With the completion of 2017 spring football practice last Saturday, Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl and his staff released an updated depth chart for the Cowboy Football team on Thursday.
Entering spring practice some key positions that needed filled on offense included running back, center, wide receiver and tight end. On defense, linebacker was a key position hit hard by graduation.
While competition for all positions will continue into fall camp, here are the players who finished spring practice atop the Wyoming depth chart.
At running back, gone is Wyoming’s career rushing leader, First Team All-Mountain West honoree and Third Team All-America selection Brian Hill. Sophomore Milo Hall rose to the top of the depth chart during spring practice. He is followed by junior Nico Evans and redshirt sophomore Kellen Overstreet, who are both listed at the No. 2 spot on the depth chart.
Joining the running backs in the backfield will be the Cowboys’ dynamic junior quarterback Josh Allen, who earned Second Team All-MW honors as a sophomore and will be one of the top returning quarterbacks in the nation in 2017. Veteran Nick Smith also returns at QB to give the Pokes two experienced signal callers.
Senior Drew Van Maanen will return as the starter at fullback for the fourth consecutive season in 2017. Sophomore Jaylon Watson made the depth chart at fullback after switching positions this spring. Watson is listed No. 2 behind Van Maanen. Watson was moved to fullback this spring after playing defensive end last season.
The center position lost First Team All-MW and Second Team All-America performer Chase Roullier to graduation, but that spot was filled in the spring by moving sophomore Gavin Rush from left guard to center. Rush started all 14 games at left guard as a true freshman last season. He will be backed up by junior Cole Turner.
Filling in Rush’s spot at left guard is redshirt freshman Jace Webb. He is backed up by senior Dalton Fields, who was moved to offensive guard this spring to add depth to the offensive line after playing on the defensive line for the Cowboys last season.
The other three offensive line spots all return starters. Junior Zach Wallace returns at left tackle. Junior Kaden Jackson will once again hold down right guard, and at right tackle senior Ryan Cummings and junior Brinkley Jolly both return. Cummings started the first seven games of 2016 before suffering a season-ending foot injury. Jolly stepped in and started the final seven games. Both Cummings and Jolly missed spring practice due to injuries, but are expected back by the start of fall camp.
While Wyoming lost both of its top receivers from last season to graduation in seniors Tanner Gentry (Second Team All-MW) and Jake Maulhardt, the wide receiver position does return several individuals who played significant roles last year. Leading the way is junior James Price and sophomore C.J. Johnson, who are listed as the starters. Sophomores Austin Conway and John Okwoli are listed as the backups and redshirt freshman Parker Dumas also made the depth chart.
Wyoming’s tight end position is similar to the wide receiver spot in that the Cowboys’ First Team All-Mountain West tight end Jacob Hollister is gone. But three other returning tight ends played important roles in 2016. Two Wyoming natives share the No. 1 position on the depth chart coming out of spring practice. Juniors Josh Harshman, from Casper, and Austin Fort, from Gillette, are listed as the co-starters on the final spring depth chart. Fellow junior Tyree Mayfield is listed as the back-up.
The Cowboy defense returns eight of 11 starters from last season. The three losses included: senior middle linebacker Lucas Wacha (Honorable Mention All-MW); senior strong-side linebacker and nickel back D.J. May, who earned Second Team All-MW honors as a kickoff returner; and senior nose tackle Chase Appleby.
Appleby was lost to injury in the San Diego State game and missed the final three games of the season. Two players who shared time with Appleby in the middle of the Cowboy defensive line last year return at nose tackle. Junior Sidney Malauulu is listed No. 1 at that spot and fellow junior Conner Cain is listed No. 2.
Lining up beside Wyoming’s experienced nose tackles at defensive tackle will be sophomores Youhanna Ghaifan and Brent Gilliland, who are listed No. 1 and 2, respectively. Ghaifan had an outstanding spring after performing well as a redshirt freshman in 2016.
One of the deepest positions on the 2017 Cowboy team should be defensive end. Carl Granderson was enjoying a breakout season as a sophomore last year before suffering a season-ending knee injury in the sixth game of the season versus Air Force. While Granderson did not participate in spring drills, his rehab is going extremely well and he is expected to return to form for his junior season. The other starter coming out of spring is junior Kevin Prosser. Prosser led the Cowboys in 2016 in both sacks (6.5) and tackles for loss (11.0). Sophomore Josiah Hall started a total of 11 games at defensive end in 2016. He is listed No. 2 behind Granderson at one defensive end position. Another sophomore, Shiloh Windsor, played in seven games and started one as a true freshman in 2016. He is listed No. 2 behind Prosser.
Taking over for Wacha at middle linebacker will be sophomore Logan Wilson, from Casper, Wyo. Wilson was the starter at weak-side linebacker in 2016. He moved to the MIKE linebacker position during spring practice after earning Mountain West Freshman of the Year honors last season and also being named a First Team Freshman All-American by the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and USA Today Sports.
Sophomore Caash Maluia was shifted to Wilson’s vacant weak-side linebacker position during spring practice and is listed as the starter. Maluia started at strong-side linebacker for an injured May in the 2016 MW Championship Game and the 2016 Poinsettia Bowl. Maluia’s back-up is listed as sophomore Ben Wisdorf, from Cheyenne, Wyo.
At the strong-side linebacker/nickel position, senior Jalen Ortiz is listed No. 1, with junior Chavez Pownell Jr. listed No. 2.
The Cowboy secondary returns a wealth of experience. First Team All-MW safety Andrew Wingard returns along with his junior running mate at safety Marcus Epps. Wingard and Epps have started the last 25 and 24 games, respectively, for the Cowboys at safety. They are backed up by two sophomores, Alijah Halliburton and Josh Boyd.
At cornerback, three experienced players and a talented sophomore return. Senior Robert Priester (19 career starts), junior Antonio Hull (20 career starts) and senior Rico Gafford (14 career starts) all return. They are joined by sophomore Tyler Hall, who played some at corner and on special teams as a true freshman last season. Priester and Hall are listed No. 1 at the two cornerback spots coming out of spring, with Hull and Gafford right behind them in the battle for those starting positions.
On special teams, sophomore Cooper Rothe returns as the Cowboys’ starting place-kicker. The starting punter for the Cowboys in 2017 may be true freshman Tim Zaleski, who will arrive on campus this summer. Sophomore quarterback and holder Nick Szpor also punted during spring ball.
Next up for the Cowboys will be summer conditioning. The Cowboys are scheduled to report for fall camp on Sunday, July 30 with the first practice scheduled for Monday, July 31.