Another month and come and gone and that means that it is time for another edition of the Mountain West Round Table. It is my turn to host and I'm very excited that this is the final edition before college football actually starts. We are on the verge of three straight days of Mountain West football games.
Our esteemed panel is back and we did things slightly different this time. Instead of debating over a topic I gave everyone the assignment of grading their teams fall camp in several categories: injuries, scrimmages, emerging players and off the field. This way you can get caught up how every team did during camp. Some of these were written a week ago and may not have have every injury listed. Most went with the standard A through F grade school scale but there was one unique grading system used. Can you guess now who came up their own measuring stick?
Here is our list of panel members for this month and in parentheses what team they covered:
Jeremy Mauss - Mountain West Connection (New Mexico and Air Force)
Kevan Lee - OBNUG (Boise State)
Matt "The Road" Hargleroad - Cowboy Altitude (Wyoming)
Ian Cunningham - Mountain West Connection (Colorado State)
Jacob McGhee - Mountain West Connection (UNLV
Ben Findley - Mountain West Connection (TCU)
Ian - CSU
CSU Fall Camp Wrap
This could be an A or down to a D even. The Rams current injuries are all leg injuries to the offensive line, it looks like 3 of the 4 will return and a possibility of all 4 playing in the opener. There were no injuries to return starters that are season ending or anything of that matter. Few players banged up here and there but its football.
Its hard to tell when you play yourself. If the defense does good, doesn't that mean the offense did bad? Vise verse? Steve Fairchild seemed happy with most of the scrimmages and even rewarded the team in the middle of camp with a shells and shorts day. So a B is the new answer. They are further along in the process just by having a returning QB.
Emerging Players: A
Hard to tell when you get your news from local sources that want to talk up their teams. It looks like freshman WR Lee Clubb and Charles Lovett will get playing time. They have been touted as being as consistent as the upperclassmen in a weak positions for the Rams. WR Marquise Law's name has started to pop up in the daily recaps more and more also. Rounding out the offensive players who could have a huge year is TE Crockett Gillmore. His size and speed is obviously the first thing one notices, look for him and Thomas to be best of friends down in the red zone. Gillmore is a big reason this is a A grade. Freshman LB Aaron Davis and safeties Trent Matthew, Austin Gray, and Kevin Pierre-Louis will see action also. None of the defensive players are looking like freshman all conference but who knows? Lovett or Clubb could surprise and grab one of those honors.
Off the Field: C
The Rams lost two players to academics, the bigger loss being RB/WR Tony Drake. Time will tell if he can get back on the field or not, but don't expect him this year. Ezra Thompson and Byron Steele broke some team rules but I would expect to see them at some point this year. Don't forget that stud LB Ricky Brewer was forced to sit out a year so Fairchild won't go light depending on the rule broken. Overall nothing major but if about 100 other guys can follow the rules and get good grades then I don't see why 5 players shouldn't be able to also.
BAMF Status: A
Pete Thomas and Mychal Sisson are still on the team and healthy. Sisson should be a first team all conference and Thomas should be the 3rd best QB behind Ryan Lindley and Kellen Moore. Which isn't bad for a sophomore since both those players will be on a NFL roster this time next year.
Coaching Moves: C
Only cause they are moving Larry Kerr up to the press box to see if he can not suck at calling plays from up there. It's not firing him but its a move at least.
Matt - Wyoming
Wyoming Fall Camp Wrap
There was a mixed bag of injuries this fall camp. LB Oliver Schober is out for the season after shoulder surgery and will use a medical redshirt. RB Nehemie Kankolongo and H-Back Bryson Studnicka will also miss the year due to injuries. The loss of Schober and Studnicka who were both starters were the biggest losses. Luckily Wyoming has plenty of depth at linebacker and they moved over a couple of defensive linemen to play H-Back. Wyoming still has four very good running backs so they are just fine in that department as well. Backup TE Spencer Bruce was having a strong camp but will miss the first two months.
There was actually some positive news on the recovery front. OL Daniel Fleischman was expected to miss the entire year after tearing his ACL in the spring. His recovery if way ahead of schedule and is practicing with the team. He may even play in the season opener against Weber State.
This year Coach Christensen planned for four scrimmages and a lot more live tackling in order to get the players ready for the season. Things progressed so well in the first three scrimmages that he actually canceled the fourth scrimmage. Missed tackles should not be a major issue like they were last year.
The #1 offense was the the best it has looked since the arrival of Coach Christensen. Yes it was just scrimmages but the last two years we always had to use the excuse "your defense is supposed to dominate the offense right away" when the offense sucked. There was alot more foreshadowing there then we realized. Brett Smith did a great job of leading the team and he has has a great backfield now. The #1 offense was certainly able to move the ball well against the #2 defense.
Meanwhile the #1 defense improved as camp went along and really looks like they can throw some different look out on the field now. Korey Jones is a hyrbid LB/DE and will line up on the line or further back. They were able to actually apply pressure to the quarterback instead of last years strategy of having four linemen barely penetrate the line of scrimmage.
Emerging Players: A-
The most important thing is that Wyoming has true #1 QB is his name is Brett Smith. That was the biggest question heading into camp and Smith dominated the competition. He was 48 of 65 for 563 passing yards and threw five touchdowns with just one pick. He was a four year starter in high school and enrolled early at Wyoming. RB Brandon Miller proved that he is for real and is still competing with Alvester Alexander for the top spot at running back. DE Mark Willis suffered a knee injury last year after six games and missed spring workouts. He was dominant this fall and will be a key backup at defensive end now.
A large number of freshmen stepped up and will contribute right away. At wide receiver Dominic Ruffran, Trey Norman and Josh Doctson should all play this year. CB Blair Burns earned himself the #3 CB spot and will be the first corner off the bench. RB Kody Sutton is small but very fun to watch run the ball. He should get some carries this year as well as be an option in the return game.
Off the Field: A+
There were no off the field incidents or suspensions that I am aware of now. Seems everyone is on the same page and taking everything seriously. No one has been dismissed from the team or left during fall camp.
Edit - Woops!!! I wrote that to soon. On Monday it was announced that three players were suspended for violation of team rules. Backup safety and starting TE T.J. Smith will miss the season opener. Meanwhile starting starting free safety Kenny Browder was suspended indefinitely after being arrested this weekend for an alleged DUI and underage drinking. Have to regrade this Off the Field: C- now.
Jacob - UNLV
UNLV Fall Camp Wrap
One of the biggest story lines for the Rebels this fall camp was Phillip Payne's broken foot. Payne broke it back in June and as a result was going to have to miss most of fall camp. That definitely worries me since the Rebels are breaking in a new quarterback in Caleb Herring and the chemistry quite simply won't be there between Herring and Payne when September 1st rolls around. The good news is that the ankle is almost completely healed up and Coach Hauck has said that Payne will be starting in Madison.
On another note, the lack of injuries this fall was spectacular. Last season, UNLV lost somewhere between 20-25 players to fall camp injuries. That is a ton of injuries that really hurt the team's chances of being on the same page to start the season. This season we lost three to injury, and if you don't include Phillip Payne's ankle, none of the projected starters were injured. You can give credit for that to Mike Gerber's strength and conditioning program which was instituted a year ago and has definitely improved the players' ability to avoid injuries.
By far and away the biggest storyline for UNLV heading into fall camp was who was going to replace three year starter Omar Clayton. Caleb Herring was to have no competition for the starting job until JUCO recruit Sean Reilly signed with the Rebels. Herring shined in scrimmages while Reilly faltered and the quarterback race became clear as to who was the favorite to win.
Most of the time it's a great scrimmage when you see your quarterback go 5-5 for 74 yards and a touchdown throw, and that's exactly what Caleb Herring did in UNLV's scrimmage last Saturday, but the problem was that Herring throwing the football was the only thing that was working. The first team offense struggled to run the ball against a relatively weak defensive line and the unit wouldn't have scored had it been for Herring's spectacular performance.
On the flip side, UNLV's run defense certainly looked improved with more size, strength, and athleticism in the front seven, but it could have just looked that way since the Rebels running game isn't all that good. Overall, the only thing that truly looked good in the scrimmages was the passing game and the run defense.
Emerging Players: A
UNLV had a lot of great players emerge this fall camp, most of them coming from the offense. In particular, one of our JUCO recruits from this past year's recruiting class, Chase Lanford, has definitely seemed like a suitable replacement from departing punter Brendon Lamers. Lamers only averaged about 35 yards per punt last season and in camp, Lanford booted punts as far as 60 yards.
As well as an emerging punter, UNLV has Bradley Randle moving up the ranks at Running Back, Marcus Sullivan and Taylor Spencer competing for legitimate playing time at Wide Receiver and Cameron Jefferson playing quite well at Left Tackle.