LAS VEGAS - NOVEMBER 13: Phillip Payne (L) #4 of the UNLV Rebels runs into Tashaun Gipson #4 of the Wyoming Cowboys after Payne caught a 21-yard touchdown pass at Sam Boyd Stadium November 13 2010 in Las Vegas Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
We complete our defensive position preview here today with our look at the secondary. Last year this group had some new faces that provide some big plays. They did some lose experience but this still looks like a very seasoned group with big play potential across the board.
Let's take a look at how the roster shook up since last year. The updated depth chart is being released by the University on Monday. This is all based on the depth chart that was released after spring camp.
Tashaun Gipson - Graduated (Signed with the Cleveland Browns)
Eric Mitchell - Graduated
James Caraway - Graduated
Mark Nzeocha - Switched from linebacker
B.J. Hendrix - JUCO
Cortland Fort - Army Prep (HS)
Damian Greene - Grayshirt (will sign in 2013)
Cornerback 1: Blair Burns Backup: DeAndre Jones
Cornerback 2: Marqueston Huff Backup: Darrenn White
Free Safety: Luke Ruff Backup: Kenny Browder
Strong Safety: Mark Nzeocha Backup: Chad Reese
Nickel back: Andrew Meredith Backup: Luke Anderson
For the first time in five years there will not be anyone with the last name Gipson in the secondary for the Cowboys. Last year Tashaun spent time at cornerback and then moved to safety where his physical presence was needed. Now he is working to make the Cleveland Browns roster. The secondary continues to have a big Texas flavor to it. Half of the two deep went to school in the Lone Star State: Burns, Huff, Jones, Browder, Reese and Anderson.
Consider him a quick learner, last year Blair Burns impressed in fall camp as a true freshmen. By the fifth game of the year Burns was the #1 cornerback on the team and started the final nine games. He led the team with four interceptions and had 48 tackles. His impressive play earned him First Freshmen All-American honors by two publications and honorable mention on two others. It seemed like the interceptions by Burns always came at key moments. Two were against Bowling Green, one at the goal line versus TCU and his fourth INT secured the Cowboys victory in the Border War. Locked in as the top cornerback, the talented Burns is set for an impressive sophomore campaign.
A key contributor on special teams last year, DeAndre Jones is looking to see more playing time in 2012. As a freshmen Jones played in every game last year and had 11 tackles. He made a name for himself with his hard hits and laid out a key block on a Chris McNeill punt return for a touchdown.
Starting across from Burns is fellow Texan Marqueston Huff. Wyoming has a nice pipeline of players hailing from Texarkana and Huff was the first of the bunch. As freshmen Huff played nickel back and specials teams. Last year Huff moved to up the starting cornerback spot and played a huge role in the Pokes doing so well in turnover margin. His returned two fumble recoveries for touchdowns in victories over Bowling Green and Air Force. He also had three interceptions and 46 tackles.
Darrenn White played quarterback in high school and came to UW as an athlete. He used his redshirt in 2010 and then played a big role on the special forces last year. He played in all 13 games and totaled 13 tackles. Now White is the main backup to Huff and should see an even bigger role this year.
One of four team captains, senior Luke Ruff is also directs the secondary in the games. He was a tackling machine on the field with 102 in 13 starts. Recorded double digits tackles in five games. Earned Second Team All-Mountain West honors last year. Was named to the Lott Impact Trophy Watch List this summer. Ruff also works hard in the classroom with a 3.59 cumalative GPA as a civil engineering major. In 2010 Ruff had 27 tackles while mainly playing special forces but started the final two games at strong safety. Made a name for himself as a freshmen in 2009 when he a blocked a punt against Texas that Wyoming recovered for a touchdown.
Kenny Browder has had an up and down career at Wyoming. As a freshmen he played in every game and recorded 16 tackles while mainly playing special forces. As a sophomore Browder didn't really build on his strong freshmen campaign and seemed to lose focus. Still he finished with 11 tackles in 10 games. In 2011 Browder moved to cornerback from safety, due to some off the field issues he missed the first three games. He totaled 11 tackles while mainly playing special forces.
At 6-3 220lbs Mark Nzeocha is the largest player in the secondary, he is also one of the fastest. The only thing sophomore from Neusitz, Germany lacks is experience. He played 10 games last year at outside linebacker with 15 tackles and an interception. He looked more comfortable this spring after making the move to safety. His combination of size and speed makes him very helpful in pass protection and stopping the run.
In 2011 Chad Reese was one of several freshmen who contributed on special forces. That role will continue this year while Reese will also look for playing time at strong safety. He was a free safety last year. Reese has had a strong fall camp and has shown his big hit capability. He will be a contender for the starting spot at free safety next year when Ruff and Browder graduate.
With Chris Tormey in as defensive coordinator he introduced a official nickel back position to the depth chart. Previously this position was not used very often under Marty English. You can expect to see the nickel utilized fairly often by the Pokes this year. Andrew Meredith had a strong spring and benefited from a Luke Anderson injury to claim the starting spot after spring practice. Last year Meredith mainly played special teams and had five tackles in 13 games. Meredith played in the first two scrimmages but was wearing a walking boot for the third one. No update yet on his condition.
Anderson didn't participate in the spring scrimmages but has been healthy this fall. In 2011 Anderson was fifth on the team with 75 tackles. He also had two interceptions, one off of Kellen Moore that was returned for a touchdown. Would certainly not be surprised if Anderson was able to claim the starting spot at some point this year.
The two defensive backs that signed with Wyoming, actually did so after signing day. Wyoming had some athletes who committed and then changed their mind late in the process. Cortland Fort went to high school in California and then committed to Army. He went to their prep school last year but decided he wanted to attend school elsewhere. He comes to Laramie as a freshmen and four years of eligibility. Fort has had a nice camp and may see some special forces time this year. B.J. Hendrix is from Illinois and then went to a junior college in Minnesota for a year. Wyoming offered him in the spring and he committed after visiting. Hendrix has been banged up some this fall but did play in the final scrimmage.