Hot off the digital presses we bring you August edition of Panel of Pokes. We've assembled our same talented group to give their insight on topics that Wyoming fans care about.
Here is our topic for August: Pick one player each on offense and defense that impressed you this fall camp.
It was hard for some us to choose just one player. We also gave our thoughts on the team heading into the season opener.
Our panel includes:
Ian McMackin - GoWyoGo
Brad Reed - WyoNation
Skyler Corcoran - Cowboy Altitude
Chad Smith - 7220 Report
Matt "The Road" Hargleroad - Cowboy Altitude
Matt Blaylock from Poke Pride wasn't able to take part this month due to other obligations but will join us again in September.
The performance of freshmen quarterback Brett Smith was the individual area on offense that stood out the most for me during the August camp. He put some distance between himself and Adam Pittser, and Colby Kirkegaard. Smith obviously benefited from the extra time he had participating in spring practice and it helped him get the leg up on the other two quarterbacks. Pittser has some good tools with arm strength and still has the chance to be in the mix in the future, but Smith showed confidence, good decision making, and a better handle on the offense. He performed above expectations for a freshmen entering his first set of fall camp practices and was a pleasant surprise early.
Mark Willis was a player that stood out for me for the defense. The Cowboys have always liked the upside of Willis with his rangy, athletic built and he has come on strong lately during the August practices. Willis has a chance to become a very good player for the Cowboys over the long-haul and has really made strides with adding bulk to his 6-foot-4 frame and if he can stay healthy, he will help an already deep defensive end position. Both Willis and true-freshmen Eddie Yarbrough have a chance to give the Cowboys defensive line two bookends with the athleticism and big play ability as they continue to progess into the future.
I see the Cowboys right now ahead of the previous two fall camps under head coach Dave Christensen. The Pokes have better depth than they've had in quite sometime. The speed and athleticism looks better and the team seems to be settling in under Christensen in year three and are more tuned in on both sides of the ball. The three question marks entering the fall with the offensive line, experience at wide receiver, and a new freshmen quarterback looks to be showing enough promise, where these areas could avoid being weakenesses this season. Following the Pokes closely during the offseason and into August camp, I like the positive direction the program is heading. Until the lights come on and the real games begin, I like where Christensen is heading with Wyoming football.
My offensive player of camp has to go to the obvious choice, Brett Smith. Smith started at UW in the spring as an early enroll to get a leg up in learning the UW offense. It seems to have paid off for him as he was able to fend off Elite 11 quarterback Adam Pittser and JUCO transfer Colby Kirkegaard. Smith appeared to have the starting job wrapped up about a week ago (at the time of this writing). That says a lot about the true freshman. Will that translate to success on the field where it counts? We'll see, but the potential is certainly there and being here in the spring definitely made a difference for this young man as he was able to learn the playbook, learn the terminology, and bond with his new teammates. As a runner-up, you have to look at someone like Dominic Rufran who has had an outstanding spring for the Cowboys, as has running back Kody Sutton. . And even though I haven't had the opportunity to witness any scrimmages in person, enough can't be said about the offensive line, who appear to have had a good spring as well.
On the defensive side of the ball I think I have to pick a freshman here too in Mark Nzeocha. The German pipeline will pay dividends with this guy and I think he will make a great linebacker for the Cowboys. Nzeocha may go a little unnoticed in a front seven full of stars such as Brian Hendricks, Gabe Knapton, and Josh Biezuns, but I think the freshman will make an impact for the Cowboys. The front seven for the Cowboys I believe will be a very strong point for the Pokes, and we could see some real damage caused by this group. Transfer Korey Jones should also make a name for himself in this group as well. Could this be one of the best defenses UW has had in a while? Time will tell, but it's looking good.
Assessing the team from Western Montana is a tad difficult as I only have the resources provided to me by my pals in this Panel of Pokes as well as beat writers Robert Gagliardi and Eric Schmoldt, but from everything I've been reading I believe there's reason for optimism in Laramie. This could be the beginnings of a surging Cowboy football team. Last year the Cowboys seemed to have some inner demons to battle and lost a couple of games they should have won pretty handily. This year I think those games will turn in our favor. Dave Christensen is getting the pieces together for the players he wants in this system and this year's freshman class looks like it's going to have a big impact for the Pokes. I don't think 7-5 is out of the question for the Cowboys, and I think the Pokes have a reasonable shot to upset Air Force and San Diego State, two teams who finished ahead of them in the standings last year. I'll even go so far as to say that given the right circumstances I don't think it's a stretch to think the Pokes could upset TCU. As long as the Cowboys keep focused, minimize mistakes, play tough, this team can do some good things and start to restore the image of what Cowboy football used to be.
On the offensive side of the ball the Cowboys enjoyed much better production from a number of players, which made it difficult to choose who was the most impressive during camp. After evaluating a handful of players, I confidently chose the new gunslinger, QB Brett Smith, as the most impressive offensive player during the 2011 fall camp. Smith came out with guns blazing in the first scrimmage, and he never looked back. In that first scrimmage the true freshman signal caller connected on 24 of 28 passes for a completion percentage of .857. The Salem, Oregon native also threw for 323 yards, with 3 TD's and no interceptions. Through three scrimmages Smith completed 48 of 65 passes, 73.8 percent, for 563 yards. The QB also threw five touchdown passes and only one interception. Smith seems to understand the intricacies of the spread offense, and he has shown leadership for a true freshman.
The most impressive player on defense for me was Junior linebacker Korey Jones. From his Leo position, Jones compiled 16 tackles during 3 scrimmages, for an average of more than 5 tackles per scrimmage. The Fort Collins, Colorado native also wrapped up 4 tackles for loss, and notched a sack. Those numbers are a sign of things to come for the Wyoming defense.
After the conclusion of fall camp I feel extremely optimistic about Wyoming football. The coaches' recruiting skills proved very high, with a number of freshman making an impact during camp. The team also showed a renewed comradery, and a closeness that hasn't been seen in a while. The offense showed a vast improvement in production, and looked a lot more like the spread offense that Coach Christensen had intended it to. Smith was extremely efficient, and the pass catching and running game looked solid. The defense wasn't a surprise. Months ago I was saying that this defense will be nasty, and they showed that in camp. Even with the loss of DT Patrick Mertens and LB Oliver Schober, the depth and athleticism of the Wyoming D should prove for a very stout unit. The young secondary showed that they won't necessarily be a weakness, and bookend pass rushers/ QB harassers Josh Beizuns and Gabe Knapton look like All-Mountain West caliber players. This years Cowboy football program will turn some heads in the conference, and a program defining win against TCU, Nebraska, or Boise State could make the nation take notice.
At the end of fall camp it is safe to say that both the offense and defense will be better than they were last year. I'm not so sure though that this improvement will translate into more wins. There are still many questions about the depth and quality of each of the lines. Add in the fact that a true freshman QB is at the helm and I'm not so sure how much tangible improvement you will see in terms of wins but again the quality of play should be improved this year.