LARAMIE — With both of Wyoming’s starting linebackers back in the fold this spring, there won’t be any changes at the top of the depth chart at the second level of the defense, right?
Not so fast.
This is what we know through the Cowboys’ first four weeks of the spring: Chad Muma is firmly entrenched in the middle after finishing third in the Football Bowl Subdivision in tackles in his first season as a full-time starter. At the outside linebacker spot, though, Chuck Hicks’ name hasn’t been written in pen at the top of the depth chart just yet.
Easton Gibbs is making a push.
To hear UW coach Craig Bohl tell it, there’s competition between the two for the starting job despite Hicks starting all but one game of the Cowboys’ pandemic-shortened season last fall. A knee injury forced him to miss the season finale against Boise State, but there wasn’t much of a dropoff at his position in that game as Gibbs filled in with a career-high 13 tackles.
A redshirt freshman last season, Gibbs was active all season as UW’s third linebacker, finishing third on the team with 42 tackles — 15 more than Hicks. Gibbs’ strong performance has carried over to the spring.
“They are battling it out,” Bohl said. “One of the things I’ve found through the years is nothing brings out more good in a man than intrasquad competition.
“(Gibbs) has got a lot of ability, and he and Chuck are certainly battling at that position. We have three linebackers who have really game-ready experience.”
Gibbs also had 2.5 tackles for loss while Hicks, a sophomore, added 3.5 tackles for loss, two sacks and an interception in addition to his 27 stops a season ago. The Cowboys are looking for a consistent fourth linebacker to emerge in order to fill out the two-deep at the position, but Muma, Hicks and Gibbs have easily established themselves as the top three options at the position.
For Hicks and Gibbs, the only question is which order they’ll be on the depth chart come the fall. Bohl has said most decisions regarding the depth chart will be made coming out of the spring, which consists of just four more practices for the Cowboys, including the spring game May 8.
Gibbs, who said he’s combined offseason workouts and protein shakes to bulk up to 227 pounds, would be lying if he said he didn’t want to be the first linebacker running out on the field alongside Muma in UW’s season opener against Montana State come Sept. 4, but he added there’s mutual respect between him and Hicks as the competition rages on.
“We know it’s a position battle, and there is some weird tension at times,” Gibbs said. “But at the end of the day, we’re all on the same team. We’re all just trying to get better and help each other. There’s not really any bad tension, I’d say, at all.”
Important scrimmage on tap
UW will hold its second spring scrimmage Saturday. And with it being the last one before the spring game, it will be one of the final chances for Gibbs, Hicks and other players jockeying for position on the depth chart to separate themselves in a game setting.
In fact, with depth-chart decisions getting closer and closer to being finalized, it may be the most important evaluation period left this spring.
“Typically the scrimmage before the spring game is really, really important to start to solidify where that depth chart sits,” Bohl said. “We’ll do some evaluation of that next week. The spring game is a chance to give them some activity of a game-like deal, but many times the evaluation is pretty much in the book before that. But (the scrimmage) will be another opportunity.”
Gibbs has been dealing with a hip pointer recently, but Bohl said he hasn’t missed any practice time. Bohl said defensive tackle Mario Mora may have broken a finger during Thursday’s practice but was optimistic Mora wouldn’t have to miss significant time.
“Hopefully he can just tape an aspirin on it and be OK,” Bohl said.
Follow UW athletics beat writer Davis Potter on Twitter at @DavisEPotter.