LARAMIE, Wyo. (AP) — When asked about his motivation for running a more physical camp this fall, Craig Bohl did not beat around the bush.
“We need to run the ball better,” the Wyoming head coach said.
Only five teams averaged fewer yards per rush than the Cowboys did last year (3.17). For the early parts of camp, though, Wyoming’s two leading rushers from 2017 have not been able to go full-contact in practice; Kellen Overstreet and Trey Woods are both recovering from shoulder injuries and are expected to be in non-contact jerseys until the third week of camp.
“We brought in eight guys for camp, and we usually don’t do that,” running backs coach Gordie Haug said. “So for us to work those guys in and stay focused and all those different kinds of things (is important).”
That depth is significant, considering the Cowboys were eventually down to two healthy backs in spring. In fall, they’ve all been getting an opportunity to show what they can do.
True freshman Jevon Bigelow appears to have taken advantage. Bohl said he and redshirt freshman Xazavian Valladay had separated themselves in terms of the younger backs. Wyoming recruited Bigelow, a 6-foot-2 signee out of Fresno, California, because he possesses the natural size for a power run game.
“So the physicality isn’t so much of a difficult problem,” Bigelow told the Casper Star-Tribune. “It’s more the speed of the game that’s really different than high school.”
Ideally, he could fit the Wyoming prototype for running backs under Bohl, all-time leading rusher Brian Hill.
“Finding those bigger backs that can gain some weight and have really good feet and explosion, you feel good about it,” said Haug, who is also Wyoming’s director of player personnel, “and now they’re able to make plays because they can bounce off tackles.”
Theo Dawson is also in his first camp at Wyoming, following a two-year mission out of Jackson High School.
“My first day I was actually surprised,” Dawson said. “I actually felt pretty good. And then obviously with the wear and tear, it gets hard some days. ... Even the first day, realizing that I wasn’t cutting as hard as I need to be. Everything was a little slower than what I thought I was in high school, so I’m every day just trying to pick that up from where I was.”
Wyoming’s third true freshman running back, Reow Jackson, had his camp cut short with what is believed to be an Achilles tendon injury. Jackson played quarterback and linebacker in high school, and Wyoming was the only school to recruit him as a running back.
“I think the ball in his hand, he was just natural with it,” Haug said. “He had a good change of direction, he’s explosive. Speed-wise, we knew that was something that showed on tape, so being able to get a big dude that’s 6-2, pack some weight on and just being able to say, ‘He looks pretty good with the ball in his hand.’”
Bohl had said Wyoming anticipated redshirting Jackson.
Even Haug is new to the group, as he took over coaching the tailbacks this offseason, with previous running backs coach Mike Bath taking on the tight ends and fullbacks. Haug has coached running backs in the past, though, at North Dakota State and Bemidji State.
“I don’t think there’s any pressure,” he said. “Now, I preach competition, and every single day has got to be a day, because I go through who’s going to be the starter every day, and being able to really preach that is going to be an important deal.”
On the other end of the spectrum, Nico Evans is a senior looking to make the most of one last season. A co-starter out of spring, Evans found success last year as Wyoming’s third-down back and off returner on kick-offs. This year, though, he’s been explicit about trying to carve out a larger role.
“No one on this team wants one role,” Evans said. “They want to be able to show that they can do everything. There are a lot of people on this team that have the talent to do so, and I feel like I’m one of those people.”
Soon enough, Overstreet and Woods will return. That’s a pleasant surprise in Woods’ case, as Wyoming initially thought his injury would keep him out all season.
“Even with them, upper body wise, not being able to do stuff in the weight room, they did a lot of stuff with their lower half,” Haug said. “So, it’s shown up on the field and in drills and things that they’ve gotten faster, change of direction is better, the weight is better. The things that we really needed those guys to do they did, with the extent of having that shoulder injury.
“So I think keeping them focused, now seeing these younger guys kind of progress, keeping them hungry, there’s going to be a competition for playing time for sure.”
Whoever ends up carrying the ball will have watchful eyes on them.
“To say how the running backs are and how we need to run the ball harder and faster and better, we’ve made such an improvement since last year from the spring, and we’ve carried it to this fall camp,” Evans said. “We have a really special group here. Yeah, we need to improve on running the ball, but I think we’re taking steps in the right direction.”
Information from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, http://www.trib.com