Nick Smith says UW in good hands with either Vander Waal or Chambers under center in 2019
LARAMIE – Nick Smith didn’t want to choose a starting quarterback heading into Wyoming’s 2019 campaign. He considers Sean Chambers and Tyler Vander Waal close friends.
That’s OK though. Head coach Craig Bohl did for him on May 1, vaulting redshirt freshman Chambers to the top of the depth chart out of spring camp.
“I can’t do it,” Smith laughed when talking about his own indecisiveness of who should be the guy under center when the Pokes host Missouri Aug. 31 at War Memorial Stadium. “I know that’s not the answer you were looking for.”
Smith, who appeared in 13 games as the Cowboys’ quarterback from 2015-18, had glowing remarks about both potential starters during the final week of spring ball. Smith spent hours of preparation with both in film study, the weight room and daily quarterback meetings. He says both Chambers and Vander Waal bring a unique skill set yet are similar in many ways.
Smith, who is now a graduate assistant in the athletics department at UW and works for Western States Bank, spoke with 7220sports.com on April 24 for more than a half-hour, sharing details about his time with both signal callers.
Let’s begin with the newly crowned starter, Chambers.
Strengths: “One thing that is great about Sean is his drive and attitude toward the game. He has a lot of enthusiasm, and an intense drive to win. He has a competitive spirit that I saw from the get-go. He is super coachable and open to soak in anything he could. His traits off the field are really good, too. He’s a teammate who loves interacting. At a time where he was super down, he was even-keeled, but also encouraging. He’s mobile, strong, and has a big frame to kind of work with as he goes on.”
Weaknesses: “I wouldn’t call them weaknesses, more game experience and understanding more. As my career went on, I learned and saw more. There is never a point where you stop learning. The situational stuff comes with time. A big thing with the QB is behind-center consistency and being concise, completing the ball and moving the offense. He will build upon those things.”
Leadership: “He’s dedicated and energetic, interactive with everyone. He’s always smiling, always doing everything he's told. He’s not an outcast and fit right in. The biggest thing in the meeting room is, he brought energy to the room. He was always in there on time, never missed. The kind of things that don’t take talent, he is on top of. He is very focused in film room.”
Arm strength: “He has good enough arm strength. His distance and velocity are where it needs to be. He can stick it on them pretty well. Throwing down field was never an issue. Sean has a plenty strong enough arm. There’s not much of a difference in arm strength (between he and Vander Waal), but the ball comes out different.”
Mobility: “He faced pressure and escaped. That’s a big aspect of offense, running the QB. It was a big part of offense even when Josh (Allen) was here. Picking up a few yards here and there on critical downs is very important. Sean’s got it and can trust his legs.”
2018 stats: Chambers, who only appeared in four games last season, was granted an extra year of eligibility thanks to a new NCAA rule that allows freshman to play up to four games and not lose a season. Chambers completed just 15 of 25 passes for 266 yards and three touchdowns in 2018. The Kerma, Calif., native did most of his damage on the ground, rushing for 329 yards on 59 attempts. He scored a pair of touchdowns on the ground before suffering a season-ending right leg injury during the first quarter of a win over Air Force.
This seems like a perfect Segue into Vander Waal, who came off the bench that snowy day in Laramie to help mount a furious comeback which saw the Pokes erase a 27-14 deficit midway through the fourth quarter to beat the rival Falcons on that snowy November afternoon.
Watch this bullet to Austin Conway:
Vander Waal threw for a career-high 255 yards and accounted for four UW touchdowns in the improbable 35-27 victory.
Here’s what Smith had to say about Vander Waal.
Strengths: “He throws the ball really well. He has zip on the ball and it’s compact. I didn’t feel like he had a lot of fundamental flaws with his motion. When he gets confidence and gets in a rhythm moving the ball and pushing down field, he gets into a groove. We saw that in the Air Force game. He can generate some offense, that’s a huge strength of his. We even saw that in the Wafford game. He’s able to carry that momentum and build on it. To put (2018) on Tyler is unfair and unjust. The offense, as a whole, was inconsistent. It’s tough because a handful of plays in a game comes down to a throw or two.
Weaknesses: “Knowing what to do when things break down comes with experience. Knowing when to make certain decisions and be confident in that and stick with his gut and trust it, takes time. It’s hard to trust when you see (game action) the first time. The trust part and trusting his game and what he sees and feels out there, is huge.”
Leadership: “Same as Sean. Tyler is great in the meeting room, film room, weight room, etc. There’s not a lack of focus or anything like that. He is on top of things and knows the Importance of watching film and how much it can help. He is willing to soak up information as much as he could. Tyler works hard. For a while, it was just me and Tyler, just us two in the meeting room. We have a good relationship. Even after he was named starter (over me and Chambers in 2018), he was asking me questions. He’s not afraid to ask, that’s one really cool thing.”
Arm strength: “Tyler has a strong arm. He has velocity and everything on his ball that you need to be competitive and successful. With him, it’s not a matter of arm strength at all. He has a tight spiral. I noticed that from the get-go. That’s a huge plus side with him.”
Mobility: “Tyler was more natural at passing. He was making a play with his arm. He relied on that first. Sean is a little more instinctive with his feet and lowering shoulder on first and second down to keep the drive going. Tyler is a great athlete though and he can make plays on the run, too.”
2018 stats: Vander Waal appeared in 10 games after being named the starter out of fall camp in 2018. He was under center for the first eight games, before Chambers took the reigns of the offense and led the Pokes to a 34-21 win over Border War rival Colorado State in his first-career start. During his redshirt freshman season, the Elk Grove, Calif., native passed for 1,310 yards to go along with five touchdown passes and four interceptions. He completed 48.8% of his passes while averaging just 5.3 yards per attempt.
Smith knows what Vander Waal is going through. He sat behind Cameron Coffman, Allen, Vander Waal and Chambers during his four years in Laramie. The back-up quarterback position isn’t for everyone, Smith admitted, but he added that Vander Waal took the right mental approach last season when Chambers relieved him before the team’s rivalry game in Fort Collins. When asked if transferring might be in his future, Vander Waal told reporters he is committed to UW, no matter what.
“I'm fully bought in," Vander Waal said last November. "I don't really care who's playing as long as we're winning games."
That’s the right attitude to have, Smith said.
And you’re always one play away from starting, as Smith found out when Allen went down against Air Force in 2017.
“No one is a natural at it, especially if you are a true competitor. It’s not always fun either,” Smith said of being a back-up. “It’s tough. It’s challenging at times. It always seems like a comparison game. Staying true and finding a role on the team helped me out. That’s what Tyler will have to do. He will need to prepare like he was starting. Engaging makes the process easier and more rewarding.”
Smith says he is confident, no matter who is under center, that the QB position in Laramie is in good hands for a long time to come.
“I am just happy that I can just be a fan now.”
Contact Cody Tucker at Cody@7220sports.com or on Twitter at @Cody_7220sports