Sawvel: Wyoming Football Defensive Ends a ‘Position of Strength’ in 2021
LARAMIE -- When the Cowboys were originally supposed to play their first game of the fall in early September last fall, it was safe to pencil in a couple of starters at the defensive end spot.
Those two would undoubtedly be Garrett Crall on one side, Solomon Byrd on the other. That duo combined for 11 sacks in 2019. They also finished with 100 total tackles.
Of course, nothing went to plan in the year of COVID-19.
Crall didn't recover from offseason foot surgery in time for the late October opener and played in just three games. Byrd, along with reserve defensive end, Davon Wells-Ross, opted out for the season because of the ongoing pandemic. Former captain Josiah Hall graduated and Teagan Liufau played in a very limited role in 2019, registering just seven tackles in 11 games.
The cupboard wasn't bare last fall, but it was certainly unproven.
Only Liufau and Leevi Lafaele had a career tackle. Just eight of them total.
To make matters even more interesting, the Cowboys were breaking in a new defensive coordinator, Jay Sawvel. There was also a new -- yet familiar -- face taking over as the defensive ends coach in Marty English.
No pressure, fellas.
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Victor Jones, a former defensive tackle, and Jaylen Pate, a redshirt freshman from Chicago, were atop the depth chart before Wyoming took the field for the opener in Reno.
By the season finale in early December, the rotation consisted of Crall, Pate and DeVonne Harris.
Wyoming tallied 17 sacks in six games as a team in 2020. Just five of those came from the defensive end spot, two of which were courtesy of Crall. Cameron Smith also picked up a pair. He is no longer with the program.
The numbers weren't eye-popping, but the playing time was worth its weight in gold, according to Sawvel, who spoke to the media Tuesday after the Cowboys seventh spring practice.
"There's a confidence that they've lined up and play in games," he said. "DeVonne's best performance was his last one, against Boise. There's a different level of player now than there was in October last year with (Harris and Pate). That's true progress. That's the progress that you get from actually competing in games, preparing for games, going through that process."
Pate racked up a sack and seven tackles. Harris, a redshirt freshman from Big Lake, Minn., finished with nine tackles in five games, including five against the Broncos.
Sawvel said having 15 spring practices -- something else the virus put a halt to a year ago -- plus double-repping, is just accelerating their development.
"There is improvement and progress with those guys," Sawvel said. "... Those two guys have picked up where they kind of left off here in the in the spring and that's been good to see."
Pate and Harris have raised expectations this fall. However, all the production shouldn't fall on their shoulders, they should just add to one of the deepest position groups on the roster.
Crall is back. So is Byrd, Wells-Ross and Liufau. Alonzo Hall and Jack Boyer have seen limited action, plus head coach Craig Bohl said there is a possibility Jones could return to the program after being suspended indefinitely last November. Wyoming also has plenty of youth with Sabastian Harsh, Oluwaseyi Omotosho, Braden Siders, Tyce Westland and Micah Young.
"That should be a position of strength for us where we've got depth," Sawvel said. "We have numbers and we have quality."