When it comes to Sean Chambers’ game, Brent Vigen agreed with the sentiment.
To a degree at least.
“I think the thing about those other two guys that gets lost is how athletic they were,” Wyoming’s offensive coordinator said. “I think he’s more like them than one would think.”
Chambers is the quarterback Wyoming is turning to on a full-time basis this fall after he sparked a dormant offense down the stretch last season and secured the starting job this spring. The other two guys Vigen was referring to are Carson Wentz and Josh Allen, the quarterbacks Vigen and Wyoming coach Craig Bohl are most known for tutoring.
Wentz, who was signed and largely developed by Vigen and Bohl when the latter was building a Football Championship Subdivision powerhouse at North Dakota State, led the Bison to a pair of FCS national championships before the Philadelphia Eagles made him the highest-drafted FCS player ever with the second overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. Allen, now the Buffalo Bills’ young franchise cornerstone, was an off-the-radar junior college quarterback that signed with Wyoming in 2015 before becoming the highest-drafted player in program history three years later.
Both NFL signal callers are in the 6-foot-5, 240-pound range, which isn’t far off from where they were physically in college. Both started for two years at their respective schools, and despite both missing a handful of games during their senior seasons because of injuries, Wentz and Allen combined for 9,777 passing yards in those seasons. They combined to throw it 774 more times than they ran it.
In other words, they fit the mold of the prototypical, big-armed pocket passer that normally operates Bohl’s pro-style offense to a T.
Yet neither was exactly a stiff in the pocket. Wentz and Allen each had a season where they surpassed 500 yards rushing. But Bohl’s current quarterback might have reached that in less than half a season had he stayed healthy.
Already pushing 220 pounds on his 6-3 frame, Chambers, who took over for redshirt freshman Tyler Vander Waal eight games into last season, ran for at least 100 yards in each of his first three games and racked up 329 rushing yards in less than three full games before going down with a broken leg that’s since healed. In just 11 quarters, Chambers rushed 59 times — more than double his pass attempts (25) — and averaged 5.6 yards per carry.
Chambers’ limited knowledge of the playbook as a true freshman had something to do with that, but the Cowboys went with the run-heavy approach because it gave them the best chance to win games after a four-game losing streak since that’s what the youngster does best. It also accentuates the obvious: The way Chambers goes about it — at least for now — is far different from the quarterbacks that came before him.
“I think that’s fair, but he’s got the capabilities of doing all the things we ask,” Vigen said. “His athleticism and running ability might be superior to those two.”
A native of Kerman, California, Chambers grew up 30 minutes away from Allen’s hometown of Firebaugh in the Central Valley. So even though Chambers never met Allen until he took a visit to Wyoming’s campus as a recruit in 2017, he’d kept up with Allen from afar and made a point to watch some of Wyoming’s games.
Chambers’ game may not have mirrored Allen’s much, but he still had thoughts about what he might look like in the Cowboys’ offense.
“I kind of looked at myself like maybe I could fit that offense and fit that mold,” Chambers said. “I maybe don’t have the strongest of arms like as Josh and Carson, but I think I definitely fit the mold.”
Bohl wasn’t exactly sure. But it also wasn’t his primary concern once he decided to recruit Chambers, who verbally committed to a Power Five program, Rutgers, the summer before his senior season at Kerman High.
Bohl first saw Chambers at a satellite camp at USC later that summer and extended an offer. But he also wanted to evaluate Chambers in a game, so he flew to Fresno one Friday night that fall and made the short drive to Kerman not sure exactly what he would see.
Yet one play on special teams was all Bohl needed to see. Along with it came a shift in Bohl’s thinking from how Chambers might fit in Wyoming’s offense to getting him signed and worrying about that later.
“The other team was punting, and he dove over a pile trying to block a punt and landed on his head,” Bohl said. “I looked and said, ‘Well there’s still some doubt for sure whether he can play quarterback, but I know for sure he’s a competitor. We’ve got something to work with.’”
Before Chambers is a quarterback, ask anyone that associates with him on a daily basis, and they’ll tell you: First and foremost, he’s a competitor. Vigen got a sense of that earlier than anybody when he made a trip to Kerman to watch Chambers throw during his junior year.
“I think it was apparent we had a competitive kid,” Vigen said. “And the people, whether it was his coach or the (athletic director), you could just tell that at least the people in Kerman thought a lot of just his intangibles.”
For Chambers, there’s a simple motive driving that competitive spirit.
“It just comes from the fire of not wanting to lose,” he said. “I’ll do anything to help the team win even if it’s to go out there and block a punt. It’s just a fire I’ve got deep down inside of me. Walking on the streets, you probably won’t see that. But as soon as I put the helmet on and lace them up, you’ll probably see that desire in me.”
But before Wyoming could work on everything else that comes with it, the Cowboys had to change Chambers’ mind when it came to where he would play his college football. Bohl, Vigen and the rest of Wyoming’s staff may not have known it then, but they already had.
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Chambers took a visit to Wyoming in September 2017 and decommitted from Rutgers shortly thereafter. By that time, Chambers said San Jose State, Hawaii and the local Mountain West school, Fresno State, had also offered him. The Bulldogs had a first-year coach in former Cal coach Jeff Tedford, who groomed All-Pro quarterback Aaron Rodgers into a first-round draft pick back in 2005, but Fresno was going in the wrong direction at the time with three straight losing seasons.
Meanwhile, Wyoming was trending up. The Cowboys ended a string of four consecutive losing seasons in 2016 and followed that up with their second straight eight-win season in 2017. And none of those other schools had a coaching staff in place with the kind of recent pedigree Wyoming did when it came to tutoring quarterbacks.
Two days after decommitting from Rutgers — and three days after his visit to Wyoming — Chambers gave his verbal pledge to the Cowboys and held firm with that decision through signing day.
“I like Laramie a lot and the coaches,” Chambers told the Fresno Bee when he committed. “They have a long history developing quarterbacks, and Wyoming has a really good program going right now.”
Less than two years into his career at Wyoming, Chambers is still a rugged contrast: Whereas Wentz and Allen were athletic enough to create something with their legs if things broke down in the passing game, Chambers’ combination of size and speed is tailor-made to wear on defenses with his legs and then play off of that with his arm.
“I know he’s a train,” said cornerback Antonio Hull, who sees Chambers up close in practice every day.
But there’s a difference in not throwing a lot and not being able to throw. The verdict on Chambers’ ability to balance out Wyoming’s offense with touch and accuracy through the air is still out simply because there’s not enough evidence to issue one.
And as small as last season’s sample size was, there was nothing within it to suggest Chambers can’t be a true dual threat.
Chambers completed 60 percent of those 25 pass attempts and threw three touchdowns with no interceptions, and it wasn’t all just screens, slants and 5-yard hitches. There was a 48-yard completion to Nico Evans down the seam against Utah State that was threaded over a linebacker and in front of a safety. In his first start against Colorado State, he hit Evans with a 14-yard touchdown pass that he dropped in the breadbasket down the sideline. He came back with a play-action rollout midway through the fourth quarter and hit Tyree Mayfield in stride for a 43-yard score that iced Wyoming’s third straight Border War win.
“He can throw the ball,” Bohl said. “I’m not saying it’s to the point where you saw Josh Allen rip a rope. Not like that, but he’s got a really quick release and he’s got good accuracy. And he’s got good arm strength, and he can be mobile.”
Exactly what that’s looked like during fall camp is largely second-hand information. Wyoming’s practices are only open to media members for the first 30 minutes, which usually consists of stretching and individual position drills.
Most of the competitive team periods — where Chambers and the rest of the quarterbacks throw against defensive looks that are simulated to be as close as possible to what the offense might see in a game — are repped behind closed doors. But those that are there to see it agreed it’s a part of Chambers’ game that people aren’t talking enough about.
“He can toss the ball,” Hull said. “Strong arm, but you also have got to watch out for him rolling out. He’ll take the ball. That’s probably his first thing he wants to do (is run) and throw second. But he can still toss that ball.”
Said receiver Austin Conway, “Pretty crispy. Really solid. Great footwork. Putting the ball on the money. He’s doing everything we need a quarterback to do.”
“I do think from an arm-strength perspective and the accuracy perspective, he’s got the ability to do what we need to do,” Vigen said.
Chambers said it doesn’t bother him when he gets labeled as a running quarterback. In fact, he considers it a compliment given that not every signal caller has the skill set to pose a threat with his arms and legs. And Chambers is eager to prove he can do both effectively.
“I definitely feel it’s a big part of my game, but I’m not just a runner,” Chambers said. “I think of myself as a complete quarterback who happens to run. I’m excited to show off what I can do this year.”
Until Chambers shows that balance between the two, that label will stick. Or maybe it will stick regardless given how he goes about it. He may always be a different quarterback than the ones that have come before him.
There’s plenty of time to figure out exactly how much different.
“I’d say he’s probably between 70 and 75 percent (comfortable with everything in the offense),” Bohl said. “Now that’s a lot in our stuff, but there’s some more work to do and we’re going to continue to work with him. But the great news is he’s a freshman, he’s a great leader and he’s an ultra-competitive guy that’s got some ability.”
In other words?
“We’re in the process of grooming him,” Bohl said.