Saturday, August 22, 2009

Into the abyss: Wyoming

The Wimple begins its bottom-to-top pre-season review of the Mountain West in Laramie, because if the old saying offense wins game, but defense wins championships is true, then the 2009 Wyoming Cowboys are in deep trouble. They have a fine defense, but how ever will they get that crew into any championship-portending contest without an offense to win the necessary games leading to it?

The simple fact is: they won't. At least not this year. The Wimple's spring prognostication was that

there is exactly a 100% chance the Cowboys are going to spend a season in the wilderness, learning this newfangled high-tempo pass-happy offense. Wyoming is filled with power running players, and even though Karten Sween ran a spread in high school, he's going to work behind a subpar o-line, with receivers who, let's face it, signed with a power running school.

After nearly all of the fall drills, it appears the Wimple was correct. Until Coach C. gets players who are accustomed to (and recruited for) his dizzying spread attack, Wyoming's offense is going to s-t-i-n-k. It stunk in the spring, when dozens of Cowboys were out with injuries. It stunk in the summer, as the players grew into their more rigorous conditioning. It stunk in fall drills, when JUCO transfer Robert Benjamin and senior Karsten Sween got the two-deep to themselves. And it'll stink in the first six, eight, or even ten games this season, as the Cowboys go live in Year One of the spread.

About his broken offense, coach Christensen sounds like a broken record, "we don't catch the ball very well. I don't think there's any secret there." A few days later, “right now, we’re a poor catching football team . . . right now, we are pathetic catching the football." A few days later, "I was very, very disappointed in our mechanics of running the spread offense, the communication, lining up, mental errors -- I thought the offense took a huge step backwards and that's something we've got to get corrected. . . It's not all the quarterbacks. Shoot, it was the line and the receivers, running backs not running hard enough -- you can just name any position and they didn't play very well on offense." A few days later, “the bottom line is you have to catch the ball and were not very good at that right now on a consistent basis.”

And that's just half the bad news. The other half? The same other half that always accompanies teams switching from run-first to pass-first: turnovers. "I'm not going to be pleased until we stop turning the football over," said Christensen about halfway through fall drills. Turnovers dampen even the good news coming out of Laramie. Top-two QB Robert Benjamin's successes all seem to come with the that fateful caveat. Defensive linemen John Fletcher and Mitch Unrein both forced turnovers in one scrimmage, one an interception, the other a forced fumble. But wait: aren't turnovers good for the defense? Not if they only signal an inept offense, which is clearly the issue here.

Is there any good news in Laramie. Yes, there is.

Robert Benjamin, pictured, a JUCO transfer, is capable of running the offense both with his arm, and with his feet. . . (you know this is coming) when he throws the ball to the correct team.

The 35 pounds senior TE and JUCO transfer Orlando Arnold shed this offseason aren't his biggest loss; Arnold is the first Cowboy to shake off the bad case of dropsies that plagues the rest of the team. Christensen calls him the team's most-improved player. Senior TE Jesson Salyards is also working with the first team, and is a consistent ball-catcher. Darius Terry and Brandon Stewart are running an option play from the WildFrog formation successfully. Stewart and David Leonard are emerging as the top WRs on the team.

Across the trench, senior DE Mike Neuhaus has performed well in place of slightly-injured John Fletcher on the line. Mitch Unrein, Fletcher, and Fred Givens continue to impress on the D line. Brothers and CB tandem Marcell and Tashaun Gipson look sharp in the secondary. Freshman Shamiel Gray has rocketed up the depth chart, joining Chris Prosinski, Jamichael Hall, and Keith Lewis in the two-deep at safety.

If you're partial to Laramie and its brown and gold, buckle in, keep your eyes on the horizon, and if you must pay close attention to your Cowboys this season, focus on the defense and recruiting. The on-field product this year will fast fade into a footnote: a tweeny year of programmatic puberty. And say to yourself: 2010...

Repeat that. It's theraputic.

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