Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Linebackers Knapton, Hendricks not letting youth and inexperience get in the way

UW photo (top)/Richard Anderson photo (bottom)
Wyoming freshman linebacker Brian Hendricks wraps up senior running back Devin Moore Wednesday night in a scrimmage at War Memorial Stadium. At bottom, Gabe Knapton will start this season at the inside linebacker position.

By Richard Anderson

Both are redshirt freshmen. Yet, Wyoming linebackers Gabe Knapton and Brian Hendricks aren’t letting youth and inexperience stand in their way.

Knapton has worked his way into the Cowboys’ starting lineup at MIKE (inside) linebacker -- he earned that honor after spring drills. Hendricks, No. 2 on the depth chart at SAM (outside) linebacker, isn’t far behind, especially with the type of effort he had Wednesday night in Wyoming’s second and final major scrimmage of the fall.

"It’s real exciting now, I’m having fun and learning new things,” Knapton said. “I’m getting pretty excited about going out there and playing.”

Knapton and Hendricks will get that opportunity for real on Aug. 29 when the Cowboys open the season at home against Ohio.

Pure talent is what has elevated both Knapton and Hendricks. The learning curve, at such a young age, is keeping both hitters level-headed. They both said there is still plenty to learn and to improve on.

“I think there is a bunch of mental stuff to overcome. I feel I am there physically. I have been working hard in the off-season, just getting ready,” Knapton said. “It’s all about knowing the sets and things, but each day I’m getting better and better.”

Hendricks sounds like a broken record, although his comments came after Wednesday’s scrimmage, compared to Knapton’s remarks earlier this season.

“It’s a lot of mental stuff, coming from a small school (Burlington, Colo.). It was kind of like, just tackle the guy who has the ball,” Hendricks said. “Week-by-week, I am trying to get better and learn the system; just trying to be consistent, keep my technique up and just go hard.”

Consistency is the biggest thing the coaches are looking for, Hendricks said.

“If you make one good play out of 10, it doesn’t matter; you have to be consistent every play,” Hendricks said. “It’s the major thing.”

Hendricks, with 12 tackles on Wednesday (two or a loss of 10 yards and one sack for minus eight yards), was a dominant force. Yet, he said he could have done better.

“I made some good plays, but at the same time, I made some mistakes,” Hendricks said. “I’ve got some things to work on, but I am trying to stay positive and just do the things that we are taught in practice and try to make a play.”

A couple of plays Hendricks made on Wednesday were two open-field tackles of Wyoming senior running back Devin Moore.

“D-Mo is a shifty man. I wouldn’t be surprised if he has a chance to go pro,” Hendricks said. “I just tried to stay in there and tried to not let him bounce out."

The sky is certainly the limit for both players, especially for Knapton, who has been described by head coach Joe Glenn already as one of the best linebackers that he has coached.

Knapton won’t go that far, but he said if they continue to make the progress that they have already made in their short tenure with the Cowboys, they are in for a special careers.

“By the time we get up to being seniors, we will have so much experience, it will be real good,” Knapton said.

Knapton has plenty of confidence to go with his talent, certainly an attribute that is important in such a position. He is on pace of where he hoped to be at this point of his collegiate career. In fact, he might be ahead of what he had hoped for.

Then again, maybe not.

“I expected to be maybe … well, no, not really, I’m pretty much on track,” Knapton said with a smile. “I kind of wanted to be a starter right away.”

With just a week to go before that season opener, Hendricks is not only pleased with his progress, but with the defense’s ability as a whole. He said the Cowboy defense has plenty of room for improvement ahead of them.

“Hopefully, we’re going to be better against Ohio; we expect a lot,” Hendricks said. “I’m pretty impressed with what we did (Wednesday night), but again, we’re going to have to be a lot better for Ohio.”

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