LARAMIE -- Bart Miller isn’t being coy about what he expects out of his position group.
“Our goal is to become the best O-line in the Mountain West conference,” Miller said.
There’s work to do if Wyoming’s offensive line is going to make a serious run at that distinction, but Miller is convinced the potential is there. The Cowboys return three full-time starters and seven linemen that started at least one game last season for a group that paved the way for the league’s fourth-best rushing attack.
Multi-year starters Zach Wallace and Kaden Jackson are gone while another projected starter, Gavin Rush, will miss another season after tearing his ACL in Wyoming’s second spring practice, though Miller believes there’s enough experience to weather those losses. Miller, in his first spring as the Cowboys’ offensive line coach, is working on getting the consistency to go with it.
“There is a learning curve with our technique. We’re doing a little bit of a 180 in some areas, and I think they’ve embraced it,” Miller said. “They’re seeing success at times, and now it comes down to consistency. That’s like every team across the country right now just dealing with consistency, and that’s why you have spring practice. When you look back at this last week and again at the end of April, we’re going to see a significant jump. That’s what we’re hoping for.”
Miller wasn’t necessarily looking to leave Ohio University, where he held the same position last season for a Bobcats offense that finished ninth nationally in rushing and 12th in scoring. But with heavy MW ties -- Miller played for Rocky Long at New Mexico from 2003-07 and coached tight ends at Air Force for one season before taking the job at Ohio -- he was intrigued by the opening on Wyoming’s staff once head coach Craig Bohl decided not to retain Scott Fuchs.
Bohl initially tabbed former Colorado offensive line coach Klayton Adams as Fuchs’ replacement, but Adams was on the job for less than a month before leaving to join the Indianapolis Colts’ staff in early February. It wasn’t long after that Miller said he first received a phone call from Wyoming offensive coordinator Brent Vigen and then another from Bohl to gauge his interest in the job.
“Through the course of a couple conversations very quickly, in the next two days really, things escalated. We kind of found a fit on both sides,” said Miller, a native of Omaha, Nebraska. “I came out, saw the place, got a chance to meet with everybody and share some ideas and objectives. We were on the same page. It was good fit from the get-go.
“It was really a great opportunity for my family and for me professionally also. I felt like I could help and make this place a very dominant O-line rich school. That’s what I want. I want this to be a destination for O-linemen. I felt like we had the resources here. I love the style of coaching Coach Bohl and his staff have had not only here but every other place they’ve been. When I left, I certainly wanted to be a part of it, and it worked out.”
Miller has brought some different techniques with him, including a more vertical zone blocking scheme that’s in contrast to the lateral style taught under Fuchs and puts a heavy emphasis on double teams.
“We’re switching up the technique and taking things vertical to give the running backs more lanes instead of just one expected lane,” said freshman guard Zach Watts, who started three games last season. “That stretch was a very nice play for us. We ran it quite a bit. To make that even better, to average 8 yards instead of 6, is huge for us. That’s something we’re really working on.”
Said Miller, “For me, everything starts with establishing a physical mindset and controlling and dominating the line of scrimmage.”
As expected, the changes are taking some getting used to, though more reps will help with that. Miller will be there every step of the way, pointing out the positives and critiquing the negatives as he pushes his linemen toward his lofty expectations.
“I think we’re getting better every single day,” Watts said. “Hopefully we can just keep going up. He tells us every day, ‘You’re going to be the best O-line in the Mountain West.’ We like it.”