Breaking Down the ‘Boys: Fullbacks
LARAMIE -- Craig Bohl and the Wyoming football team are starting spring football a tad late this season.
Last year, COVID-19 put a halt to it all together. So, better late than never, right?
There's a method to Bohl's madness. 1) He wants more time to pass so the virus will hopefully be well under control. 2) He wants to see quarterback Sean Chambers at full strength.
There's arguably never been a more important training camp than this one in Bohl's eight seasons in Laramie. He is "re-engineering" his offense and has a pair of new coaches on that side of the ball, including Tim Polasek, who replaces longtime offensive coordinator Brent Vigen.
April 6 is when it all starts, culminating with the annual spring game May 8. So, what better time to break down this roster position by position?
We've already touched on the Cowboys' defense. You can find those right here:
Last week we analyzed the wide receiver and tight end spots, now let's move to the unsung heroes on offense -- the fullbacks.
Who are they: Caleb Driskill (Fr. 6-2, 235, Gillette, Wyo.), Xavier Ellis (Fr. 6-3, 245, Jackson, N.J.), Dalton Strouss (Fr. 5-8, 213, San Luis Obispo, Calif.)
How they fared in 2020: When you rank No. 14 in the nation in rushing, averaging 219.5 yards on the ground per game, it's safe to say the fullbacks did their job.
Xazavian Valladay was the Mountain West's leading rusher for the second consecutive season. He racked up 550 yards on just 99 carries. Trey Smith also had a breakout season for the Pokes, amassing 488 yards on 88 carries.
Wyoming's fullbacks are asked to blow holes in opposing defenses and seal off running lanes, but they can also be shifted to the tight end -- or H-Back -- spot.
Skyler Miller, the lone Cowboy to compete in a virtual NFL Pro Day last week, has been a constant in the UW backfield over the last two seasons after making the move from the defensive side of the ball.
Analysis: This group took a bigger hit due to turnover than any other on the roster.
Miller is gone. He decided to move on despite the NCAA granting seniors an additional year of eligibility because of the COVID-19 pandemic. So did Jeff Burroughs and Jahmari Moore.
You won't see those three guys on the stat sheet often. In fact, Burroughs is the only one with a carry. He finished with eight of those for 15 yards in 2019. That season against New Mexico, the Yoder product became the first Wyoming native to earn a start at running back in the Mountain West era. He was the first since 1972 when Laramie's own Larry Garcia earned a start for Fritz Shurmur's Cowboys.
The fullbacks are basically an extension of the Cowboys' offensive line. When Valladay and Smith -- and a host of others, including quarterbacks Levi Williams or Sean Chambers -- are churning out the yards, that's their reward.
Craig Bohl's prostyle offense is one of the few left that still relies heavily on fullbacks. Wyoming has always seemed to have a veteran presence at that spot in Bohl's tenure, whether it's a guy like Drew Van Maanen, Jaylon Watson, Jordan Ellis or anyone mentioned above.
That will all change this fall.
Questions: New offensive coordinator Tim Polasek said during his introductory press conference that he plans to utilize every square inch of the football field during his first year as a play caller in Laramie.
There's little doubt what youngsters like Caleb Driskill, Xavier Ellis and Dalton Strouss -- the only three fullbacks, for now, listed on the 2021 roster -- will be asked to do. They will lead the way for Valladay, Smith, Titus Swen, Dawaiian McNeely or any other Cowboy running back that gets the call. A healthy Chambers could sure follow one of these guys through a hole, too.
These guys will also play a role in pass protection and special teams.
But what about this group getting some calls in short-yardage situations? How about in the passing game? I think every UW fan still has visions of Van Maanen diving in the snow in Laramie to haul in a 17-yard completion from Josh Allen in 2017. That was the beginning of a go-ahead seven-play drive to knock off Border War rival Colorado State, 16-13.
Our photographer, DJ Johnson, nailed the shot in case you forgot:
This unit is loaded with youth an inexperience. Driskill, a Gillette native who played linebacker at Thunder Basin High School, is the only fullback who was on the roster last fall. He redshirted. These 15 upcoming spring practices will be crucial for this group.
Sure, we could ask for more passes and carries for these guys, but for now, fullbacks coach Shannon Moore needs to find out what he has first. Will at least one of these guys rise to the occasion or will the Cowboys have to improvise?
Bohl hasn't faced a situation like this in his first seven years on campus.
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