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.”

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