LARAMIE – The Wyoming Cowboys completed the first third of their 2017 spring practice schedule on Thursday with the fifth of 15 spring practices being held in War Memorial Stadium.
The Cowboy defense came from behind in a two-period scrimmage that focused on third-down situations. After the offense took an early lead, the defense won six of the 11 possessions contested during the situational scrimmage. But unfortunately, one of the Cowboys’ defensive stalwarts the past two seasons, junior free safety Andrew Wingard, injured a hand during Thursday’s practice.
Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl conducted a post-practice press conference with media to talk about Thursday’s late afternoon practice.
“I thought it took us awhile today to get up to speed, but as practice went along I thought they adapted pretty well, “ said Bohl. “We had a third-down scrimmage that was indicative of the day’s practice. I was really pleased with the offensive production early in the scrimmage, and the defense came back and had some good plays. We did sustain a pretty significant injury today. I think Andrew Wingard broke his hand. We’ll get confirmation on that tomorrow, but I would say there is a great likelihood that he will likely miss the rest of spring, which is disappointing, but it’s where it is.”
Bohl was asked with safety Anthony Makransky already out after suffering a torn achilles tendon last week, and now with Wingard’s injury how important it is for some other individuals to step forward at the safety position.
“It always gives an opportunity for more repetitions for some younger players,” said Bohl. “Alijah Halliburton and Josh Boyd are two guys who are going to mix in there. Somebody like Riley Sessions from Sheridan is going to get more repetitions. While it is very disappointing that we will probably lose Andrew (Wingard) for the rest of spring, it’s going to give an opportunity for some younger players.”
Bohl also shared his impressions of several other position groups’ performances during Thursday’s two-and-a-half hour practice.
“I think we’re doing a good job is some aspects of the kicking game,” said Bohl. “I thought Cooper (Rothe) really struck the ball well today, so that was encouraging.
“The quarterbacks were a little bit of a mixed bag, and we’re going to need to continue to improve there. We do some exceptional things with the ball, but then at times we need to make sure we take care of the ball better. Our outside receivers are catching the ball well. I think our tight ends need to come on a little bit. I think the running back position is looking pretty solid.”
One of those defensive playmakers leading the way and forcing the offense to give up the ball during Thursday’s practice was senior cornerback Rico Gafford, who intercepted two passes, taking one back 50 yards for a touchdown.
“Rico (Gafford) was not able to go through spring football last year, but he came on to start for us throughout last season,” said Bohl. “He did some good things last fall, while still learning. He’s got a little bit of a strained calf muscle, but he’s overcome that. He has good ability and made a couple nice picks today.”
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Asked if it was typical for the offense or the defense to be ahead of one another at this stage of spring practice, Bohl responded, “Typically, when you get really good as a program the offense has a hard time moving the ball against the defense in the spring. That has been my experience. I wouldn’t say we’re there yet, but I have seen some signs of more play-making ability (on defense).
“A guy like Logan Wilson has been around the football an awful lot. Youhanna Ghaifan is doing some good things. I think we’re getting some good play out of our corners, as well. I’m encouraged there, but I would like to see a little bit more dominant defensive play — that’s probably because I’m an old defensive coach.”
In terms of the receivers who go up against Wyoming’s experienced secondary every day in practice, Bohl was asked where he feels his receiving corps’ progression is at this point of spring practice.
“C.J. (Johnson) has been pretty consistent, but I think the guy who has probably made the most progress is James Price,” said Bohl. “He’s picked up a step in the 40 (yard dash) over the winter. He’s understanding how to play receiver better. His releases are looking better. He’s doing a good job of going out and catching contested balls, and he’s a big, strong guy. I think Austin Conway has continued to make strides, as well, and John Okwoli missed today because he had a sprained ankle, but he’s done some good things.”
A player who joined the wide receiver group this week was former walk-on quarterback Isaac Leppke. The head coach was asked what went into the decision to move Leppke to receiver.
“Isaac (Leppke) has excellent speed, and we thought he was fairly allusive last fall at quarterback,” said Bohl. “We looked at his skill set, and typically some of the best people in terms of hand-eye coordination are quarterbacks, so they have the skill to catch the ball. We thought it would be a pretty easy transition, and we feel like he’s going to be able to help our football team earlier at the wide receiver position as opposed to quarterback.”
On a more personal note, the fourth-year Cowboy head coach was asked what it is like to have his son Aaron Bohl on the Wyoming staff as a graduate assistant coach for the first time this spring.
“Quite frankly, most of the time I don’t even think about it. We’re all coaching,” said the elder Bohl. “Then every once in awhile I’ll recognize, ‘wait a minute, that’s my son over there.’ I’ve really tried to empower our defensive coaches to make sure that he’s doing the things he needs to as a graduate assistant. And I trust those guys to the point where I know they’re doing a good job of mentoring him. Several members of our staff have known Aaron for a long time. I told him I’m going to stay out of his hair, but if there’s only 10 guys out on the scout team he’s probably going to hear from me.”
As the Cowboys prepare for their next practice on Saturday, Bohl was questioned about whether Saturday’s practice would incorporate anything new.
“We’re trying to do some more competitive things each practice,” said Bohl. “Saturday’s practice will likely have a similar makeup as today’s. It won’t be a full, all-out scrimmage. The first all-out scrimmage I think will be up in Casper.”
This Saturday’s practice will conclude Week Two of spring ball.
The first spring scrimmage in Casper that Bohl mentioned is scheduled for April 8, a week from this Saturday, at 1 p.m. on Cheney Field at Natrona County High School.