LARAMIE — Braden Smith is dealing with more than the competition when it comes to trying to secure a starting job on the back end of Wyoming’s defense.
Smith ended the spring as the favorite to take over for Minnesota Vikings draft pick Marcus Epps at free safety. That hasn’t changed during fall camp as Smith has consistently repped with the first team, but a strained hamstring has played a part in preventing him from being able to lock up that spot with the Cowboys’ Aug. 31 opener against Missouri a little more than two weeks away.
“I’m trying to win my spot at free safety, and it’s hard because Monday and Tuesday I was on the sidelines. And Saturday,” Smith said. “So it was hard for me to just sit there and not do anything, you know? Especially when you want to go out there and play with your guys.”
Smith is making progress since sustaining the injury early in camp. The fourth-year junior participated in Thursday’s practice and said it was the first day back that he felt like he could run at full speed, though he’s not exactly pressing the issue with the first game quickly approaching.
“And they’ve been taking me out on special teams, too, just to make sure I’m going to be good,” Smith said.
Redshirt freshman Rome Weber has also been rotating in with the first-team defense at the position while another freshman, Cameron Murray, is there as well. Coaches have already said there will be some sort of rotation among the group during the season, but a full-scale scrimmage Saturday will go a long way in finalizing what the pecking order will look like heading into the first game.
The question is whether Smith will take part. Wyoming coach Craig Bohl said earlier in the week a decision would have to be made as to whether Smith plays. Smith on Thursday deferred to the coaches when asked if that had been decided, but he wants to participate given what could be at stake.
“Honestly I can’t wait to go out to the scrimmage Saturday and hit,” Smith said. “I’ve been thudding sometimes at practice and the coaches have been kind of mad at me for thudding, but I’m just trying to get as many tackling reps as possible so I can be ready.
“There’s a still a battle between us for sure. Definitely. The scrimmage is going to be what’s going to count.”
Good and bad
More than halfway through camp, Bohl said he feels good about the push the offensive line is generating in the running game as well as the running back position. Xazavian Valladay continues to get most of the reps with the first-team offense while Louisville grad transfer Trey Smith is also rotating in.
The Cowboys are also set at linebacker with seniors Logan Wilson and Cassh Maluia, but there’s still work to do further down the depth chart at that position. Asked specifically about the depth behind Wilson, Maluia and the third linebacker, sophomore Chad Muma, Bohl said the team is still working to solidify it.
“I felt good about our starters, but we’ve got to get the fourth and the fifth ready to go because we’ll end up playing those guys,” Bohl said.
Bohl said there were also some mental errors for the offensive line in pass protection during PUP (pass-under-pressure) drills Thursday that still have to be cleaned up.
One of the reasons Bohl feels good about his running backs is the performance of his three true freshman running backs, specifically Titus Swen.
A day after mentioning Swen as the one with the edge among the trio, Bohl singled Swen out again unprompted for his all-around game as a newcomer. The 5-foot-11, 190-pound Swen, a three-star recruit out of Eaton (Texas) High, will help provide depth behind Valladay and Smith.
“For a young guy, he’s physical, he’s got good running ability, and he’s done a good job out of the backfield in pass protection,” Bohl said. “We’re pleased with that.”