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March 6, 2010

Wyoming offense must catch up with defense

Wyoming was one of the most surprising teams in the nation last season under first-year coach Dave Christensen.

Christensen, the former Missouri offensive coordinator, led the Cowboys to their first bowl since 2004. He did it largely with outstanding special teams and an opportunistic defense that helped the Pokes rank 17th in the nation in turnover margin (plus-eight).

To take the next step, Christensen will need to amp up the offense. He has plenty of returning talent to work with this season.

Here's a look at the Cowboys as they prepare for spring practice.

Austyn Carta-Samuels is a dynamite dual-threat quarterback who was the Mountain West Freshman of the Year last season.
Coach: Dave Christensen
Last season: 7-6 overall, 4-4 in Mountain West. Beat Fresno State in New Mexico Bowl.
Spring dates: March 6-April 17.
Offense (7): WR Zach Bolger, G Nick Carlson (moving to C), QB Austyn Carta-Samuels, T Clayton Kirven, WR David Leonard, WR Chris McNeill, G Sam Sterner.
Defense (7): LB Josh Biezuns (moved to DE), SS Shamiel Gary, CB Marcel Gipson, CB Tashaun Gipson, LB Brian Hendricks, LB Gabe Knapton (moving to DE), FS Chris Prosinski.
Special teams (2): P Austin McCoy, K Ian Watts.
Positions of strength

Wyoming should have a strong defense, and the best unit should be the secondary - which returns intact. The bellwether is senior FS Chris Prosinski. Another standout is junior LB Brian Hendricks. QB Austyn Carta-Samuels is a dynamite dual-threat option who was the Mountain West Freshman of the Year last season.

Help is needed

Work is needed along the offensive and defensive lines. The Cowboys lost three starters on the defensive front, and a key sub also has departed. In addition, injuries are going to keep some key players out of spring drills. The offensive line must replace two starters and get more physical. Junior college transfer Nick Puetz enrolled early and could win a starting job at guard.

Three guys to watch

OLB Devyn Harris: The staff felt that he could contribute as a true freshman last fall, but Harris suffered a knee injury in camp and was redshirted. With senior captain Weston Johnson graduated, Harris has a chance to be a top performer.

RB Nehemie Kankolongo: A product of Centennial High in Coquitlam, British Columbia, Kankolongo was part of the 2010 recruiting class and already has enrolled. The Cowboys return part-time starting RB Alvester Alexander, but Kankolongo is poised to challenge for playing time.

DE Mark Willis: He turned heads in practices last season, when he redshirted. Willis has added strength and size and is ready to be a force off the edge for a retooled defensive line that needs playmakers.

The pressure is on

DEs Josh Biezuns and Gabe Knapton: Knapton and Biezuns need to make seamless transitions from linebacker to end as the Cowboys change from a 3-4 to a 4-3 scheme. Each already has shown playmaking ability. Knapton (6-3/238) ranked 19th in the nation in tackles per game (9.8) last season. Biezuns (6-2/236), who began his career as a fullback, finished seventh on the team in tackles (65) and had 3.5 sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss last season.

The buzz

This spring, it will be all about improving an offense that ranked last in the Mountain West and No. 107 in the nation (309.4 ypg). The passing attack was especially abysmal, as the Cowboys ranked 104th in the nation (173.2 ypg) and had only 11 touchdown passes in 13 games. But building offenses and aerial attacks are Christensen's bailiwick; he groomed and developed Chase Daniel at Missouri. Wyoming looks to be a team on the rise in the ultra-competitive Mountain West.

Tom Dienhart is a national senior writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dienhart@yahoo-inc.com.

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