Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Ball security key for Cowboys

by Wyoming Sports.org

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.

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