LAS VEGAS - NOVEMBER 13: T.J. Smith #83 of the Wyoming Cowboys catches a 32-yard touchdown pass in front of Mike Grant #25 of the UNLV Rebels during their game at Sam Boyd Stadium November 13 2010 in Las Vegas Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Now we'll take at the wide receiver unit for the Cowboys in 2012. While six receivers are gone from the 2011 roster, only two of those got significant playing time last year. Only three of the six even saw the field.
Mazi Ogbonna - Graduated
DeJay Lester - Graduated
Jonathan Aiken - Failed to qualify
Josh Doctson - Transferred to TCU (walk on)
Kevin Robertson - Transfer
C.J. Morgan - Transfer
James Caraway - Switched from defensive back
Josh Smith - Switched from quarterback
WR1 Starter: Dominic Rufran Backup: Eric Nzeocha
WR2 Starter: Robert Herron Backup: James Caraway
WR4 Starter: Trey Norman Backup: Josh Smith
The goal for Coach Christensen has been to have a quality rotation of eight receivers he can use in the spread. This may be the year he finally reaches that mark. This group is filled with quality athletes and will have plenty of depth and competition. It isn't necessarily loaded with superstars, but there is not a big drop-off in talent as you progress through the ranks.
The top four starters are certainly in good shape entering fall practice to keep those positions. The competition behind them will be intense with at least 10 players competing for those second spots.
Three of the four starters got significant playing time last year. That group of Herron, McNeill and Rufran all had at least 40 catches last year. This group has a nice mix of veteran upperclassmen and improving underclassmen.
As a freshmen Dominic Rufran made some noise in fall practice and was able to earn a starting spot right away. He started the season off with a bang but seemed to get worn down a bit as the season progressed. That can happen fairly often with players who are just out of high school and adjusting to the work load and hectic schedule. Rufran still finished with 44 catches for 402 yards and touchdowns. He wasn't a big scoring threat but he is very dangerous in the open field and turned some short catches into big gains.
In 2012 it looks like Rufran is ready to take a big step up in his sophomore year. During the spring game he led the team with six catches for 112 yards and one touchdown. He is also looking to make his mark in the return game as well. Last year he handled 17 kickoff returns with a long of 44 yards and an average of 21.7.
This is year that I think everything is going to click for Robert Herron. As a freshmen he spent time at running back and receiver. He had problems with dropping passes and then had a serious concussion suffered in the UNLV game that ended his season. As a sophomore he switched to receiver full time and had a huge season opener with seven catches for 104 yards and two touchdowns. He never exceeded 43 receiving yards in a game for the rest of the season. In the offseason Herron has been able to add plenty of muscle but still maintain his speed. He is still one of the fastest players on the team and he is due for a breakout season.
Chris McNeill was having the best season of his career when he injured his shoulder in the win against Air Force. Despite only playing in nine games McNeill still led the Pokes with 504 receiving yards. He was on pace to break 700 yards for the year. The Cowboy offense struggled in the remaining games with McNeill out. The injury was severe enough that he was unable to take part in spring drills. He is fully healthy now and there have reports that he looks great catching the ball right now. As a senior you can fully expect for McNeill to make the most of his final year. He had some great chemistry with Brett Smith and that should only improve going forward.
Trey Norman would have been best served by redshirting as a freshmen. However the Pokes didn't have the luxury of giving him a year to sit and learn. Norman didn't do much at the beginning of the season but later he was able to get some time handling kick returns. He only caught two passes for 14 total yards as a receiver. One of several players from Texarkana, Norman played quarterback in high school and was recruited to Wyoming as a receiver. This spring he finally had a chance to get more reps and receiver and was able to make the most of it. He is getting better understanding of his new position and improved his route running. In the spring game he caught three passes for 52 yards and a touchdown. Will continue to return kickoffs this year along side Dominic Rufran.
By enrolling in January Eric Nzeocha was able to spend some time getting used to a new school, new team and a new country. The younger brother of safety Mark Nzeocha, Eric is the first German player signed by the Cowboys on the offensive side. Listed at 6-1 200lbs Eric was able to use those valuable spring practices to learn the offense and the speed of the American game. While he only caught one pass in the spring game, he had better performances in the earlier scrimmages.
Recruited as a running back by Joe Glenn, James Caraway switched to defensive back under Coach Christensen after his freshmen year. Now a senior Caraway is making another position switch and is now a receiver. This should hopefully allow him to get some more playing time. During the spring he was very consistent and caught a number of passes but never put up huge yards. He certainly seems to have all the makings of a quality possession receiver. Though he is new to the position, adding another senior to this group should hopefully help the younger players get acclimated.
At 6-5 225 Spencer Bruce is really a tight end but Wyoming listed him as a receiver on the depth chart. The big fellas haven't gotten much to shine in the spread offense so far. Bruce caught three passes in 2011, the best of which was a 15 yard touchdown in the win over UNLV. He made some nice plays this spring and is leading the group of other tight ends that consists of Shane Sullivan and T.J. Smith.
What a crazy trip it has been for Josh Smith. After taking a couple years off after high school, Smith came to Wyoming as a walk-on quarterback. He spent his first two years getting sporadic snaps in practice yet kept working hard. This spring he spent some time at QB while also learning his new position of wide receiver. At 6-3 209lbs Smith is strong and willing to do whatever it takes to play. He made some very nice catches this spring and also dealt out some punishing blocks. He was awarded a scholarship this spring due to his hard work and dedication.
THE NEW GUYS
The crown jewel of the 2012 recruiting class was Trent Sewell from Bothell HS in Washington. The top ranked receiver in the state, Sewell committed in December and that kind of opened up the flood gates of Washington commits for the Cowboys. At 6-2 205lbs you really have the complete package with Sewell: size, speed, strength hands and toughness. Some have said if he wasn't a receiver he would make a great boxer. Of the freshmen group he is certainly the one that in expected the make the biggest impact this year. It will be fun to finally watch him suit up.
The Cowboys lost a tall receiver in Josh Doctson but they gain a stronger one in 6-3 200lb Nico Brown. Wyoming fans seem to have a love affair with tall receivers and Brown has plenty of fans already. The freshmen from Leander, TX will certainly will be someone to keep a close eye on this fall.
Wyoming had a scholarship open left for the 2012 recruiting class and it was finally used this summer. Jake Maulhardt originally committed to Boise State but had his offer pulled late when their OC left for Texas. Maulhardt didn't sign right away and decided to look around for a bit. He decided to walk-on at Louisiana Tech originally. When Wyoming came calling with a scholarship offer Maulhaurt signed in June. In case you didn't know he also stands 6-6 200lbs and set a California HS record with 28 receptions (351 yards) in one game. It will be fun to watch how the Cowboys plan use him in the offense. He obviously presents a huge mismatch, yet another tall receiver for Pokes fans.