LARAMIE — Like most teams around the country, Wyoming releases an updated depth chart each week.
It doesn’t necessarily mean a whole lot for the Cowboys’ secondary.
Wyoming’s defensive backs are one of the more versatile groups on the roster. Five names are always listed at the top of the depth chart at each position in coordinator Scottie Hazelton’s 4-2-5 base defense, but to say things are fluid on the back end would be an understatement.
“The depth chart is kind of contingent on some of the calls we make,” Wyoming coach Craig Bohl said. “That’s a starting point, but you’ll see all of those guys play.”
Antonio Hull, who’s started all 10 games at cornerback, and senior safeties Andrew Wingard and Marcus Epps are the closest things the Cowboys have to being set in stone at their positions. Wyoming has added a third safety to the mix in junior Alijah Halliburton, who’s started every game since cornerback C.J. Coldon went down with an arm injury against Missouri on Sept. 8.
Where they ultimately line up is anybody’s guess.
Depending on the call, they all could drop in coverage as the last line of defense, though that rarely happens. The Cowboys prefer to put one if not two safeties in the box to either match up with a slot receiver or tight end, offer more support against the run or bring pressure off the edge. It’s not unusual to see all three creep near the line of scrimmage before one of them bails just before the ball is snapped to disguise a single-high safety look.
Epps, who was recruited to Wyoming as a corner four years ago, may be the most versatile of the group having also played some nickel corner at times this season. He’s got 51 tackles, five pass breakups and a sack that caused a fumble in the Cowboys’ Border War win over Colorado State.
“That’s a big challenge Marcus has really embraced,” Bohl said. “He’s played safety, he’s played in the deep middle, he’s played nickel. He came here as a corner, so he does have good athleticism. But beyond that, he’s a really bright, insightful player, so that’s given us a great deal of flexibility.”
That includes being able to move Tyler Hall from nickel back outside to corner, where he played primarily last season. Hall has started the last four games at corner despite redshirt freshman Keyon Blankenbaker being listed as the starter there opposite Hull.
The 5-foot-10, 190-pound Hall admitted it took some time to adjust to the physicality that came with moving inside at the beginning of the season, but he’s thrived regardless of where he’s lined up. Hall already has a career-high 32 tackles and leads the Cowboys with eight pass breakups, more than his first two seasons combined.
“There’s a big discussion we’re still having: Was he a better inside nickel corner or is he better outside?” Bohl said. “We’re fashioning our defense to give ourselves the best chance to win.”
Coldon has been a limited participant in practice this week with Bohl hoping the redshirt freshman can make enough progress during the bye week to return for the Cowboys’ game against Air Force on Nov. 17. If not, Hall will be in line for his fifth straight start on the outside, though there are no guarantees.
“It’s kind of a back-and-forth thing right now due to injuries,” Hall said. “C.J.’s down, so it depends on the game plan that week like, ‘Hey, we’re going to put you here for this week.’ I could probably play nickel back next week. I don’t know. It depends on how the game goes and who’s healthy and who’s not.
“Just trying to do whatever it takes to help my team win. Wherever coaches need me, I’ll play the position.”
Everybody on the back end has been productive regardless of where they’re at on the field. Wingard is second on the team with 69 tackles, Halliburton is tied with Epps for the third-most stops, and Hull has seven pass breakups and a team-best two interceptions.
Blankenbaker and Chavez Pownell, the next two in the rotation, have combined for 51 tackles and four passes breakups for a defense that’s allowing the fourth-fewest passing yards in the Mountain West.