LARAMIE — Wyoming coach Craig Bohl has consistently voiced optimism about this year’s team, though it comes with the caveat of the Cowboys getting some questions answered during fall camp.
The most significant of those resides in the trenches.
Asked what the most pressing objective is for the Cowboys before they take the field at War Memorial Stadium for their Aug. 31 opener against Missouri, Bohl said his team has to find capable reinforcements on the offensive and defensive lines. Wyoming began camp Friday with just four linemen other than its projected starters that have played in a game.
Only one of those — either Eric Abojei or Patrick Arnold depending on who ends up starting at left guard — is on the offensive line. Freshman All-American Keegan Cryder is back at center while junior Logan Harris is set to step in at right guard, but the depth on the interior was depleted this spring when projected starters Gavin Rush and Zach Watts went down with season-ending knee injuries. The Cowboys didn’t have much depth to begin with at tackle behind sophomore Rudy Stofer and junior Alonzo Velazquez.
Redshirt freshman Frank Crum is backing up Stofer at left tackle while sophomore Gavin Dunayski, who moved over from the defensive line this spring, is No. 2 on the right side. In all, three redshirt freshmen are listed as backups on the offensive line for now.
True freshmen Carlos Harrison, Jack Lookabaugh and Latrell Bible will be evaluated during camp, though cracking the rotation up front is always a tall task for true freshmen given the physical demands that come with the position. But even with two offensive linemen already lost for the season, Bohl said there’s too much evaluating that needs to be done over the next four weeks for the Cowboys to ease up on the physicality.
“We have to expose ourselves,” Bohl said. “We have to do some work, and we’ll do that. We’ll cross our fingers, but I don’t think it’s fair to our football team for these guys to go into it without some full contact.
“Can we move people off the ball or are we going to get stalemated? That’s got to be able to be shown.”
The numbers are better along the defensive front, but the group is still fairly green behind veterans Garrett Crall, Josiah Hall, Ravontae Holt and Javaree Jackson, who’s beginning his first season as a full-time starter at nose tackle after playing in 18 games the previous two seasons. With Carl Granderson, Youhanna Ghaifan, Sidney Malauulu and Conner Cain all gone, sophomores Victor Jones and Davon Wells-Ross and redshirt freshman Solomon Byrd are the only other defensive linemen left with any game experience.
That leaves plenty of youth that will need to help fortify a line that’s been integral in turning Wyoming into one of the stingiest defenses in the Mountain West recently. The Cowboys have ranked in the top half of the league in run defense each of the last two seasons and finished 25th nationally in that category a season ago.
The group could use a boost when it comes to getting to the quarterback. Crall is back at defensive end after leading Wyoming with 4.5 sacks last season while Bohl said he likes Holt’s potential as an interior pass rusher from his defensive tackle spot, but the Cowboys recorded just 19 sacks last season — third-fewest in the MW.
Mario Mora was a bright spot on the interior in the spring while Leevi Lafaele and Teagan Liufau bring a burst off the edge, but it’s all untapped potential for the redshirt freshmen at this point. Lafaele is also dealing with an undisclosed injury, though Bohl said the 6-foot-2, 220-pounder is expected to be ready for Missouri.
Newcomers Alonzo Hall, DeVonne Harris and Jaylen Pate will also get a look during camp as Bohl and his staff weigh all of their options before determining who else is ready to help up front this season.
“We’re going to need to find other guys that can rotate in,” Bohl said. “That’s going to be important.”