LARAMIE — Craig Bohl and his coaching staff had plenty of evaluating to do this spring. That process is far from over.
Wyoming concluded its 15 spring practices Saturday with its annual spring game — one the Gold team took 14-9. Bohl knows what he has at quarterback and will soon officially choose a starter between redshirt freshman Sean Chambers and third-year sophomore Tyler Vander Waal.
The same goes for the receiver position, where seniors Austin Conway, C.J. Johnson, John Okwoli and Rocket Ismail Jr. lead the rotation. The Cowboys are also set at the top of the linebacker depth chart with veterans Logan Wilson and Cassh Maluia back for one more season while coaches like the depth they have on the interior of the defensive line and in the secondary.
But whether it’s because of ongoing competition, injuries or a combination of the two, Wyoming exits the spring with questions still to answer at a number of positions.
With seven players back that started at least one game last season, the Cowboys don’t lack for experience up front. But the group was a MASH unit this spring.
No position was hit harder by injuries than guard, where Gavin Rush, Zach Watts and Eric Abojei all went down with knee injuries. Rush’s was of the season-ending variety while Watts needed surgery on his dislocated kneecap. Abojei was injured early in the spring game, and Bohl wasn’t sure of the severity afterward.
Keegan Cryder was a freshman All-American at center last season, but Bohl didn’t rule out the possibility of Cryder moving to the outside in the fall. Cryder also got reps at tackle this spring because of a lack of depth there. Rudy Stofer and Alonzo Velazquez, who didn’t go through the spring while rehabbing a knee injury of his own, are the only tackles with game experience.
Another center, Patrick Arnold, also sustained a knee injury that required surgery.
Xazavian Valladay is back after a productive freshman season and heads into the summer as the Cowboys’ No. 1 running back, but that’s almost by default since he’s the only back on the roster that got carries last season.
Depth is also scarce now that Nico Evans, the Mountain West’s leading rusher last season, and Jevon Bigelow (personal reasons) are both gone. Redshirt freshman Reow Jackson (Achilles) should be fully healthy by the time fall camp rolls around after being limited all spring.
Incoming freshmen Alphonzo Andrews Jr., Dawaiian McNeely and Titus Swen will all get a long look when they arrive this summer, but Valladay’s stiffest competition for the top spot on the depth chart will likely come from Louisville graduate transfer Trey Smith, a late addition to the 2019 recruiting class who will be immediately eligible next season.
Wyoming has a mixture of young and old with fifth-year senior Josh Harshman, sophomore Nate Weinman and redshirt freshman Jackson Marcotte, but it’s another position where injuries limited what they could do this spring.
Harshman, a Natrona County High product, may be the leader here, but the 6-foot-3, 230-pounder didn’t take part in any full contact as he continues to work his way back from knee surgery. Coaches are high on the potential of Marcotte, who missed a handful of practices with an injury but blends physicality with soft hands at 6-7 and 250 pounds. Weinman is the biggest body at the position at 6-7 and 267 but ended the spring on the mend after sustaining broken ribs.
Harshman and Weinman are expected to be back at full strength in the fall when the competition should really heat up.
With projected starters Garrett Crall and Josiah Hall out all spring with injuries, the repetitions were divvied up among the young defensive ends. But injuries kept the rotation in flux.
Sophomore-to-be Davon Wells-Ross and redshirt freshman Solomon Byrd got a majority of the first-team reps when they were on the field together, though Byrd was held out of the spring game with an injury. Redshirt freshman De’Vaughn Brown also dealt with a concussion that limited him.
Three more freshmen — Leevi Lafaele, Teagan Liufau and Jack Boyer — showed flashes of speed and explosiveness off the edge. How they hold up against the run, though, will likely determine how significant their part is in the rotation.
There’s also not a proven pass rusher among the group now that Carl Granderson is gone.
Alijah Halliburton will take over at strong safety while Braden Smith’s experience as a fourth-year junior has him ahead of the pack at free safety, but there will be questions in terms of production all the way up to Wyoming’s Aug. 31 opener against Missouri considering what the Cowboys lost in Andrew Wingard and Marcus Epps.
It’s a bigger unknown with Smith than Halliburton, who started six games last season and finished fourth on the team with 61 tackles. Smith, who had an interception in the spring game, has been primarily a special-teams contributor the last two seasons.
Smith will also have to hold off Cameron Murray and Rome Weber in preseason camp. If that happens, Murray and Weber will provide depth, though it’ll be inexperienced with both coming off redshirt years. Miles Williams is also at strong safety after playing five games as a true freshman last season.
While Wilson and Maluia are entrenched as starters, they’ll need an occasional breather. And the depth behind them is fluid to say the least.
Chad Muma established himself as the No. 3 linebacker with a strong spring, but the rising sophomore repped at the middle and outside spots because coaches aren’t sure who else they can rely on at the position right now. Fifth-year senior Ben Wisdorf has played in 29 career games.
Sophomore Brennan Kutterer and redshirt freshmen Ray Rabou and Charles Hicks came on late in the spring but will need to show more consistency in camp.