Former Wyoming LB/nickel Jalen Ortiz likes replacements
LARAMIE, Wyo. (AP) — There might not be a better person to judge Wyoming’s strong-side linebacker/nickel back position than Jalen Ortiz. Ortiz is a defensive graduate assistant for Wyoming who works with that position. He also started there as a senior last year.
“So last year, him playing, he of course had to take care of his own things like that, so I couldn’t even use his brain then,” linebacker/nickel back Chavez Pownell Jr. said of Ortiz. “But now, it’s like I can use my abilities and I can use Jalen’s brain, too. And Tyler (Hall), too. We can both ask Jalen anything.”
So how does Ortiz think Wyoming looks at the position, now that he’s gone?
“I think that they’re both doing a great job, both Vez and T-Hall,” Ortiz said. “I think they were better than what I was last year. As far as replacing goes, I think it’s a great replacement. We’ve got two guys that I think are better than what I was last year. So it’s just great being able to assist them and help them in any way that I can. Because I just want to see them succeed out there.”
Hall was part of Wyoming’s starting rotation at cornerback last year but moved over to fill the vacancy left by Ortiz. Though it is a new position for him, he now has two full camps under his belt at the position.
“We have a lot of experience on the defensive side of the ball,” Hall told the Casper Star-Tribune, “so fall camp is even getting more fun, guys knowing where they need to be.”
At last month’s Mountain West Football Media Summit, Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl mentioned Hall when discussing the team’s leaders on defense.
“I think Tyler Hall’s a guy that no one’s really talked about here, they don’t know a lot about, but he’s going to be that type guy as well,” Bohl said. “And that comes about, I think when you have a good value system, but when you see yourself ... play well and you have confidence, those things spill over to other people.”
Hall, a junior, isn’t the only upperclassman at the position. Pownell, who came to Wyoming as a safety, adds depth as a fifth-year senior.
“Well, it’s nice to have two guys,” Bohl said. “Vez is a guy who’s worked really hard. . It’s important to him. This is his fifth year, and so a lot of football — while he’s not played a lot, he’s certainly been in our system. And there’s a maturity. He’s got a great attitude, and he’s certainly bringing excellent value to our team.”
Pownell put work in this offseason to improve his speed and coverage skills.
“I definitely strive on being physical, but I feel like after (directors of sports performance Ben Iannacchione and Eric Donoval) came in, I wanted to strive on being a speedster, too,” said Pownell, who missed part of fall camp with strep throat. “So now I just feel like I’m a complete player that’s a physical player and also that’s fast.
″... I don’t ever want to be in the box and people just look at me like, ‘Oh, he’s just a linebacker,’ or anything like that. I can cover, too.”
Assistant coach Mike Bath, who coaches Hall on kick returns, said he thought Hall probably identified more as a third cornerback than a linebacker in his new position. And Pownell said he and Adam Pilapil play more of the Sam spot while he and Hall play nickel. (Pilapil, a senior, provides depth at each linebacker spot and said he believes he’s the first linebacker off the bench.)
But Ortiz said the Cowboys will likely use the same personnel at the position the majority of the time, whether they’re in nickel coverage or not.
“We all know T-Hall’s great in coverage, but Vez is great in coverage as well,” Ortiz said. “I wouldn’t say he’s more of a run-down nickel. I think he’s improved in his man (coverage) a lot in the time from last year to this year. I think he’s made drastic improvements.”
However it plays out, it seems that each player is happy to fill whatever role is asked of him.
“I’m really just the guy who comes in where it’s needed at,” Pownell said. “I can play nickel. I can play Sam. It’s really wherever (defensive coordinator Scottie Hazelton) needs me at, that’s where I’m going to go play.”
And Ortiz isn’t the only one who is confident they will do a good job.
“I feel like we’re about to take a step forward,” Pownell said. “No knock on Jalen at all, but I feel like we’re about to take a step forward for that nickel position and that Sam spot. I feel like we have to get better. That’s the only thing we can do. Every year we have to get better. Every camp we have to get better.”
Information from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, http://www.trib.com