There is a sense that coach Dave Christensen prodded the Cowboys to a bowl game in his first season in 2009 using only smoke and mirrors. Wyoming will have more than that to rely on in 2010.
The Cowboys naturally are bigger, stronger and faster in Year 2 under Christensen's systems, now that the players understand what direction he wants to take the program and that he has more players recruited specifically for his schemes.
"We have improved in a lot of areas," Christensen told the Laramie Boomerang. "We are faster at every position. We have to continue to do that, recruit the kind of kids that can run and continue to develop the speed."
But Wyoming must find a way to increase production on an offense that finished last in the Mountain West Conference and 107th among 120 Football Bowl Subdivision schools in total offense with an average of 309.4 yards per game.
So naturally, the Cowboys are revamping the defense in the offseason. Wyoming has switched from a 3-4 to a 4-3. The Cowboys are using their surplus at linebacker to add depth at defensive end during the transition, and Christensen likes what he saw in the offseason.
"We've made great progress. I like what we're doing defensively," Christensen told the Casper Star-Tribune. "If we can continue to make progress ... throughout fall camp, I think we're going to have a pretty decent defense."
According to the Tribune, sophomore quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels felt a little irritated at the offense's lack of production during the spring. The first-string couldn't get in the end zone in the last two intrasquad scrimmages against the defense.
"It just shows we have a lot to work on," Carta-Samuels told the Tribune. "We've shown drastic improvement, but also (we have) a lot longer to go."
Wyoming juggled its offensive line and didn't have its full complement of running backs during spring practice, with Nehemie Kankolongo missing the session because of a knee injury and Darius Terry quitting the team. The Cowboys also were breaking in two junior college wide receivers -- Mazi Ogbonna and DeJay Lester. A truer picture of the offense should come in fall camp.
And if the offense happens to struggle again, Christensen can always pull out his smoke and mirrors.NOTES, QUOTES
--Wyoming gave coach Dave Christensen a one-year contract extension, through Dec. 31, 2014. Christensen, who led the Cowboys to a bowl victory in his first season, did not receive a pay increase. However, he will get a $92,500 bonus if he is still at Wyoming on July 1, 2011.
--Sophomore quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels will join senior wide receiver David Leonard, senior free safety Chris Prosinski and junior linebacker Brian Hendricks as Wyoming team captains in 2010.
--Coaches from Universidad Autonoma de Nuevo Leon in Monterey, Mexico, which won the Mexico collegiate national championship this past season, made a return visit to Laramie to study Christensen's offense and the Cowboys program.
CB Kenny Browder -- The coaching staff is pushing for the sophomore to beat out returning starters Marcell and Tashaun Gipson for one of the spots next fall. It's not that the staff wants to break up the Gipson brothers or think they're underperforming. But if Browder beats out one of them, it'll mean that the Cowboys have a formidable three-man rotation at the position.
RB Andrew Meredith - A converted cornerback, Meredith made the most of his playing time this spring, thanks to an injury to Nehemie Kankolongo and the defections of Darius Terry and Duell Petsch. Meredith had an impressive, 64-yard TD run during one of the scrimmages and got a lot of repetitions at the position as one of only three healthy backs that went through the spring. Alvester Alexander and Tedder Easton were the others.
OTs Clayton Kirven and Josh Leonard --They flip-flopped positions during the spring, and both appeared poised to earn starting jobs in the fall. Kirven, who played at right tackle last season, moved to left tackle, and Leonard moved from left tackle to right tackle. Neither player lost his position throughout the offseason.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Anytime you struggle offensively, I always go back to a comment (legendary Michigan coach) Bo Schembechler made to me one spring. And that was if your offense is ahead of your defense in the spring, it's going to be a long season. I thought about that, and I said, 'I like that, according to Bo.' Seriously, we have done some things very well throughout the spring in the 15 practices. I'm not overly concerned at all. I like to think that we faced a pretty darn good defense that was one up on the offense. And that's OK with me." -- Wyoming coach Dave Christensen, on the first-team offense's failure to score a touchdown in the spring game, to the Laramie Boomerang.STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
2010 OUTLOOK: The Cowboys return 16 starters, including seven on offense and defense from a team that won seven games, one of those a bowl game. Normally, such a team would be forewarned that it won't be overlooked in the follow-up season, but that won't be Wyoming's concern in 2010. If the Cowboys can get past Oct. 23 intact physically and mentally, they might be able to sneak into a bowl game. However, Wyoming's first eight games of the season include playing the top four in the Mountain West Conference from a year ago, as well as a road game at Texas and a home game against Boise State.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The Cowboys must get their passing game going for the team to improve on its breakout 2009. QB Austyn Carta-Samuels makes a lot of plays with his ability to scramble and keep plays alive, but the team needs more playmakers around him. Wyoming hopes WR transfers DeJay Lester and Mazi Ogbonna help fill those roles. The Cowboys also are continuing to tinker with the line that also was inconsistent last season. They flipped-flopped tackles Clayton Kirven and Josh Leonard. Kirven now is at left tackle while Leonard is on the right. The offense needs better play up front this coming season.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The big question surrounding the Cowboys' move to the 4-3 is their depth on the line. Neither of their starting interior linemen -- Alex Stover and Mike Purcell -- played in the spring, and the rest of the interior players have little to no experience there. Most of the team's defensive ends are converted linebackers. The secondary reportedly is happy with the switch from the 3-4 because it will allow the DBs to play more aggressively and take risks in coverage. MLB Brian Hendricks and FS Chris Prosinki must help carry the defense until the line gets up to speed.
SCOUTING THE SPECIAL TEAMS: The Cowboys are set in the kicking game with K Ian Watts and P Austin McCoy both returning. RB Alvester Alexander and WR David Leonard are serviceable in the return game, but Wyoming could use some more speed and production to help kick-start the offense.
--Senior RB Darius Terry, named a captain in the offseason, quit the team after reinjuring an ankle during spring practice.
--RB Nehemie Kankolongo missed spring practice because of a knee injury but will be available for fall camp.
--Redshirt freshman CB Andrew Meredith converted to running back after the departures of Terry and walk-on Duell Petsch, and the injury to Kankolongo at the position.
--Redshirt freshman WR Rodney Jaynes missed last half of spring practice to concentrate on academics.
--The Cowboys dismissed redshirt freshman DE Caleb Hundley for a violation of team rules.
--Sophomore CB David James also quit the team during the spring.
Previous Report: 04/11/2010