LARAMIE — First it was the scooter. Then the boot.
Garrett Crall was glad to eventually get rid of both, even if having one and not the other for a while made for a slight inconvenience when he had to navigate Wyoming’s campus this spring.
“Obviously I couldn’t buzz around campus as fast because I had a boot and I wasn’t on my scooter anymore,” Crall said.
The Cowboys’ junior defensive end spent most of the spring with a protective boot on his left foot after having surgery to repair a broken bone. Whenever he attended Wyoming’s spring practices as a spectator, he propped himself on the scooter in order to avoid putting weight on his foot.
“Obviously having surgery doesn’t feel good, but not being able to play and compete — we’re all competitors when we get to this level — that was the hardest part for me honestly,” said Crall, who sustained the injury midway through last season against Fresno State but put off the surgery until after the season.
Crall did away with the scooter in April, shed the protective boot in May and returned for fall camp last week, making for half of the Cowboys’ starting defensive end tandem that’s back with a clean bill of health. Josiah Hall, who’s in line to take over for the departed Carl Granderson, tore the MCL and suffered cartilage damage in his knee a year ago but played through it before having microfracture surgery once the season was over.
Hall did what he could in the weight room to maintain his strength, but rehabbing meant there was no spring ball for him either. It’s the second straight year that’s happened. Hall was sidelined with a shoulder injury last spring and later dealt with a blood clot.
But both said they began to feel fully recovered early this summer. They started running again last month and have felt like themselves again during fall camp, where both players have been full participants through Wyoming’s first three practices.
“Last year was a struggle with everything going on,” Hall said. “(This year) feels great.”
Despite playing the last five on that bum foot, Crall still started all but one game last season and led the team with 4.5 sacks. Hall is in line to be the full-time starter at the other end spot for the first time in his career, though he’s hardly new to all of this. The fifth-year senior, who’s best known for the safety dance he broke out at the end of Wyoming’s win over Boise State in 2016, has been part of the rotation up front throughout his career, having played in 35 games — third-most of any player on the roster.
In addition to their experience, Crall and Hall bring contrasting styles to the position that each believes complements the other. Despite being the more physically imposing of the two at 6-foot-5 and 242 pounds, Crall admittedly leans more on agility and technique in an attempt to slip past blockers while the 6-1, 236-pound Hall relies on raw power more often than not to try to displace offensive linemen and tight ends.
“Garrett likes playing on the left side, and I like playing on the right side,” Hall said. “Garrett is a little bit more finesse than I am. I’m a little bit more power than he is. I think it’s a good balance.”
Yet neither likes to pigeonhole his game. Crall had 38 tackles last season but he said he can be better against the run with a more consistent approach. And those 4.5 sacks? It’s not a number he’s remotely satisfied with, particularly for a defense that could use more pressure on opposing quarterbacks after tallying just 19 sacks as a unit last season — third-fewest in the MW.
“You always shoot to be better than you were the year before, and as for me, I look at that number and that’s not what I wanted,” Crall said. “It is what it is, and now I’ve watched film all offseason. Talking to coaches, talking to other guys and trying to figure out ways to keep getting better for when I do have the opportunity to make those plays.
“I think I left a lot of plays out there, and that’s something where I need to grow this year and not leave plays out there that I should’ve made.”
Hall admitted his physicality at the point of attack is the strength of his game heading into his final season, which isn’t a surprise given he’s also gotten snaps inside at defensive tackle at times. It’s useful versatility in a pinch, but the Cowboys will be counting on the veteran to round out his game on the edge this fall. Hall has just half a sack for his career and has never notched more than 24 tackles in a season.
“Trying to improve on everything really, especially after missing spring ball,” Hall said. “There’s always things to improve on, especially pass rush. I think I play strong against the run. I love playing against the run. But just trying to improve on everything.”
Of course, staying healthy would go a long way toward each being able to maximize his production this season. Both are, for now, which has been a welcome sight for everybody involved.
“Garrett and JoJo, seeing them out there (during the first practice), I was like, ‘OK, I remember those guys,” defensive coordinator Jake Dickert said. “It was good to have all of those guys back.”