Saturday, March 28, 2009

Saturday's first practice in pads

Cowboys get physical with thud work

By Richard Anderson

Three practices into their spring season, the first day in pads, the Wyoming Cowboys were looking for a competitive edge on Saturday in the Indoor Practice Facility.First-year head coach Dave Christensen saw some positives in that area.

“The kids competed well. In fact, I felt the competition level in practice was better than I expected,” Christensen said. “The enthusiasm was good, the physicalness was good. We still have a lot of work to do, but I felt we improved again today. We’ve improved every single day of practice this first week. I’ve been really pleased with our practices thus far.”

For much of the offense vs. defense drills this spring, the Wyoming coaching staff is looking for that edge. The reward: one point to the winner.

At the end of the practice, Christensen gave the edge to the Wyoming defense, 4½ points to 3.
With that in mind, the offense had to do a few up-downs at the end of the drills and the defense gets the brown jerseys for Tuesday’s workout.

“It was good competition out there, they wanted to know what the score was every time we were in a drill,” Christensen said. “That’s the whole idea of this program, to teach these kids how to compete.

“Today, the defense won and they’ll get the brown jerseys for Tuesday, and it will be a challenge for the offense to get them back.”

The first hour of practice included special teams work along with fundamental sessions by position.

It was in the second hour of practice that the Cowboys started thudding -- hitting but not taking ball carriers to the ground -- for the first time this spring. That second hour featured a two-back running drill, pitting the No. 1 and No. 2 offense going up against the No. 1 and No. 2 defense. One-on-one passing drills were next, with receivers and backs going up against defensive backs.

Work on the inside running game in a second thud session followed. The offense and defense then faced off in seven-on-seven passing drills, with the Cowboy backs and receivers challenging the defensive backs and linebackers.

The last part of that second hour was filled with some more special teams and concluded with work on Wyoming’s option running game out of its new spread offense. That led up to the highlight of the day when the final 24 minutes of practice was devoted to full 11-on-11 offense versus defense in thud work.

“With the kids in pads, you can begin to evaluate who your physical players are and which athletes are capable of performing at the level you need them to carrying their full pads,” said Christensen. “It was the first test of the physicalness of our football team, and I believe they were up to the challenge.”

As could be expected, the physical practice had some casualties, including senior nose guard Fred Givens, who appeared to have injured a shoulder. Christensen said that five Cowboys left practice because of injuries, although he didn’t have enough information to report on any injuries after Saturday’s practice. He hopes to have more detailed information by Tuesday.

On Thursday, Christensen said he promised the team that Saturday would be the most physical practice that they had seen this year, and he was right.

“With the five guys who had to leave the practice because of injury, they believe me,” Christensen said.

As a whole, Christensen said that they still have to become a more physical football to compete with the best teams in the Mountain West Conference, and Saturday was a good step in that direction.

“For the first day in pads, I was pleased,” he said. “We made a great deal of progress. There were some physical things that I saw that were really good and there were some areas where we have to be more physical.”

Wyoming’s next practice will be Tuesday at 3:30 p.m.
(For more on Satrurday's practice, see Rich's Daily Blog)

Friday, March 27, 2009

Johnson top student in management and marketing department

Wyoming senior Weston Johnson

Wyoming linebacker Weston Johnson has been named the Outstanding Senior in Marketing by the UW Department of Management and Marketing. The Wray, Colo., native will be honored at the College of Business Recognition Dinner on April 24.

“It is our goal that the student-athletes in our program excel both on the field and in the classroom,” said UW head football coach Dave Christensen. “For Weston (Johnson) to be named the top senior student in the marketing department is something we are very, very proud of.

“One of the first things we talk to our student-athletes and their families about when we recruit them, is the emphasis we put on them getting their degrees. This is a great honor for Weston, individually, and it is a reflection of the type of athletics program we have here at the University of Wyoming.”

Johnson said the honor means a lot to him.

“It can be hard sometimes to manage the demands of school and the demands of competing in college football," Johnson said. " I’m proud to be recognized with this award, and I know my parents are proud of this accomplishment.”

Johnson is the son of Jill and Blane Johnson. He started all 12 games for the Cowboys in 2008, and he has one year of eligibility remaining in 2009. He has earned Academic All-Mountain West Conference honors each of the past three years, and has achieved a 3.45 cumulative grade-point-average in marketing at UW.

When asked what his career plans were after completing his college degree, Johnson said, ”I hope to use my marketing degree to somehow stay in athletics. I don’t know exactly what form that will take at this time, but I enjoy being involved in sports and want to continue that whenever my playing days are over.”

Johnson ranked fourth on the Cowboy football team in tackles in 2008, with 78 total tackles. He was part of a Wyoming defense that ranked No. 38 in the nation in total defense, allowing opponents only 329.7 yards per game. The UW defense also ranked No. 31 in the NCAA in pass defense, giving up an average of only 189.5 yards passing per game to opponents

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Cowboy football schedule finalized

Richard Anderson photo
Wyoming outside linebackers coach Mike Fanoga explains a drill to the Cowboys during Tuesday's practice.

by Richard Anderson

The release of the 2009 Mountain West Conference football schedule on Thursday finalized what could be one of the strongest in University of Wyoming history.

Wyoming will kick off the 2009 season at home against Weber State on Sept. 5 at 1 p.m. The next week on Sept. 12 at 1:30 p.m., the Texas Longhorns will make their first-ever appearance in Laramie, in what is expected to be the biggest game in War Memorial Stadium history. The following Saturday, the Cowboys will face their second consecutive Big 12 opponent when they travel to Boulder, Colo., to take on the Colorado Buffaloes on Sept. 19 in the first meeting between the two Front Range schools since 1997.

Wyoming will begin Mountain West Conference play at home on Sept. 26 against the UNLV Rebels. The remainder of the 2009 home schedule will feature the New Mexico Lobos on Oct. 10, the BYU Cougars on Nov. 7 and the final home game of ‘09 will pit the TCU Horned Frogs versus the Cowboys on Jonah Field at War Memorial Stadium on Nov. 21.

“I’m extremely excited about this schedule,” first-year Wyoming head football coach Dave Christensen said in a release. “I like the fact that we start the season at home the first two weeks, and we are fortunate to have four of our first six games of the season at home.

“I like having the open date in the middle of the season. I think it is a plus having two home games in November, and we are really excited about playing at Colorado State the Friday after Thanksgiving -- with the limited number of games being played that day it should give our program a lot of national exposure."

In addition to their Sept. 19 road trip to face Colorado, Wyoming will travel to Boca Raton, Fla., to play Florida Atlantic on Oct. 3 in UW’s one other non-conference road game. The Florida Atlantic game replaces a previously scheduled road game at Bowling Green on the same date. The game versus Florida Atlantic will be the first game in a two-game home-and-home series with the Owls. The second game of the series will be played in Laramie between Florida Atlantic and UW on Saturday, Sept. 27, 2014.

“From a recruiting standpoint, it is a real postive to have at least eight of our games and possibly nine being televised nationally," Christensen said.

Wyoming’s first Mountain West road game of ‘09 will be at Air Force on Oct. 17. The Pokes will have their one open date of the season the following Saturday on Oct. 24, before they travel to Salt Lake City to face Utah on Halloween night, Oct. 31. UW will play at San Diego State on Nov. 14, and will conclude the 2009 regular season at archrival Colorado State on Friday, Nov. 27 -- the day after Thanksgiving.

All six of Wyoming’s home games in 2009 will kickoff between Noon and 1:30 p.m.

“We are very pleased with the game times that the conference office selected for our home games," UW Athletics Director Tom Burman said in a release. “We feel that the early afternoon starts are best for our fans who travel long distances to come see the Cowboys play.

“It is very exciting to offer this outstanding home schedule to our fans. We hope our fans are equally excited about the opportunity to see three of the nation’s Top 25 programs in Laramie in the same season -- two of which finished ranked in the top seven teams in the country.”

The three teams that will be appearing in War Memorial Stadium this coming season that ended the 2008 season ranked in theTop 25 are Texas, TCU and BYU. Texas headlines Wyoming’s ‘09 home schedule.

Not only did the Longhorns finish last season ranked No. 3 in both the final USA Today Coaches’ Poll and the final BCS Rankings, but they are one of the favorites to win the national championship this coming season. They are ranked among the Top 3 teams in virtually every preseason poll for 2009. Texas has been ranked No. 2 in early preseason polls released by and Sports UT has also been ranked No. 3 in 2009 preseason polls by and The Longhorns defeated Ohio State, 24-21, in last season’s Fiesta Bowl.

Texas will be led by one of the favorites for the 2009 Heisman Trophy in senior quarterback Colt McCoy. Last year as a junior, McCoy finished second in the Heisman Trophy balloting to quarterback Sam Bradford of Oklahoma. McCoy received 1,604 points to Bradford’s 1,726 points. The 2007 Heisman winner, Tim Tebow of Florida, finished third with 1,575 points. McCoy won the Walter Camp Player of the Year Award in 2008.

Texas possesses as rich a tradition in college football as any team in the country. The Longhorns have captured four National Championships including their most recent BCS Championship in 2005. In addition to their BCS Championship in ‘05, Texas also won National Championships in 1963, 1969 and 1970.

“To have Texas, one of the elite programs in college football, come to Laramie for the first time we believe makes the 2009 schedule the greatest in our school’s history,” said Burman. “We expect that game to be a sellout well in advance of Sept. 12, so we want our fans to plan ahead to assure they get an opportunity to see what we believe will be the biggest game in the history of War Memorial Stadium.”

The other two Top 25 teams from a year ago that will visit Laramie in ‘09 are Mountain West Conference foes TCU and BYU. TCU concluded the 2008 season ranked No. 7 in both the USA Today Coaches’ Poll and AP Poll and was No. 11 in the final Harris Interactive ranking. TCU entered the bowl season ranked No. 11 in the BCS rankings. The Horned Frogs defeated Boise State, 17-16, in the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl. TCU is also receiving recognition in 2009 preseason polls, has ranked the Horned Frogs No. 15.

BYU was ranked No. 16 in both the 2008 BCS standings and the Harris Poll prior to its appearance in the Pioneer Las Vegas Bowl, and ended the season ranked No. 21 by USA Today and No. 25 by Associated Press. The Cougars fell to Arizona, 21-31, in the Las Vegas Bowl. has BYU ranked No. 22 in its ‘09 preseason rankings.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Ball security key for Cowboys

by Wyoming

It didn't take new Wyoming head football coach Dave Christensen long to figure out that the Cowboys had to do a better job of securing the football, whether it was on offense or defense.

That was evident on Tuesday during the first spring practice session of the season in the Indoor Practice Facility. During the first hour of the practice, fundamentals were prevalent and drills made to hold onto the football stood out.

And each of the Cowboy assistant coaches on the first day of practice wore shirts that had the phrase, “It’s All About the Ball” printed across the back.

“Knowing that we ended up last in the league (Mountain West Conference) in turnover margin a year ago, that means we didn’t protect the ball well enough on offense and we didn’t take it away enough on defense,” said Christensen. “So our emphasis this spring, and forever, will be to protect the ball when we have it and to take it away when we’re on defense. Turnover margin has the biggest influence on winning and losing games than any statistic I can think of.”

There were several drills intended to hang onto the football, including one where a player or coach wore boxing gloves and tried to knock the ball out of the ball carrier's hands. Other drills include a simple throw the ball onto the ground and have an offensive or defensive go for it. Once he secured the football on the ground, a coach would still try to dislodge the ball from him.

Tuesday's practice, the first of 15 spring practices, was a spirited, up-tempo workout that ran for two and one-half hours, and was conducted with no pads and helmets only.

“It’s exciting to finally be on the practice field,” Christensen said. “I was ready to go about three hours before practice, and I woke up about four this morning. It was good to get out here and get things rolling.

“I think the players understand what our tempo is going to be like in practice, and that we pay a lot of attention to detail. I thought we had a good tempo today, and we got a lot accomplished for the first practice. That’s not to say we don’t have a lot of room for improvement, and we have 14 more practices to improve.”

The first hour of Tuesday’s practice focused on fundamentals, with each position coach working with his players on individual techniques.

The second hour began with one-on-one work as the backs and receivers faced off in one-on-one passing drills against the linebackers and defensive backs, while the offensive and defensive linemen worked on pass-block and pass-rush techniques.

A team segment followed, including work on special teams. Then the offense and defense split up to work in groups. The defense working on rallying to the ball and installation of defensive formations. The offense focused on installing plays coming out from their own 20-yard line.

Offensive backs and receivers teamed up again to challenge the linebackers and defensive backs in seven-on-seven passing drills for a 20-minute period to conclude the group portion of the practice.

One of Christensen’s stated goals for his first spring as head coach of the Cowboys was to instill an attitude of competing in every single drill. He was pleased with what he saw in that regard the first day.

“I do believe building an atmosphere of competition in practice is key,” Christensen said. “We’ve designed our practices to enhance that competitive spirit. Particularly, when we get into our contact practices, there will be a winner and a loser in every drill. At the end of every game, someone is going to win and someone is going to lose, so in practice we want to work on teaching our guys to compete at a high level all the time.”

Due to the new spread offense not incorporating a fullback, two Cowboys have switched positions. Senior Greg Genho, who played fullback and H-back a year ago, will play tight end. Sophomore Josh Biezuns, who also was a fullback/H-back in 2008, has moved to outside linebacker.

It was announced by Christensen that sophomore quarterback Chris Stutzriem has decided to transfer from the University of Wyoming at the conclusion of the 2009 spring semester for personal reasons. While Stutzriem is no longer part of the Cowboy football program and is not practicing, he is remaining in school at UW to complete the spring semester. Stutzriem hopes to transfer to a school closer to his home in Oklahoma, and he hopes to continue playing college football.

“Chris (Stutzriem) has decided to leave our program,” said Christensen. “He had some personal things that were important for him to focus on at this time, and we wish him well in his future.”

In terms of players sharing repetitions in practice equally, Christensen said that players are sharing those reps equally right now due to the fact that he and his coaching staff don’t have a depth chart yet.

“The only thing my staff and I have to evaluate the players on thus far is the winter conditioning program and one practice,” he said. “I see everyone on the roster as equal right now, and we are giving everyone an opportunity to compete for a spot. That will probably not change until at least after the first scrimmage.”

Two Cowboys will be unable to compete in 2009 spring drills due to injury. Redshirt freshman defensive lineman Corey Orth had hernia surgery this past winter and will be out all spring. Matt Birkeness, another redshirt freshman, underwent surgery on his left shoulder after injuring it during winter strength training and will also miss spring drills. Two senior linebackers, Matt Barella and Zeb Whipp, will be limited in the amount of activity they will see this spring. Barella had shoulder surgery on his right shoulder at the conclusion of the 2008 season, and Whipp is dealing with chronic back pain.

Wyoming will return to the practice field again on Thursday in the second of two non-contact practices. The first practice in full pads will be Saturday.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Cowboys to begin spring drills

UW coach Dave Christensen

It will be the beginning of a new era in University of Wyoming football when first-year head coach Dave Christensen and his Cowboys start spring football drills on Tuesday, beginning at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday’s practice will be the first of 15 practices for the Cowboys in the spring. All practices will be open to the public.

Among the main goals for Christensen and his coaching staff as they enter their first year at UW are installing the offensive, defensive and special teams’ systems, evaluating personnel and increasing the level of competition in practice.

“The initial goal of any spring practice is to make sure all of our systems -- offense, defense, special teams -- get implemented,” said Christensen. “Secondly, spring is a key time for us, as coaches, to evaluate personnel and make sure we have a strong understanding of each of your players’ individual talents.

“Probably the biggest change we will implement this spring is to instill an attitude in our players that we want them competing in every single drill. We will also be making them aware that we will be placing a grade on their performance in every competitive drill. There will be a winner and a loser in every competition this spring and the players and coaches will know where everyone stands as spring practice progresses.”

The Wyoming offense will have a totally different look as Christensen brings in his spread offensive system that he was so successful with at Missouri. During Christensen’s time at Missouri, the Tigers were one of the most dynamic offensive teams in the country.

This past season, Mizzou ranked No. 4 in the NCAA in passing offense (330.4 yards per game), No. 6 in scoring offense (42.2 points per game) and No. 8 in total offense (484.1 yards per game). The Tigers concluded the 2008 season ranked No. 16 in the final USA Today Coaches’ Poll, No. 19 in the final Associated Press Media Poll and were No. 21 in the final BCS Rankings entering the college bowl season. Missouri defeated Northwestern, 30-23, in the 2008 Valero Alamo Bowl.

The 2007 season saw Missouri conclude the season ranked No. 4 in the final Associated Press poll. That was the highest season-ending ranking in school history for the Tigers. Mizzou finished the season by defeating Arkansas, 38-7, in the Cotton Bowl, giving the Tigers a school record 12th win on the season. His 2007 offense ranked No. 5 in the nation in total offense (490.3 yards per game), No. 8 in scoring offense (39.9 points per game) and No. 9 in passing offense (314.1 yards per game).

Wyoming’s offense will return eight starters this spring, that number includes three quarterbacks who shared the starting role in 2008. The returning starters include senior tight end Jesson Salyards, wide receivers Greg Bolling, a senior, David Leonard, a junior and Brandon Stewart, a sophomore; senior offensive tackle Ryan Otterson; junior offensive guard Sam Sterner; and sophomore offensive tackle Clayton Kirven. The three QBs who shared the starting role are Chris Stutzriem, a sophomore who started the final four games of the season, junior Dax Crum, who started the first five games in ‘08 and senior Karsten Sween, who started three games in the middle of the 2008 campaign.

Defensively, the Cowboys return eight of 11 starters from a unit that ranked 38th in the nation in total defense (allowing only 329.7 yards per game) and 31st in pass defense (giving up only 189.5 yards per game) last season. That defense will be led by second team All-Mountain West Conference selection John Fletcher at defensive tackle and honorable mention All-MWC performers Mitch Unrein at defensive end and Chris Prosinski at free safety. Seniors Fletcher and Unrein will be joined on the defensive line for the third straight season by fellow senior noseguard Fred Givens. Junior Prosinski will have by his side 2008 starting cornerbacks and brothers Marcell Gipson, a junior, and Tashaun Gipson, a sophomore.

Two of the Cowboys four starting linebackers also return in senior outside linebacker Weston Johnson and sophomore inside linebacker Gabe Knapton. Guiding the defensive unit will be Marty English, who takes over as defensive coordinator for the Pokes after serving as the Cowboys’ linebacker coach the past six seasons.

Also returning are sophomore punter Austin McCoy and place-kickers Jake Scott, a senior, and Nick Landess, a junior.

In addition to the eight starters returning on each side of the ball and the returning starters at punter and place-kicker, the Cowboy roster will include 44 returning lettermen -- 20 on offense, 21 on defense and 3 on special teams. A total of 19 lettermen were lost from last year’s team -- nine on offense and 10 on defense.

The Cowboys enter spring drills coming off six weeks of winter conditioning that led up to spring break the week prior to spring practice beginning. Christensen was impressed with his players work ethic during winter conditioning.

“I thought winter conditioning went extremely well,” said Christensen. “We tested our players every single Friday during the conditioning period -- 100 percent of our players improved their speed during the six weeks and 98 percent improved their strength testing.”

Christensen said he has relied on the senior class to lead the way during the winter program, and also is looking to them to continue to lead as he and his staff implement their philosophy of football.

“We have 20 seniors on this team, and they have done a great job of leading,” said Christensen. “I have met with them every Friday as a group to let them know how important they are in accomplishing our goals.

“Not only have they done an outstanding job leading in the weight room, but they are important in terms of helping communicate to the underclassmen our message and making sure everyone is on track with what is expected of them. They are also important in communicating back to us as coaches what the attitude of the team is. I couldn’t be more pleased with their attitude and work ethic.”