Special Teams Get Focus in Cowboys Thursday Practice Session
Wyoming featured some of the best special team's performances in the nation a year ago.
The plan is to get better in 2018, and Thursday the Cowboys began working on that, giving head coach Craig Bohl reason to feel that good can be even better this year.
"Today's practice we went in spiders (not full pads) and worked out on the (stadium) field," said Bohl. "I think it's important to get some repetition on our game field. Kicking was excellent today. We were punting the ball very well today. Place-kicking was good -- Cooper (Rothe) was 100 percent, so that is encouraging."
A year ago, Rothe connected on 15 of 18 field-goal attempts (83.3 percent) to rank No. 1 in the Mountain West and No. 21 in the nation in field-goal percentage. The Cowboys were No. 2 in the conference and No. 27 nationally in punt return coverage, allowing opponents only 4.72 yards per punt return, and the Pokes were the No. 1 team in the nation in kickoff returns, averaging 28.3 yards per return.
Asked if there has been added emphasis on the kicking game during fall camp, Bohl replied, "Maybe a little bit more. We're very intentional on how we are running our practices and what things we are integrating during the course of fall camp.
"The kicking game is so critical. A lot of times our fans may not recognize it, but the ball moves more on special teams plays than any other plays in the game. That is hidden yardage, and we need to get better at that. Our net punting needs to improve (over last year). Placement of kickoffs needs to improve, and our coverage needs to improve.
"Our snaps have been really good. Jesse (Hooper, freshman long snapper) has done a great job there, so we're pleased with that. We had some challenges last year in the snapping game. Drew (Van Maanen) did a great job last year when he had to step in, but you normally don't anticipate losing your snapper in the first quarter of the first game of the season like we did last year ."
Bohl also praised the Cowboy passing attack performance in Thursday's practice.
"Our timing was good in the passing game today, as we continue to add plays to our offense," said Bohl. "We weren't real physical today because we were in full pads yesterday. It was a little more finesse work today, and those things are important, as well."
The head coach was asked if he thought Wyoming's offense had receivers who could stretch the field and keep opposing defenses off balance.
"I think we can throw the ball deep," said Bohl. "We may not be able to throw the ball 70 or 80 yards like we have in the past (with former Cowboy quarterback Josh Allen). But between Tyler (Vander Waal) and Nick (Smith) they can throw the ball deep.
"Some of the things we've seen from our receivers -- Avante' Cox has good speed and Rocket (Raghib Ismail Jr.) has showed some really promising things. He's got some giddy up. James Price is doing a good job, and also at the tight end position Austin Fort has good speed. I think we can stretch the field.
"I think it is time for James Price to really finish off his career on a high note. James has worked hard this summer. Jared Scott is another guy, while I wouldn't say he is a deep threat, I believe can be productive. His body (6-6, 230 pounds) makes him a formidable guy when you put him out there. I think we've got some weapons."
Media asked again on Thursday about any young running backs who might join returners Nico Evans, Kellen Overstreet and Trey Woods in challenging for playing time this coming season.
"I think Jevon Bigelow is a guy we're going to take a hard look at playing," said Bohl. "Xazavian (Valladay) is doing some good things, as well. Those are probably the young guys who are in the top group right now. We like Reow's (Jackson) athleticism. We felt like he could play some place for us. He wasn't going to be a quarterback in our offense (he was a high school quarterback), but his size is good and he's shown some good things at running back. We'll make a determination later this fall, but I would say he's probably more along the lines of being redshirted this year."
Bohl did confirm for media after Thursday's practice that the original assessment that offensive guard Eric Abojei suffered a concussion in Wednesday's practice was in fact accurate. Bohl added, "We appreciate sports medicine. There's a protocol that we have here and there are boxes that need to be checked. We're making college football safer not only at the University of Wyoming but all across the country."
The Cowboys will practice in full pads on Friday morning. Practices are closed to the public.