Fifth-year Wyoming head coach Dave Christensen was upbeat after his team's 8 a.m. practice. He was pleased with his team's focus and performance on Wednesday, while the Cowboys' fourth spring practice also marked the first in full pads for the Pokes.
"I was really excited about the physicalness and the thuds I heard out there today," said Christensen. "We made some noise, and we need that. I thought our kids came out and gave great effort today. Our tempo was better today. We're better than we were when we started spring ball, but I would say we're at about 70 percent of the pace at which I want us to play. I was real pleased with the attitudes of the kids. I think our mental errors were down today -- they're certainly not where we want them to be, but they were down from our previous practices. Now we'll go out Friday and scrimmage some at the end of that practice. We'll probably scrimmage about 25 to 30 plays. We'll decide as a staff what we think we need."
When asked about practicing outside for the first time this spring, Christensen replied, "We wanted to get outside. We needed to get out. We don't have any dome games this year. We want to get out as much as we can from this point forward."
Christensen was also asked if any players stood out in Wednesday's practice. Initially, he said it was hard to single out any players during practice as he was trying to watch elements of all of the drills, but then he commented, "Certainly Jordan Stanton stood out today. He made a couple thuds that rocked the stadium. I'm encouraged by that. We need more guys to hit like that. He needs to continue to work on learning his assignments. He played well against the run, but the run is 50 percent of it, he needs to learn to play well against the pass too.
"We have a lot of kids doing good things out there. We really don't have a depth (chart) at this point. We're still moving guys around, and letting guys battle for positions, creating competition. We'll slide a two in here and a two in there (to run with the No. 1 offensive and defensive units). There's just a lot of competition right now, which is what we want. Our offense ended up winning 45 to 40 today, and I thought there was a lot of good competition on both sides, so I like it from that standpoint."
The head coach was also encouraged by the improvement his team showed on Wednesday when compared to their first practice back from Easter break on Monday.
"I wasn't very happy on Monday, but I think I'm going to be pleasantly surprised today when I watch the tape," he said. "I thought it wasn't good enough on Monday, but I thought it was better today, and I think we'll be pleased when we break down the video this afternoon."
During the final three 11-on-11 periods, Cowboy quarterbacks Brett Smith and Jason Thompson both generated some big plays.
Smith completed passes of: 31 yards to wide receiver Keenan Montgomery; 20 yards to tight end J.D. Krill; and squeezed in a beautiful nine-yard TD pass to wide receiver Dominic Rufran in the front corner of the end zone.
Thompson completed a 21-yard TD pass to wide receiver Eric Nzeocha and a 45-yard strike to wide receiver Josh Smith down the middle of the field.
Senior quarterback Colby Kirkegaard also completed a 37-yard pass to Josh Smith earlier in the day's practice.
On the day, Smith completed 12 of 27 passes for 157 yards and one touchdown during 11-on-11 and 7-on-7 periods, leading the No. 1 offense vs. the No. 1 defense.
Thompson was 14 of 26 for 185 yards and threw one TD, guiding the No. 2 offense versus the No. 2 defense. Kirkegaard was 5 for 6 for 74 yards. Freshman quarterback Tommy Thornton was 3 of 7 for 28 yards.
The other two offensive touchdowns of the day were scored on the ground. Sophomore running backs Shaun Wick and D.J. May each scored a rushing touchdown.
Wick's came from nine yards out, and May's was on a one-yard TD run. True freshman running back Omar Stover was also given some reps with the No. 1 offensive unit.
The top receivers on the day were: junior Josh Smith (five receptions for 107 yards); junior Keenan Montgomery (five catches, 93 yards); redshirt freshman Eric Nzeocha (four receptions, 41 yards, 1 TD); and junior Justin Berger (three receptions, 39 yards). The other receiving touchdown was by junior Dominic Rufran (one reception, 9 yards, 1 TD).
There were no turnovers committed, but the Cowboy defense made several big plays of their own. Junior cornerback Blair Burns was credited with two pass breakups on the day.
Fellow junior corner DeAndre Jones also broke up a pass, as did senior cornerback Marqueston Huff.
Huff's pass breakup was nearly an interception, but junior wide receiver Trey Norman ripped the ball loose in the end zone to prevent the turnover.
Senior defensive tackle Patrick Mertens forced one fumble, but the fumble was recovered by the offense.
Following the practice, Burns was asked about he and his fellow returning starters in the secondary. Burns, Huff, and junior safeties Chad Reese and Darrenn White all started the second half of the 2012 season together and all return in 2013.
"Having everybody play together in the last half of the season, I think we all got a better feel for each other," said Burns. "We really didn't get to work with each other much during last spring, because people were playing different positions, like Darrenn (White) was playing corner at the time. But as the year went on and we started making those changes and everyone started settling into their spots, we began to get more comfortable with each other and started feeding off one another. We learned what plays each other could make and gained confidence in everyone being in the right position. Coming into this spring, I think it is going to help everyone a lot, having a better understanding of each other."
Burns also commented on what it means to him and his teammates to have 10-year NFL defensive back Renaldo Hill coaching the cornerbacks full-time this year after serving as a graduate assistant coach at Wyoming in 2012.
"He taught us a lot last year, and right now we are continuing to work on those things," said Burns. "Anytime you think you have done something as good as you can, there is always some way you can improve your technique and do it better. That is what he is trying to get across to us. You can always have your hands in a better spot, you can always shoot your hands faster. To have him out here as a full-time coach, not just a graduate assistant, to work with us one-on-one along with Coach (Chris) Tormey, who is working with the safeties, is benefitting us a lot.
"We can see how he's benefitted us every day in practice when we go against our offense. From the press skills he's taught us, to how to play off a receiver and break on the ball, to how we play when our backs are against our own end zone and how to use the short field to our advantage. He's brings all his years of experience as a player at the highest level to our practices and meetings every day. Sometimes when he first explains something to you, you might not understand exactly why he is teaching a particular concept to you. But when you see him demonstrate it and you see how it actually can give you an advantage, you realize he knows what he's talking about. If we can keep learning from him, and keep doing the things he wants us to do we should be a pretty good secondary."
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