Laramie, Wyo. (March 28, 2012) -- After three days of limited contact to begin spring practice, the Wyoming Cowboys donned full pads for the first time this spring on Wednesday.
Wednesday's practice was also the first practice of spring that included live scrimmaging. The Pokes finished Wednesday's practice with approximately 60 plays from scrimmage.
Fourth-year head coach Dave Christensen had been looking forward to putting his team in more competitive and physical situations with the start of full-padded practices.
"It was difficult to get a lot of evaluation out of the first two practices since we were limited to non-padded practices," said Christensen. "On Monday, we got the guys in shoulder pads and were able to begin to evaluate a little bit better the physical nature of how our players practiced. Now that we have pads on the focus will be on competing, We'll score each scrimmage situation, and we'll score each of our competitive drills against one another. We want to create as many competitive situations as we can on the days we are in pads."
"We're putting in a lot of schemes in these early practices, and we've got some guys playing different spots, so there is a lot of learning going on. What we have to be able to do from practice to practice as coaches is to correct mistakes with players and make sure they are learning to do things the right way."
"On Wednesday, we mixed in some live scrimmaging in the second half of practice. We got about 32 reps in the scrimmage for our No. 1s and 2s for a total of a little over 60 plays."
One of the players who will see increased repetitions this spring is junior quarterback Colby Kirkegaard. With 2011 Mountain West Freshman of the Year Brett Smith being held out of any contact drills, Kirkegaard will have an opportunity to gain valuable experience.
"Colby (Kirkegaard) has made nice progress throughout last season and this spring," said Christensen. "I think he has gotten better each practice. This is a very valuable time for him to get all these reps with the No. 1 offense. The live scrimmage situations will provide vital experience for him. He won't be live in terms of the defense hitting him, but everything around him will be live. He will take all the reps with the No. 1 offense and a few of the reps with the second group."
Another area of the offense that Christensen is looking forward to seeing develop this spring is the receiving corps, which is minus senior Chris McNeill, who is recovering from an injury. The Cowboys return their top three receivers from 2011 in sophomore Dominic Rufran (44 receptions for 402 yards), junior Robert Herron (43 catches for 379 yards) and McNeill (42 receptions for 504 yards in nine games prior to suffering a season-ending injury). The three will provide a very balanced receiving corps this coming season, but the depth will be provided by a group of young players.
"We're playing a lot of young guys, but they continue to improve," said Christensen. "We have a senior in James Caraway, who has moved over from cornerback and is learning the position. Eric Nzeocha is a new freshman who joined us at semester. I think those guys pick up new things each day. Rufran and (Trey) Norman are young guys who played for us last year, and they are making good progress. Robert (Herron) has had a good camp. He needs to be more of an impact player for us next year. We need him to utilize his speed and gain us yards after the catch, but he's done well this spring. When we get Chris (McNeill) back, we will rely on him more, and then we have a couple young guys coming in this summer who we think may be able to help us next year."
The defense had the upper hand in Wednesday's scrimmage portion of practice, highlighted by two interceptions. Sophomore cornerback DeAndre Jones intercepted sophomore quarterback Josh Smith and returned the interception 29 yards. Junior linebacker J.J. Quinlan intercepted Kirkegaard and returned it 12 yards. The defense also recorded three sacks -- one by outside linebacker Todd Knight and two by defensive end Jeff Roueche.
"The defense won the scrimmage, dominated the scrimmage today, but that is to be expected as we're missing quite a few key offensive players," said Christensen. "The final score was something like 40-10, but when you throw interceptions those tally up points in a hurry. It was good work. We'll grade the film in the morning and watch it with the kids tomorrow afternoon. Then we'll make adjustments after that."
"Defensively, we were able to get some pressure on the quarterback and force some turnovers, which was huge and we want to continue to do that."
"I thought at times Colby (Kirkegaard) did a nice job of managing the offense. We had a some breakdowns up front in a couple situations. We had three or four penalties on the No. 1 offense, which was not good. They had some good things going and then had a penalty, so we've got to eliminate those penalties."
"I thought there were some good performances out there. I'll have a better idea tomorrow after we grade the film."
One of the bright spots in the first scrimmage was the kicking game. Sophomore place-kicker Daniel Sullivan was four of five on the day, including successful kicks of 42, 38, 42 and 30 yards. His only miss was a 33-yard attempt, but that miss followed a bad snap from center. Sophomore Stuart Williams connected on four of five, as well, making field goals of 42, 30 and 33 yards. His only miss came from 42 yards out.
"Daniel (Sullivan) did kick the ball extremely well, I think he only missed one time today," said Christensen. "He has been about 95 percent (successful) all spring. He went to a kicking camp over spring break and came back with a live leg. He's a lot more consistent and a lot more confident. Stuart (Williams) is hampered a little bit right now with a pulled hamstring."
Freshman punter Tim Gleeson also had a strong day. He punted four times for 46, 43, 42 and 78 yards.
"He (Tim Gleeson) punted well," said Christensen. "He's got a live leg. He's a young man who's got to continue to work on his fundamentals. When he gets more consistent with his drop, he'll be more consistent as a punter. Tim certainly has the leg strength, and even on the balls where he has bad mechanics the ball still sails pretty good. I feel good about getting him in here."
"I think it's been good for all of our kickers to get outside these first four practices."
Wyoming's next practice will be Friday, March 30.
"We'll have the same type of practice on Friday -- finish up with some scrimmaging -- so we'll be able to get another good evaluation in this week," said Christensen.
Wyoming's three full spring scrimmages will be held on: Wednesday, April 4; Wednesday, April 11; and Saturday, April 21, and will be open to the public.
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