DEAR COACH BOHL
LAS VEGAS -- Craig Bohl, we have a few questions for you.
We have at least five of them. I hope you understand. It is Mountain West Media Days after all.
Let's get started.
Wyoming lost 14 starters from the 2018 squad that went 6-6. Some of those were big names. Some graduated -- one other left for the NFL after a very public suspension.
You lost your defensive coordinator, Scott Hazelton. Under his tutelage, the Cowboys were No. 2 in the conference in scoring, passing and total defense. The 326.2 yards allowed per game was good enough for 19th best in the nation. That, coupled with just four returning starters on that side of the ball, leaves some questions.
Like, where on this roster can you find the 149 tackles that were made by Andrew Wingard and Marcus Epps out of the defensive secondary? Those two combined for eight tackles for loss and two sacks -- they also terrified opposing signal callers and anyone who dare cross over the middle of the field.
How will you replace the production of Nico Evans? I mean, that guy was good. In his lone season as the Cowboys starting running back, Evans racked up a conference best 1,325 yards and eight touchdowns.
Let's talk about the good news.
You have a senior place kicker returning in Cooper Rothe. He was a Lou Groza Award semifinalist. That's given to the best kicker in the country. Converting 16-of-17 field goals will do that.
Logan Wilson is now the unquestioned leader of the Wyoming defense. He led the Cowboys with 99 tackles, 10.5 of which came behind the line of scrimmage. The Casper product also picked off two passes and finished with the same number of sacks.
Austin Conway is back at receiver. So is Raghib Ismail and John Okwoli. CJ Johnson also returns from a season-ending knee injury in 2018. That's four seniors on the outside, which should help redshirt freshman quarterback Sean Chambers.
"Should" is the key word. We'll get to that in a minute.
So, let's begin ...
5. How crucial is this season for the wide receiving corps if UW hopes to threaten in the conference?
I can answer that one -- very. Wyoming returns four seniors at that position, as we stated above. Typically, that would be a great thing. But, are you ready for a cringe-worthy stat?
Wyoming was tied for 11th overall in the conference in passing yards, averaging just 131 yards per game. That was tied with -- Air Force. There's a lot of categories that one would love to tie or exceed the Falcons in, passing is not one of them.
Johnson re-entering the lineup should help tremendously. He is a legit deep threat and became a nice option during the Josh Allen days. Bohl and Co. need him to regain his form and help give young Chambers an additional outlet. Ismail caught just 24 passes for 267 yards and two touchdowns. Conway, the Pokes leading pass catcher, snagged 32 balls for 250 yards and a score.
Wyoming needs more production there -- badly.
4. Can the new faces on this coaching staff -- especially on defense -- keep this momentum going?
Get to know the name Jake Dickert.
He was promoted to defensive coordinator after Hazelton departed for Kansas State in January. For the past two seasons Dickert served as safeties coach. The numbers have been impressive. So have were the two guys mentioned above, Wingard and Epps.
AJ Cooper, who was the special teams coordinator and defensive ends coach for the past five seasons, has added defensive run-game coordinator to his title. Willie Mack Garza is the new safeties coach. There will be plenty of familiarity with these coaches, but Hazelton found a way to get the most out of his talent.
Plus, it might not matter who the coaches are. Can the personnel on the field step up to the plate? We'll see.
3. And speaking of defense, who will replace all that production that has been lost to graduation?
Deep breath ...
Carl Granderson, Conner Cain, Sidney Malauulu, Kevin Prosser, Chavez Pownell, Youhanna Ghaifan (declared for NFL early), Epps and Wingard are all gone.
That's an entire defensive line, some depth, both starting safeties and a linebacker. UW returns only five starters on that side of the ball: Garrett Crall (DE), Cassh Maluia (OLB), Antonio Hull (CB), Tyler Hall (CB) and Wilson. Guys like Ravontae Holt, Javaree Jackson, Josiah Hall and Alijah Halliburton will be expected to fill those holes.
But, where does the depth come from?
2. Are you nervous about the rushing attack this season?
Everything in the run game begins and ends with the offensive line. Wyoming returns two starters from last season in Rudy Stofer and Keegan Cryder. However, Zach Watts and Gavin Rush have already been lost for the season.
Not a good start.
Now, let's go back to the wide receivers. With little production from that spot last year, Bohl's hand was forced. UW turned into a power running team. It worked. The Cowboys won four straight to close out the season. But, it also took it's toll. Chambers was lost for the season with a broken leg against Air Force.
The obvious question here is who will replace Evans.
Xazavian Valladay is the most likely answer. He rushed the ball 71 times last season for 396 yards. The freshman gained 192 of those yards in one game, however. That was the 31-3 road win over a hapless New Mexico squad in the season finale. Trey Smith, a graduate-transfer from Louisville should get a real shot at the starter's role after rushing for 263 yards on just 50 attempts last season.
Once again, depth is the issue here.
Jevon Bigelow, Theo Dawson and Reow Jackson all left the program. The only running backs listed on the roster are all freshmen: Alphonzo Andrews Jr., Brett Brenton, Austin Clemetson, Dawaiian McNeely and Titus Swen.
1. What are the expectations for your young signal caller? Is he ready to take the reins and be the face of this program?
Chambers was impressive in his three-plus games last season. He waltzed right into Canvas Stadium in Fort Collins and made a mockery of the Cowboys' biggest rival, Colorado State, in his first start. He gashed San Jose State and nearly led UW to an upset win over Utah State. He was 3-0 as a starter.
Against the Falcons, however, his season came to a crashing halt. His leg was the victim. His season, gone.
There is good news in that though. Thanks to a new NCAA rule, Chambers didn't lose a year of eligibility. He is still a freshman this season. That, coupled with invaluable game-time experience, should aid in his development.
We saw that Chambers can run -- but can he throw? Chambers only attempted 25 passes last season. He completed 15 of those for 266 yards, including three touchdown passes. The 6-foot, 3-inch, 218-pound dual-threat QB rushed for 329 yards.
With improved play from a crop of experienced wide outs, Chambers could be much more efficient in the passing game this year. With an unproven stable of running backs behind him, he might have to be. But, can the offensive line hold up?
Time will tell.