LARAMIE — Of all the personnel questions regarding Wyoming’s defense heading into the spring, none of them are more pressing than this: What’s next at safety?
For the first time in four years, the Cowboys have to actually think about that with the program’s most prolific tandem at the position having exhausted its eligibility. Andrew Wingard, a three-time first-team all-Mountain West selection, and Marcus Epps have been the steady anchors for Wyoming’s defense since their freshman seasons. They ended their careers with more than 40 consecutive starts alongside each other.
They’re now preparing for shots at the NFL, leaving 779 combined tackles and 19 career interceptions worth of production behind. Wingard departs as arguably the best safety to ever don a Wyoming uniform, finishing his career tied atop the MW all-time tackles list with 454 stops.
Replacing Wingard’s instincts, versatility and playmaking ability won’t be easy, but the Cowboys aren’t completely green at strong safety. Rising senior Alijah Halliburton was the third in a three-safety lineup Wyoming used a majority of the time by the end of the season.
Whether the Cowboys continue to play a third safety or go back to using a true nickel in their 4-2-5 scheme next season remains to be seen, but Halliburton picked up plenty of productive game experience as the favorite to take over at strong safety. The 6-foot-2, 190-pounder started six games a season ago and finished as the Cowboys’ fourth-leading tackler with 61 stops. He also had two pass breakups and a forced fumble.
But there are far more players at the position that still have to prove themselves.
Largely special-teams contributors their first two seasons on campus, rising juniors Braden Smith and Esaias Gandy figure to factor in more prominently to the competition for starting jobs this spring. Smith ended last season as Epps’ backup at free safety while Gandy is listed as a strong safety. The pair played in every game last season and combined for just eight tackles.
Laramie native and rising sophomore Taylor Dodd is another option at the position. So is Cameron Murray, a 6-1, 170-pound freshman who redshirted last season.
Wyoming also has a pair of incoming freshmen that should add to the competition and will provide depth at the minimum. Keonte Glinton, a three-star prospect out of Bakersfield Christian (California), was one of the Cowboys’ top signees in their most recent recruiting class and, at 6-0 and 175 pounds, has the physical attributes that could get him on the field right away. Another California product, Jerome Cooper, will also join the mix in the fall.
Until then, the competition will focus on the players already in the program as Wyoming transitions into life without the most productive safety tandem in school history.