We’ve got questions, Bohl’s got answers
LAS VEGAS – Heading into Mountain West Media Days in Las Vegas, we had some questions for Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl.
Five of them, to be exact.
For exactly 41 minutes, a mostly joyous Bohl discussed several topics, from his thoughts on his inexperienced team to the career-ending loss of wide receiver CJ Johnson to depth and the progression, maturation of his young quarterback.
He isn’t surprised that the Cowboys were picked to finish fourth in the Mountain Division. He says Missouri is just as excited as Wyoming is about the season opener at War Memorial Stadium. And, yes, he has watched film on the Tigers’ new signal caller, Clemson transfer, Kelly Bryant.
All the film, in fact.
Bohl was in a good mood, laughing and joking with the media at his designated table inside the Green Valley Ranch Resort. He is entering his sixth season at the helm of the UW football program. He is confident in what he has built and continues to in Laramie.
But, like a lot of you, he wants to see results. The sooner the better.
Bohl had a quiet confidence about him Wednesday. He told me in the lobby, “We really like our team.”
Then he added this …
“We are just waiting in the weeds.”
Here are the questions we laid out for Bohl on Tuesday morning. Below are his answers. Logan Wilson chimed in on a couple, too. Place kicker Cooper Rothe said he would’ve been happy to add to the fun, but he “has no idea what’s going on offensively or defensively.”
“That’s probably why I am here,” the Lou Groza semifinalist joked.
Here we go:
5. How crucial will this season be for the wide receivers, specifically the four seniors, to help move this offense, especially with an unproven running game and injury issues on the offensive line?
Well, unfortunately, this question was addressed right when we hit the red buttons on our recorders when Bohl announced that Johnson’s career is over due to a lingering knee issue suffered during the 2017 Potato Bowl.
“During the spring we expected him to make more and more progress, he was just not able to come out of his breaks,” Bohl said. “… Some of the things we were going to ask him to do, I don’t think he felt like he could do.”
With the loss of Johnson, UW’s receiving corps is losing 51 career receptions for 835 yards and 10 touchdowns.
There are still three more guys who are expected to carry the load: Austin Conway, Raghib Ismail and John Okwoli.
Bohl hopes his receivers “senior year is their best year.”
But he threw a curve ball at us on this answer. A welcome one for many fans.
“The position group we need to access more is our tight ends,” Bohl said. “That group is a group that does have some ability. Everything from an experienced player like Josh Harshman, Nate Weinman and Jackson Marcotte. We have got some weapons there; we just need to utilize them.”
5. How will the new faces on the coaching staff effect the defense this season?
Wilson went ahead and took this one.
“Obviously, we will be different, but the scheme will remain mostly the same. Not much has changed,” he said. “Ultimately, it comes down to us. Our coaches will put us in the right position to win.”
Bohl is obviously happy with his hires. Like most things, it’s a wait-and-see ordeal.
“If you look in the rearview mirror too much, you will probably get in a wreck,” he quipped.
In other words, the Cowboys are moving forward with who they have. That’s not a bad thing.
Expect an aggressive, hard-hitting defense, Wilson says. Same ol, same ol.
“Guys just work really hard each and every day,” Wilson said. “We double rep so guys aren’t just standing around.”
3. Wyoming lost some studs on defense. How do you replace that production?
“All we hear about is all of these guys leaving and the new coaches.”
You think Wilson is tired of hearing about this subject?
However, it’s unavoidable.
The Cowboys lost seniors Andrew Wingard, Marcus Epps, Kevin Prosser, Carl Granderson, Conner Cain, Payton Lowry-Sanders, Sidney Malauulu, Adam Pilapil and Chavez Pownell.
Junior tackle Youhanna Ghafan was suspended before the Colorado State game last fall and declared for the NFL Draft following the season.
There is no easy answer here. Kind of like the question above, Bohl says that he can’t really speak on it. He needs to see it with his own eyes, which is just around the corner when fall camp begins in August.
This is probably not the answer you were looking for. Me neither. But let’s take a look at some things we do know heading into 2019.
The Cowboys defense returns five starters. The cornerbacks should be the strength with seniors Antonio Hull and Tyler Hall manning the perimeter. In late July, UW added University of Arizona transfer, Azizi Hearn, to the defensive backfield. The 6-foot, 1-inch, 193-pound corner played sparingly in Tucson, finishing with 20 tackles and a pick six.
“We feel that he certainly has the ability to start,” Bohl said Wednesday. “We really got to know his character, which is really important. He is excited about Wyoming, and we are excited about him. We are excited to see what he does when we get him out there.”
Garrett Crall, a 6-foot, 5-inch, 242-pound junior defense end, showed explosiveness last season. He finished with 4.5 sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss. He also had 38 tackles, forced a fumble and recovered one.
The linebacking corps should be fine, too. Wilson leads the way, of course, and Cassh Maluia enters his senior season with 136 career tackles and 9.5 tackles for loss.
Braden Smith and Alijah Halliburton will have the lofty task of replacing Wingard and Epps, and Keyon Blankenbaker is an early favorite to man the nickel position, though Bohl said he will take a long look at his incoming freshman class and Azizi for that position, too.
Look for names like Ravontae Holt, Javaree Jackson and Josiah Hall to fill in the gaps on the defensive line.
2. Which running back will carry the load this season, hoping to replace Nico Evans and his 1,300-plus yard performance in 2018?
Bohl said you can pencil in sophomore Xazavian Valladay as the No. 1 running back heading into fall camp.
But he still has plenty to prove.
“What’s going to happen is, X is going to have to go from being a change-up back to a mainstay,” Bohl said. “Then, we are going to need to supplement the carries …”
Bohl emphasized the squad’s need – not want – to have two backs who can carry the load.
“When we’ve been really good, we’ve had a combination of a couple of guys,” he said, referring to Brian Hill and Shaun Wick, among others. “Last year, Nico had a really good year and X did some things that were really good.”
Enter Trey Smith.
The Louisville transfer is the guy Bohl is hoping will bring that 1-2 punch with Valladay. He rushed for 263 yards on just 50 carries for the Cardinals a season ago.
Bohl raved about his maturity, big-game experience, pass protection and pass-catching abilities. “Those are the traits we were looking for,” he said, adding that he also needs to get a closer look at Smith in pads.
Wyoming lost a ton of depth – basically all of it – when Jevon Bigelow, Theo Dawson and Reow Jackson all left the program in the offseason. Bohl said he is open to the idea of a true freshman getting a strong look at the position.
Wilson was quick to endorse Valladay as a valid replacement for Evans this season.
“X is going to be really good,” he said. “He has had a really good offseason. The sky is the limit for him. I’m excited to see what he can do.”
But can a battered offensive line open holes for any of these guys? We will learn more on that after camp opens.
1. Can Sean Chambers be the leader this team needs and progress as a starting QB?
Chambers only played in three-plus games last season after suffering a season-ending injury against Air Force.
But he made an impression.
Guys who attempted to tackle him were impressed. So were opposing coaches.
His own coach thinks he is ready to take the next step in his progression. An adjustment of the playbook, thanks to Chambers’ maturation process, will only help
Bohl said last season’s audition was a cut-and-paste operation for the true freshman and the staff. The offense was stagnant. Bohl and Co. took a chance.
“I told (offensive coordinator Brent) Vigen to run him. Run him ‘till the cows come home,” Bohl joked. “To say he is going to be a pocket passer … we are still going to run him, probably just not expose him to that degree. We knew if you run a QB that much sooner or later they are going to sprain an ankle – I didn’t think he’d break his ankle – but something was going to happen.
“I told Vigen, put him in there. Give him five things – if he screws up, give him three – we can window dress everything else. So, you didn’t see a lot of throws.”
That’s an understatement.
Chambers attempted just 25 passes last season, completing 15 of them. Bohl said Chambers has about “85 percent” of the playbook down. In 2019, you will still see Chambers use his legs plenty, but Bohl did say the redshirt freshman does possess some additional tools.
“He can throw,” Bohl said. “I’m not saying to a point where it’s like Josh Allen, who could rip a rope. Not like that. But he has a quick release, good accuracy and arm strength. He can also be mobile.”
Yes, we’ve seen that part.
The part we haven’t seen is the leadership. But it’s there. Just ask Wilson, Rothe Bohl or even last season’s third-string quarterback, Nick Smith.
This quote from Bohl should tell you all you need to know.
“When we first had him run in against Utah State, all of our defense got off the bench to come watch,” Bohl said. “He even got Wingard off the bench. Dewey isn’t moving for whatever. That’s an X-factor. You put that in a locker room – that’ good stuff there.
“… He commands a lot of respect and players believe in him.”
We will all get our first glimpse on Aug. 31 at War Memorial Stadium when the SEC’s Missouri Tigers are in town.