LARAMIE — Wyoming coach Craig Bohl said in the weeks leading up to his team’s first scrimmage that he’d wait until it was over to fairly assess where he thought the Cowboys’ safeties were in their progression.
Once that 83-play scrimmage concluded at Natrona County High’s Cheney Alumni Field on Saturday, Bohl was brief in his analysis of the group, though it didn’t necessarily mean he was disappointed in what he saw from a position that’s squarely under the microscope this spring.
“From where I was standing, I didn’t see any big plays pop other than Brett’s (Brenton) touchdown run,” Bohl said. “But outside of that, I thought our safeties held up pretty well.”
It’s been well-documented exactly what the Cowboys are losing on the back end of their defense with the departures of Andrew Wingard and Marcus Epps. The program’s most prolific safety tandem started more than 40 consecutive games alongside each other and finished as two of the top-10 tacklers in school history.
Senior-to-be Alijah Halliburton, who will almost certainly take over for Wingard at strong safety after starting six games last season, still gives Wyoming some experience at the position. But Bohl and defensive coordinator Jake Dickert, who also helps coach the safeties, are using the spring to start thoroughly evaluating the more inexperienced players that have no choice but to take on more prominent roles at the position next season.
Halliburton and rising junior Esaias Gandy got most of the reps at strong safety Saturday while Braden Smith, another junior-to-be, and redshirt freshmen Cameron Murray and Rome Weber were the primary options at free safety, but the Cowboys constantly rotated safeties in and out. Miles Williams and Taylor Dodd also got reps as Wyoming played as many as four safeties at a time in the secondary.
The group combined for 16 tackles, an important stat considering the playmaking ability Wyoming is losing at the position. Dodd led the group with six tackles while Weber, Gandy and Halliburton combined for eight.
Brenton broke through the first two levels of the defense and got past the secondary on his way to the end zone for a 15-yard touchdown run late in the scrimmage, but making plays in space was largely a bright spot for the safeties.
“I feel like as a group, we did great in the open field,” Murray said. “There were a couple of runs that busted out, but we tackled well (Saturday).”
The safeties were also active in coverage. Dodd had a pair of pass breakups while Halliburton pulled down one of the Cowboys’ two interceptions in the red zone. The defense could’ve easily had a third pick when one of Sean Chambers’ passes bounced off a receiver’s hands and into the air, but Murray couldn’t corral the ball as it fell toward him.
“There were some plays that I could’ve made and wished I had back,” Murray said, “but I’ve just got to keep going forward and being better every single day.”
Bohl said after the scrimmage he wasn’t ready to start formulating a depth chart at any position where there’s competition, meaning they all still have time to make their case for a starting job. They’re giving him plenty to think about.
“I feel like the group did really well. We made a lot of plays,” Murray said. “We aligned well and played well. We did everything everything we said we were going to do prior to the scrimmage. We took a step forward.”