass from Clemons in the Cowboys’ thrilling 14-13 road win at Colorado State last season. Asked about where he thought Brown was in his development, Bohl began by acknowledging that Brown has been limited this spring, but he is hoping for big things from him next season.
“Right now he’s (Alex Brown) not been able to practice a lot. I don’t think it’s anything major with his foot, but he’s only been able to go through some drills,” said Bohl. “I think it’s his time to shine. He can really stretch the field. He’s also a guy where confidence is important. Certainly that play against CSU last year was a big play and I think it’s going to add to his confidence. He’s a big, tall target out there with a great catch radius.”
Another offensive position that Bohl was asked about was the fullback position.
Two-year starter and Sheridan native Parker Christensen has graduated and is moving on to chiropractic school. Christensen played a hybrid position between lining up as a fullback in the backfield and playing an H-Back/tight end position in other situations.
His likely heir apparent is another Wyoming native, junior Caleb Driskill from Gillette. While Driskill has started seven games himself during his Cowboy career, he has been used previously as more of a true fullback. Bohl indicated on Tuesday that Driskill’s role may expand more in the coming year and he could also be featured in more of a hybrid position.
“We’ve seen really good growth out of Caleb (Driskill),” said Bohl. “When we recruited him out of high school, we knew he was a tough, tough kid out of Gillette, but he’s improved his skill set as far as where he fits as a fullback. He’s also been able to play H for us. He’s been running some pass routes, and he has very capable hands. It’s been fun to see his progress, and we will utilize him extensively this fall.”
One area on offense where depth will need to be developed not only in spring practice but on into fall camp will be the offensive line.
The Pokes have an extremely talented core of returning starters.
Graduate Frank Crum has started 36 of 43 career games at right tackle and earned Fourth Team All-Mountain West honors from Phil Steele College Football in 2022. Junior center Nofoafia Tulafono has started 13 of 25 career games and was a Second Team All-MW selection by Pro Football Focus (PFF) in ‘22. Sophomore right guard Emmanuel Pregnon had an outstanding redshirt freshman season in 2022, starting all 11 games he played in. Pregnon was named Third Team All-Mountain West by Pro Football Focus.
A fourth player returning with playing experience is sophomore guard Jack Walsh, who played in all 13 games for the Cowboys a year ago and started for Pregnon in the two games he was injured. Walsh will likely fill the hole at left guard vacated by Zach Watts, who graduated after earning First Team All-MW from Pro Football Focus.
Former Cowboy Eric Abojei, who started 39 of 46 career games between left guard and last season at left tackle is the other big hole to fill. Abojei also graduated after earning Third Team All-Conference honors from Phil Steele in 2022.
“We are thin at the offensive line this spring -- we only had seven today,” said Bohl. “Frank Crum is working through some things. We’re encouraged that all the cardiovascular doctors have cleared him, but we have something that is keeping him from practicing right now. Hopefully, we’ll get Frank out there and I know he really wants to be out there.
“Here is a sixth-year guy in Frank who is fighting and scratching to get out there during spring football. That makeup of ‘can-do’ has got to be our edge with Wyoming Football. If we have a bunch of guys that it (football) is really important to, I think we have a chance to be a pretty good football team.”
On defense, another position that Bohl commented on seeing progress early in spring practice is linebacker where junior Connor Shay has stood out.
The Cowboys return both starters from last season in Easton Gibbs and Shae Suiaunoa, but developing depth is something that is important for the Cowboys this spring. Gibbs earned First Team All-Mountain West last season in voting by MW head coaches and media and from Phil Steele, while leading the Cowboys and ranking No. 22 in the nation in tackles, averaging 9.3 per game. He tallied 121 total tackles. Suiaunoa ranked second for the Cowboys with 73 total tackles.
Both, however, are out this spring with offseason surgeries to get them ready for summer workouts and fall camp.
“Connor (Shay) is continuing to improve and that is a complex position he plays,” said Bohl. “He’s changed his body composition. He’s running much better and along with that he’s playing with much more confidence. I think he’s a guy who will challenge for a starting spot this fall. The other guys who aren’t out there, it’s not their fault that they can’t be out there this spring. But I know this, a guy who is out there practicing and getting better -- we have to take a hard look at that.”
At the safety and nickel positions, Wyoming returns all three of its starters in junior free safety Isaac White, junior strong safety Wyett Ekeler and sophomore nickel back Wrook Brown. Fellow sophomore nickel back Buck Coors is also back after missing the first eight games of the 2022 season due to injury.
Bohl likes the returners at those three positions.
“I think we’re going to have quite a bit of depth,” said Wyoming’s 10th-year head coach. “Buck Coors is a guy who had a strained hamstring today. I actually pulled him out of practice. Wyett (Ekeler), we did a tackling drill the other day and Wyett’s got good ability, but he has to improve on his tackling and he knows that. I think they’re playing with much more confidence. Isaac White is really a solid player and we’ll leverage that position. Coach (Jay) Sawvel coaches that position and has done a good job of bringing those guys along.”
The Cowboy defense has traditionally been one of Wyoming’s strengths during Bohl’s tenure as head coach, but Bohl recognizes the fact that there is a need for improved tackling from last season to the upcoming 2023 season. His plan to improve that area of his defense is to incorporate more live tackling in practice throughout spring practice.
“The approach this spring is we’re going to do more live work,” said Bohl. “There’s always a balance you strike -- how much exposure do you have with injuries, how much live work do you do. The NCAA has mandated X number of days that you can tackle guys to the ground. We’ll go by those rules. We’ve done one day where we worked live tackling. We worked on wide receivers going against corners, and we worked with running backs going against linebackers, and as I watched the tape I thought our guys played really hard. But how many times last year -- it was like a broken record -- that our guys didn’t wrap up, didn’t finish, didn’t bring the guy down. We had numerous plays where we could have had a play for no gain that turned into a six-yard gain. I think against Boise, we were right in the middle of a big dog fight and had a guy for a four-yard loss that turned into a 12-yard gain. Some of that is playing against good opponents, but some of that is we’ve just got to get better. The way we’re going to work on it is by teaching better but also functionally doing it better. That is part of this two percent mantra that our players have heard time and time again from us this spring, we’ve got to improve two percent and get continual progress. That is a big part of what we’re going to do.”
Wyoming was able to keep its coaching staff nearly intact this offseason with the lone retirement of Cowboy defensive ends coach Marty English, who was replaced by one of his former pupils, Cowboy All-Conference linebacker Brian Hendricks.
Bohl was asked at the end of practice how he felt that transition is going now almost two weeks into spring practice.
“It’s been really encouraging to see Brian (Hendricks) engage with our players,” said Bohl. “Marty (English) was out to practice today. He’ll swing by occasionally. You’re always concerned when you have a really well-liked coach leave your staff. Brian is pretty serious, and he has a high bar for excellence. He’s driving those guys. The players have responded well to him. I think he’s a great technical coach with attention to detail. He’s an intense guy. It’s been fun to have him on our staff. Seamless is sometimes an overused word, but I think I can characterize this transition as seamless.”
Wyoming will return to practice on Saturday, April 8 for its sixth of 15 spring practices. All practices are closed to the public, but the Spring Game on Saturday, April 29 will be free and open to the public.
PRESS PASS: Roaming The War
-PRESS PASS: Roaming The War