LARAMIE — One positive for the Wyoming receiving corps this spring? Their hands don’t have to take the abuse of Josh Allen fastballs anymore.
“It is a little bit of a relief,” said James Price, who will be a senior in the fall, “but they do still throw the ball with some velocity.”
That’s just one of the many necessary adjustments to life after Allen, whose preternaturally strong arm has him positioned to go early in this month’s NFL Draft. For one, his replacement is not yet known, as Nick Smith and Tyler Vander Waal have been competing for the job in spring camp.
Much like Wyoming’s tailback group, the Pokes’ receivers didn’t lose anyone to graduation after last season. Unfortunately for the receivers, however, they share another similarity to the running backs, as they’ve been limited by a string of injuries. C.J. Johnson and John Okwoli are out with ACL injuries suffered at the end of last season, and Jared Scott broke a finger early in camp. Johnson said that he hopes to be back by mid-August.
“Maybe I miss a few games, maybe I’m there for Game One,” he said, “but it all depends on how well my knee recovers.”
Okwoli’s recovery is about one month ahead of his, Johnson said.
“It’s been a blessing, and it’s been a curse,” junior-to-be Austin Conway said of the injuries. “Definitely a curse when you miss out on players, guys getting hurt. You never want to see that from an organization, but the blessing aspect of that is we have people stepping up. Guys are making plays, and that’s what you want. You want guys to step up so you don’t miss a beat. So we just know that we’re a lot deeper than we thought.”
Conway is one of two Cowboy wideouts left standing who had more than 100 receiving yards last spring, and even he left practice early with a hip injury Thursday. Price is the other. He was already the group’s senior member last year, but now that title is a literal one.
“It’s crazy,” he said. “Time really does fly. I thought time flew by fast in high school, but college has been even faster. ... It’s taking every day as my last day. So finishing out these last couple weeks of spring ball, I’m excited.
“We still have a lot of room to grow, not only in the receiving corps, but as an offense and as a team. So, it’s exciting, but it’s also kind of scary, almost, to know it’s coming to an end.”
Ayden Eberhardt and Avante’ Cox are among the group’s younger members who have received praise this spring.
Eberhardt has yet to catch a collegiate pass, but has been one of head coach Craig Bohl’s most frequently complimented players in camp.
“I think he’s gotten stronger in the weight room, and it’s helping him on the field,” receivers coach Mike Grant said. “I hope he gets a chance to get a shot at some special teams as well and get into the rotation at wideout.”
Cox had five catches in Wyoming’s first five games as a true freshman last season, but didn’t record a catch after September.
“Avante’ is learning how to use his body and use his speed to get open and make plays,” Price said.
And Milo Hall has made the transition from running back to receiver this spring to add depth to the group.
“It’s a lot different, a lot more running, things like that,” Johnson said, “but I think that he’s handling it really well.”
All the receivers, regardless of their experience there, are getting accustomed to a different arm on the other end of their passes.
“Starting from ground zero, you’ve got to find out the quarterback’s familiarities,” Conway said. “You’ve got to figure out what he likes, where he wants you to be. It’s almost like getting a new girlfriend, you know? You’ve got to figure out what they like, what they want. ... So, put yourself in that position to learn, and you have to have great collab and figure things out together.”
Said Price: “That is going to be huge for us, just kind of getting that timing down and that trust. It’s huge, because once you get into game-time situations, you want to know where the wideout’s going to be. You want to know as a receiver where the ball’s going to be when you come out of your break.”
While some of that process takes place during the team’s 15 spring practices, much of the chemistry will develop during summer drills between the receivers and quarterbacks.
“It really falls on quarterbacks and receivers,” Grant said. “Mainly the quarterbacks, and that’s part of being a leader of the group and a leader of our team and the unit. They’ll get them going, and it’s nice to have a senior in James who can make sure that he rallies the wide receivers. Because we won’t be involved. But at this point, while I’m here now, I’m trying to tell him that this is how you’re going to have to be the coach this summer when I’m not here.”
Added Johnson: “It’s very important, and it’s definitely something that we have to work on this summer. Especially with all the new quarterbacks it looks like are going to be joining us over the summer.”
Price also alluded to the Cowboys having “a lot of new quarterbacks” this summer. Michigan graduate transfer Wilton Speight, who was reportedly considering Wyoming, recently committed to UCLA. Still, might the quarterback competition consist of players who aren’t yet in Laramie?
“Well, we’ll have to see,” Wyoming offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Brent Vigen said. “We’re short numbers, from a scholarship perspective, so we’ll have to see what the next few weeks bring I guess.”
The Cowboys will also add a scholarship quarterback this summer in three-star signee Sean Chambers. But whoever is throwing the ball next season, it won’t be a 6-foot-5 gunslinger from Firebaugh, California. (Even if Chambers is 6-foot-3 and from nearby Kerman.)
“They have got to get with each other, so he knows your speed, so he knows what you can do and your catch radius,” Grant said. “All those things that Josh had two years to know. So, this is all brand new to these guys, when they’re throwing to them on a daily basis.”