LARAMIE — Wyoming’s defense heads into the spring having to deal with major personnel losses at various positions.
But the attrition was kept at a minimum up front.
Yes, the Cowboys have two starters to replace along the defensive line in Josiah Hall and Javaree Jackson. Hall exhausted his eligibility after his fifth season with the Cowboys last year while Jackson, who started 11 games at defensive tackle, was suspended and eventually dismissed before UW’s bowl game.
UW has a replacement waiting to step in for Jackson in Ravontae Holt, whom UW coach Craig Bohl referred to as the Cowboys’ best interior defensive lineman before he missed all of last season with a torn ACL. Holt won’t go through spring practice as he continues his recovery but will bring some experience back to the position once he’s fully healthy.
There’s plenty of experience to go around up front with UW returning six of eight players from last year’s two-deep. Garrett Crall, a three-year starter at end, is back for his senior season after finishing fifth on the team with 55 tackles to go along with six tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. Mario Mora and Cole Godbout are set to return at nose tackle, but they also could play the 3-technique (defensive tackle) like Godbout did in UW’s Arizona Bowl win.
The Cowboys will need a replacement for Hall on the end opposite Crall, though they may already have it in Solomon Byrd, who emerged as one of the Mountain West’s top young edge rushers last season. Byrd led UW with 6.5 sacks and finished second on the team with 9.5 tackles for loss on his way to FWAA Freshman All-America honors. The 6-foot-4, 243-pounder did it all as Crall’s primary backup last season but figures to be much more than a situational player next season.
Davon Wells-Ross played in 12 games as a backup defensive end last season and could join the competition to replace Hall this spring. Teagan Liufau and Leevi Lafaele are among the other options at the position, though both are coming off injuries last season that have their status unknown for the spring. Victor Jones, who’s played in 21 career games with three starts, is versatile enough to play on the edge or on the interior but will likely stay at defensive tackle this spring with Holt not participating.
Claude Cole is another interior lineman that will provide depth after playing in 10 games as a redshirt freshman last season. Wheatland native Justis Borton will also be in the mix at nose tackle after playing in 11 games a season ago.
Of course, more youngsters will soon join the fold to help with the numbers up front. Ends DeVonne Harris and Jaylen Pate and tackles Alonzo Hall and Akili Bonner will go through their first spring after redshirting last season, and five more freshman defensive linemen are set to arrive on campus this summer.
With significant losses at linebacker and in the secondary, the line will be at the forefront of UW’s effort to remain one of the top defenses in the Mountain West under first-year coordinator Jay Sawvel. The Cowboys finished 11th in the Football Bowl Subdivision against the run last season while also ranking top 4 in the league in scoring defense, total defense and sacks.
Follow UW athletics beat writer Davis Potter on Twitter at @DavisEPotter.
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