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Wyoming football begins spring practices with quarterback job up for grabs




LARAMIE — Big picture, the main question facing Wyoming football this spring is pretty obvious: Who is going to be the quarterback? The Cowboys return the majority of a defensive unit that had a dominating 2017 season. The offense, which took a step back after its breakthrough 2016, will be the unit with more to prove.

That was already true before quarterback Josh Allen announced after Wyoming’s Potato Bowl win that he would forgo his senior year at Wyoming to go to the NFL. It’s all the more true now.

The Cowboys will begin to answer that question, and some less obvious ones, Tuesday when they hold their first of 15 spring practices. The team will hold practices Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday and will conclude camp April 21 with the Spring Game (2 p.m.).

Replacing Allen

In a press release Monday, head coach Craig Bohl, who is entering his fifth year at Wyoming, said he wanted to have a starter decided upon by the end of spring. That means it will come down to soon-to-be-senior Nick Smith and Tyler Vander Waal, who redshirted last year. The Cowboys will also have a true freshman quarterback on scholarship in Sean Chambers, but he is not yet a part of the team.

Smith has the clear advantage in terms of experience. He started two games in 2015 as the team’s third-string quarterback, losing both. He also started two games in relief of Allen last season, losing to Fresno State and San Jose State. Smith also closed out the second half of Wyoming’s win at Air Force last season after Allen sprained his shoulder.

But while Smith has seen the field, he didn’t do enough to avoid an open competition at the position this year. Smith’s career numbers are 716 yards on 67-of-134 passing (50 percent) with four passing touchdowns, three interceptions and three rushing touchdowns. He did not play in 2016.

Vander Waal largely remains an unknown, though his athleticism is considered a plus and he came to Wyoming with a three-star rating from Rivals and 247 Sports. He verbally committed to Ball State before flipping to Wyoming. Vander Waal traveled to road games last year, despite redshirting. Bohl said the quarterbacks would see more live action this spring.

Other gaps

The Cowboys have two other offensive starting roles to fill: fullback and a lineman spot. Drew Van Maanen filled the fullback role for the past four years, as well as being Wyoming’s long snapper for the majority of his senior year. The Cowboys return Jaylon Watson at fullback, the team’s backup in 2017, and signed long snapper Jesse Hooper in December.

Cummings had been a tackle until his senior year, when he was moved to guard. However, he ended up shifting starting spots throughout the year because of injuries on the O-line.

On defense, the Cowboys lose senior cornerbacks Rico Gafford, a second-team all-conference honoree, and Robert Priester. The Cowboys used somewhat of a cornerback rotation last season, with the seniors and sophomore Tyler Hall. Antonio Hull was a medical redshirt last season, and the Cowboys have potential contributors there who redshirted last year in C.J. Coldon and Keyon Blankenbaker. Linebacker/nickel back Jalen Ortiz also graduated, and the Cowboys are trying to fill that role with Hall.

Position changes

In addition to Hall, some other Cowboys are making position changes. Defensive end Austin Lopez and linebacker Jahmari Moore are both moving to fullback. Watson is also a converted defender.

Wyoming also has had some coaches change roles. Mike Bath is now the fullbacks and tight end coach, while Gordie Haug has taken on the title of running backs coach.

Early enrollees

One benefit of the inaugural early signing period in December, during which Wyoming inked 20 players, is that it’s easier for players to become early enrollees. Sure enough, the Cowboys will have four this spring: Hooper, linebacker Charles Hicks and defensive backs Cameron Murray and Miles Williams.

Departures

Wyoming announced that defensive end Shiloh Windsor and Jace Webb have both been medically disqualified, while long snapper Caleb Cantrell has left the program. Windsor and Webb have both dealt with concussions, with Windsor missing all of 2017 because of concussion issues. Receivers C.J. Johnson and John Okwoli will miss camp because of ACL tears suffered at the end of the 2017 season.

Follow University of Wyoming athletics reporter Brandon Foster on Twitter @BFoster91



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