Pokes begin spring drills Tuesday

Laramie, Wyo. (March 19, 2013) -- Spring practice is fast approaching for the Wyoming Cowboy football team as it will begin spring drills on Tuesday, March 26 with the first of 15 practices. Wyoming returns 16 of 24 starters, including seven on offense, seven on defense and both its starting place-kicker and punter. A total of 40 letterwinners will return for the 2013 season -- 20 on offense, 17 on defense and three on special teams.

Practices this spring will begin at 8:30 a.m., with the exception of the Spring Game on Saturday, April 27. The Spring Game is scheduled for 2 p.m.

All spring practices this year will be open to the public and to media. Student-athletes and coaches will be available for interviews with the media after each practice. The Cowboys will utilize War Memorial Stadium and the Indoor Practice Facility for spring drills.

During 2013 spring ball, the Cowboys will conduct three scrimmages on Wednesday, April 10 at 8:30 a.m.; Wednesday, April 17 at 8:30 a.m.; and the Spring Game on Saturday, April 27 at 2:00 p.m. There will also be one practice on Friday, April 5 that will dedicate about 50 percent of practice to scrimmaging.

Head coach Dave Christensen enters his fifth season as head coach of the Cowboys in 2013.

Leading the offense will be junior quarterback Brett Smith, who finished his sophomore season ranked No. 11 in the NCAA in passing efficiency (157.70 passer rating), No. 16 in total offense (308.5 yards per game) and No. 21 in passing yards (283.7 yards per game).

Smith will be joined on offense by a trio of experienced wide receivers in senior Robert Herron, junior Dominic Rufran and junior Jalen Claiborne. Herron (657 receiving yards), Rufran (529) and Claiborne (490) combined for 1,676 receiving yards a year ago. Add to that trio, senior Brandon Miller, who had 309 receiving yards, while splitting time at running back and wide receiver, and junior Trey Norman, who added 228 receiving yards, and you have an explosive and experienced group of receivers. The one loss at receiver was Second Team All-Mountain West selection and 2012 senior Chris McNeill.

At running back, Wyoming returns its top three backs from a year ago. Miller rushed for 352 yards and teamed with sophomores to be D.J. May (374 rushing yards) and Shaun Wick (350) for a combined 1,076 rushing yards. Add in quarterback Smith's 248 rushing yards and sophomore quarterback Jason Thompson's 121, and Wyoming has all of its weapons returning in the rushing game.

Up front on offense, senior Tyler Strong and sophomore Jake Jones both return after starting every game at the two offensive guard spots last season. Wyoming will have to replace three seniors on the offensive line. Gone are seniors Nick Carlson, who earned First Team All-MW honors at center last season, and offensive tackles Josh Leonard and Kyle Magnuson.

On defense, the Cowboys return their entire secondary that started the last half of the 2012 campaign. The secondary is led by junior cornerback Blair Burns, senior cornerback Marqueston Huff, junior strong safety Chad Reese and junior free safety Darrenn White. A fifth defensive back with starting experience, junior DeAndre Jones, also returns. Key losses to the secondary are departing seniors Luke Ruff and Luke Anderson, who were both hampered with injuries their final campaigns.

At linebacker, sophomore Siaosi Hala'api'api returns at the middle-linebacking spot after starting nine games as a true freshman in 2012. The Pokes will miss their two leading tacklers from a year ago in Ghaali Muhammad and Korey Jones, who recorded 106 and 103 tackles respectively, but senior Devyn Harris returns, giving UW another experienced starter at linebacker. Harris started the first game last season, but missed the remainder of the season due to injury. He has started 16 of 26 career games.

On the defensive line, senior Patrick Mertens (DT/DE) and junior Sonny Puletasi (DE) both return along with senior Justin Bernthaler (DE) and sophomore Eddie Yarbrough (DE). Mertens has 18 career starts to his credit. Puletasi started nine games last season as a sophomore, and Bernthaler and Yarbrough each started three games in 2012. Lost from last year's team are First Team All-Conference defensive tackle Mike Purcell and two other 2012 seniors in defensive tackle Kurt Taufa'asau and defensive end Miraldo Michel.

The Cowboy Special Forces return both its starting punter, in sophomore Tim Gleeson, and starting place-kicker, in junior Stuart Williams. Joining them is sophomore kickoff specialist Justin Martin.

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