LARAMIE — For the first time in a few years, the back end of Wyoming’s defense is remaining intact.
The Cowboys have watched a handful of impact safeties come and go in recent years. Andrew Wingard (Jacksonville Jaguars) and Marcus Epps (Philadelphia Eagles) are both in the NFL after wrapping up their UW careers in 2018. Former all-conference standout Alijah Halliburton led the Mountain West in tackles during the 2019 season before his eligibility expired.
UW ended up having to replace both starting safeties for the second straight year once Rome Weber decided to opt out of last fall’s pandemic-shortened season. But with every significant contributor at the position returning for the 2021 season, the Cowboys head into the spring with some continuity there for a change.
With experience at both safety spots, the question now is who will end up at the top of the depth chart and where?
Seniors Esaias Gandy and Braden Smith, who took over as the starting safety tandem last season, are back for one last go-round after choosing to take advantage of the NCAA’s eligibility relief and return for another season. All Gandy did in his first season as a full-time starter at free safety was finish as the Cowboys’ second-leading tackler (45), and Smith had 23 stops and an interception from his strong safety spot.
Yet Weber’s return this spring figures to make for more competition since he started all but one of UW’s 13 games in 2019 as a redshirt freshman. Weber and Smith competed for the starting job at free safety heading into that season before Weber narrowly won out. He tallied 38 tackles, five pass breakups and an interception that season.
Gandy is likely to hold on to his starting spot given his breakout campaign, but will it be at free safety again? Or will he move over to strong safety with both Weber and Smith back in the fold?
This spring will give defensive coordinator Jay Sawvel a chance to start sorting out the logistics, but with so many familiar faces back, the Cowboys have plenty of safety depth to work with regardless where they line up.
Junior Miles Williams is a strong candidate to once again be on the two-deep after spending last season as Gandy’s primary backup. Sophomore Cam Murray, who combined with Williams for 13 tackles last season and contributed on special teams, will also compete for a spot in the safety rotation.
Freshmen Isaac White and Keshaun Taylor, who ultimately decided to return after entering the transfer portal earlier this offseason, are both going into their second year in the program. Signees Wrook Brown and Andrew Johnson, an in-state product from Cheyenne, will add more depth at the position once they arrive on campus this summer.
Follow UW athletics beat writer Davis Potter on Twitter at @DavisEPotter