LARAMIE – A redshirt freshman and a senior walk-on have emerged as starters for the University of Wyoming football team.
UW released its first depth chart Monday since the start of fall camp on Aug. 2. Barring injury or anything else odd, the pecking order will remain intact leading up to the Cowboys’ Aug. 31 season-opener against Missouri at Jonah Field at War Memorial Stadium.
Redshirt freshman Rome Weber beat out junior Braden Smith as the starter at free safety. Senior walk-on punter Ryan Galovich was named the starter over junior Tim Zaleski, who is coming off a torn ACL in his left knee suffered last season.
UW scrimmaged Saturday, which went a long way toward determining the depth chart.
“It has been a good battle between (Weber and Smith),” sixth-year UW coach Craig Bohl said. “(Weber) has been making plays and came out (in the scrimmage) and played well.”
Smith was hampered by a hamstring injury during camp, but Bohl said in recent days he was healthy and getting practice reps.
“Both will play,” Bohl said. “We’re encouraged where we are at, and really encouraged what Rome has done.”
Added UW defensive coordinator Jake Dickert about Weber: “You can see the game slowing down for him a little bit. There are not as many mental busts. He can make plays, he can cover guys in the slot. We’ve started to see him doing those things, but at same time, he’s a freshman, and there will be freshman mistakes. That is not to speak bad of what Braden has done.”
Dickert added he was pleased to see sophomore Keyon Blankenbaker earn the starting job at nickel. Blankenbaker was the projected starter entering camp, but missed nearly all of spring with a hamstring injury. Blankenbaker’s backup is true freshman Allen Smith.
Dickert and Bohl said they feel good about their two backup linebackers in sophomore Chad Muma and senior Ben Wisdorf of Cheyenne. Both can play in the middle or outside. Redshirt freshman Chuck Hicks and true freshman Easton Gibbs continue to battle to see who will be UW’s fifth and sixth linebackers.
Galovich has been the most consistent punter for UW during camp. Zaleski’s knee continues to be sore, as he is less than a year out of surgery.
One of the more competitive position battles on offense was left guard between sophomore Patrick Arnold and Eric Abojei. Arnold got the starting nod. Arnold moved from center to guard during camp, and still takes center reps in practice. But UW lists true freshman Latrell Bible as the backup behind sophomore Keegan Cryder.
There were no notable changes among the starters on offense. However, true freshman Titus Swen has earned his way into some playing time at running back behind sophomore starter Xazavian Valladay and senior graduate transfer Trey Smith of Louisville. Smith and Swen are listed as “or” in terms of the backup behind Valladay.
Swen should get more reps over the final week of camp because Smith suffered a concussion in the scrimmage and is in concussion protocol.
“In high school, we saw a guy who had good speed, ran angry and could be physical, although shorter in stature. He was well put together,” UW offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Brent Vigen said about the 5-foot-11, 190-pound Swen. “You never know until you start tackling how well guys can break tackles and make guys miss in open space, and he’s done that on occasion. He’s also a willing and able pass protector. We will keep feeding him reps to get him comfortable in all facets.”
Junior Skyler Miller earned the starting job at fullback over senior Jaylon Watson. Miller was moved from linebacker during the spring.
Sophomore Azizi Hearn, a transfer from Arizona who joined the team this summer, earned a backup spot at cornerback behind senior Antonio Hull. Redshirt freshmen Leevi Lafaele and Solomon Byrd are the backups at defensive end behind senior Josiah Hall and junior Garrett Crall.
Hull and senior cornerback Tyler Hall are listed as UW’s top two kickoff returners. Senior wide receiver Austin Conway and sophomore wide receiver Dontae Crow of Sheridan are the top two punt returners, respectively.
Bohl said UW ran “100-plus” plays during Saturday’s scrimmage, which was closed to the public and media.
Bohl said senior wide receiver Raghib Ismail Jr. caught a long touchdown pass and “broke away from people.” Bohl has praised the play of true freshman tight end Treyton Welch throughout camp, and said he made a contested catch in the scrimmage, and that UW plans to play Welch this season.
Bohl also said redshirt freshman nose tackle Cole Godbout was “disruptive,” and has exceeded the coaches’ expectations at this point. Godbout is listed as the backup behind redshirt freshman Mario Mora.
As for the quarterbacks, Bohl said redshirt freshman starter Sean Chambers and sophomore backup Tyler Vander Waal both made good decisions, and he was pleased with their completion percentages. Vigen said Vander Waal threw an interception.
“I thought they both had solid efforts,” Vigen said. “Sean had fewer opportunities for big plays, but made good decisions. Tyler had more of those opportunities, and made a couple. Both are still moving forward.”
Bohl said senior middle linebacker Logan Wilson of Casper didn’t participate so other guys could get reps. UW’s two starting offensive tackles – junior Alonzo Velasquez and sophomore Rudy Stofer – also didn’t play. Velazquez was out as a precaution coming off a knee injury. Stofer was absent because he attended his sister’s wedding.
Bohl said redshirt freshman offensive tackle Frank Crum of Laramie did a good job in the scrimmage, and is listed as the backup behind Stofer at left tackle.
Redshirt freshman offensive guard Blayne Baker of Sheridan is in concussion protocol.
Five UW players were recognized by profootballfocus.com for preseason All-Mountain West honors.
Senior strong safety Alijah Halliburton made the first team as a flex defender. Wilson, Hall and Cryder earned second team honors. Chambers was an honorable mention selection.
Former UW running back Nico Evans is back in Laramie training with UW’s strength and conditioning staff.
Evans led the MW in rushing last season as a senior with 1,325 yards, and also had eight touchdowns in 10 games. Evans wasn’t taken in the NFL draft, and was cut by the Philadelphia Eagles in May as an undrafted free agent.
The Cowboys hold their 16th practice of fall camp at 9:30 a.m. today in shoulder pads and helmets.