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April 1, 2013Following a weekend off for the Easter holiday, the Wyoming Cowboy football team returned for an 8 a.m. practice on Monday in the University of Wyoming Indoor Practice Facility.
It was the first practice of the spring in which the Cowboys donned shoulder pads. Wyoming will practice for the first time in full pads this coming Wednesday.
Wyoming's passing game was on display Monday, as the combination of experienced receivers and junior quarterback Brett Smith connected on some deep balls during the two hour and 30-minute practice.
The first play of Monday's initial 11-on-11 period saw Smith connect with senior wide receiver Robert Herron on a 58-yard touchdown. Late in Monday's practice, Smith and junior wideout Trey Norman also connected on a 75-yard TD pass during another 11-on-11 period. The experience and explosiveness of the Cowboy receivers was something Smith was happy to talk about at the conclusion of practice.
"It felt good to hit a couple deep ones today, particularly to Trey (Norman) cause he runs those deep routes really well," said Smith. "I found him open, and it was great to execute that to a T.
"It helps a lot (to have experienced receivers) because everybody knows the playbook, the guys all know what they're doing and when they see a certain coverage they're able to adjust on the fly."
Senior Herron, junior Norman and juniors Dominic Rufran and Jalen Claiborne all have starting experience and all obviously have the confidence of their quarterback.
"They all have different talents," added Smith. "Rob (Robert Herron) is obviously very explosive. He's ran like a 4.2 (40-yard dash). He has unbelievable speed. I think they each have certain characteristics that differentiate themselves, but at the same time they're all good receivers and that's all that matters to me."
On the defensive side of the ball, junior strong safety Chad Reese intercepted Smith once during the initial 11-on-11 series. A year ago, Reese led Wyoming with three interceptions on the season, intercepting passes versus Boise State, Colorado State and San Diego State. He returned those three interceptions last season for a combined 127 yards.
Wyoming head coach Dave Christensen took questions from media after the morning practice and was asked to comment on where the Pokes were at after just three spring practices.
"We hit a little bit today, and we're looking forward to hitting a lot more now that we'll be in pads for the rest of the spring," said Christensen. "There were some good things again today. Certainly there are a lot of things we need to work on. We continue to try and quicken the pace of practice. We scripted 128 plays the other day and today we had more -- about 140 plays. We need to work on pushing ourselves when we're tired, and we need to continue to play faster."
While the receiving unit is filled with experience, the offensive line unit is searching for three new starters. Monday saw a number of different players working at different positions.
Wyoming returns both its starting guards in senior Tyler Strong, at left guard, and sophomore Jake Jones, at right guard. But the Cowboy coaching staff is looking to replace three senior starters from a year ago in First Team All-Mountain West center Nick Carlson and offensive tackles Josh Leonard and Kyle Magnuson.
Thus far in spring practice, the Cowboy coaching staff has been experimenting with different combinations in the offensive line. Christensen commented on Monday how he and his staff will handle that process as spring practice progresses.
"We've got to get better up front (on the offensive line) -- get more physical, get our assignments down," said Christensen. "This is the time of year to experiment, test things out, see what works best and then start honing in on specific things as we get further into spring. We need to start locking some guys down at some positions and keep them there."
Offensive tackles Austin Traphagan, Connor Rains and Walker Madden were all seen rotating with the No. 1 offensive unit on Monday. Traphagan, a sophomore from Yuma, Colo., also saw some time at left offensive guard on Monday, as returning starter Strong has been limited thus far in spring drills due to injury.
Traphagan started one game a year ago (versus Boise State) at right tackle for an injured Magnuson. Rains and Madden both redshirted last season after transferring from junior colleges.
Rains transferred from American River Community College in Sacramento, Calif. Madden transferred from College of the Desert in Palm Desert, Calif. Both enter the 2013 season as redshirt juniors.
All three possess impressive physical size. Traphagan is 6-5, 308 pounds. Rains is 6-7 and 318 pounds, and Madden measures 6-9 and 280.
A number of players were seen rotating at the offensive center spot on Monday. Among them were: Rafe Kiely, a sophomore from Wheaton, Ill.; Carson Kass, a sophomore from Naches, Wash.; Skyler Hinton, a junior from Columbia, Mo.; and Austin Tixier, a redshirt freshman from Mount Prospect, Ill., who originally came to UW as a defensive lineman a year ago.
Another player who will compete for the starting center position in the fall will be junior-college transfer Albert Perez, who was a two-year starter at East Los Angeles Community College in Los Angeles, Calif. Perez will not be on campus until this summer.
"We are first trying to find out if we have a snapper currently in camp," said Christensen. "We of course have a guy coming in this fall -- a JC player in Albert Perez. Unless something changes drastically, he has a pretty good chance of coming in here and being the starting center. The guys here have to do a better job of snapping the ball accurately. If you can't snap the ball accurately and consistently, you can't play at that position."
While the Cowboys began to transition into contact drills on Monday, that transition will continue to elevate throughout this second week of spring with the players donning full pads on Wednesday. Friday's practice will include a limited scrimmage session.
"We'll liven up a few things in practice on Wednesday (April 3)," said Christensen. "Then we'll probably get 20 to 25 live plays in on Friday (April 5), and we'll have a big scrimmage next Wednesday (April 10)."