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March 22, 2009

Christensen facing tall task at Wyoming

Wyoming scored the fewest points in the nation last season, and that's one reason Dave Christensen is the new coach.

He had been the offensive coordinator at high-powered Missouri, and he will install his version of the spread offense at Wyoming. His first priority is to find out if any of the holdover quarterbacks can run his attack.

The defense returns eight starters, and rebuilding the linebacking crew will be important this spring.

Here's a look at the Cowboys one of three Mountain West teams with a new coach as they prepare for spring practice.

WYOMING AT-A-GLANCE
Dave Christensen has his work cut out retooling the Wyoming offense.
THE BASICS
Coach: Dave Christensen
Last season: 4-8, 1-7 Mountain West
Spring dates: March 24-April 25
RETURNING STARTERS
Offense (5): WR Greg Bolling, T Clayton Kirven, T Ryan Otterson, TE Jesson Salyards, G Sam Sterner.
Defense (8): T John Fletcher, CB Marcell Gipson, CB Tashaun Gipson, NT Fred Givens, OLB Weston Johnson, ILB Gabe Knapton, FS Chris Prosinski, E Mitch Unrein.
Special teams (2): P Austin McCoy, K Jake Scott.
Positions of strength

Wyoming should have plenty of experience on both sides of the line of scrimmage. The Cowboys return three starters on the offensive line and all three starting defensive linemen. The list of returning players includes John Fletcher, a third-team all-conference defensive tackle. The Cowboys also return three starters from a secondary that helped the team rank third in the league in pass efficiency defense. Chris Prosinski and brothers Marcell Gipson and Tashaun Gipson all ranked among the Mountain West's top 10 players in pass breakups in '08. Wyoming also has plenty of talented and experienced players at linebacker even after the departure of Ward Dobbs, who led the Cowboys with 101 tackles.

Help is needed

Although the Cowboys return three quarterbacks with starting experience, they combined to throw 17 interceptions and only seven touchdown passes last season. Wyoming had such an ineffective passing attack that Greg Bolling led the Cowboys in receiving with just 26 catches for 271 yards and two touchdowns. Bolling was the only player on the roster with more than one touchdown catch. Wyoming's chances of competing in the Mountain West depend on whether Christensen can find stability at quarterback. Wyoming needs to throw the ball more effectively because it no longer enjoys the security of having Devin Moore and Wynel Seldon in the backfield. Moore and Seldon combined to rush for 1,938 yards and nine touchdowns last season. The Cowboys also must find a second receiver to complement Bolling.

Keep an eye on

OLB Brian Hendricks: Although a sprained right knee sidelined him for part of last season, Hendricks has shown enough potential when healthy to get a shot at a starting job. Hendricks - a sophomore - could fill the spot vacated by Mike Juergens, who led the Cowboys with five sacks last season.

WR Brandon Stewart: After breaking a bone in his shoulder during fall practice, Stewart missed the first five games of the '08 season. But he still ranked second on the team in receiving yards with 251. Stewart, a sophomore, is a deep threat who should thrive in Christensen's offense.

RB Darius Terry: His numbers last season were modest 16 carries for 43 yards but the presence of Moore and Seldon in the backfield didn't allow many opportunities for any other running backs. Now that Moore and Seldon have departed, Terry - a junior - will get the first crack at the starting job.

His time is now

Quarterbacks Dax Crum, Chris Stutzriem and Karsten Sween were given a shot to win the starting job last season, but none made the most of the opportunity. Crum, a junior, started the first five games and threw six interceptions with two touchdown passes while directing the Cowboys to a 2-3 record. Sween, a senior who once looked like a rising star, started the middle three games all one-sided losses and finished the season with six interceptions and no touchdown passes. Stutzriem, a sophomore, took over from there and threw five touchdown passes and five interceptions. All three have a clean slate now that a new coaching staff has arrived, but they have to make a good first impression because Christensen has other quarterback options on his roster.

The buzz

During his successful tenure as Missouri's offensive coordinator, Christensen earned much of the credit for Chase Daniel's development into one of the nation's top quarterbacks. Christensen now faces a much tougher challenge: He must retool an offense that scored the fewest points in the nation (12.7 per game) last season. Christensen's arrival means a move to the spread offense. Wyoming won't have a fullback and frequently will line up its tight end in the slot. Most of the attention in Laramie this spring likely will focus on a quarterback competition that doesn't have a front-runner. The kicking and punting jobs also are up for grabs, even though kicker Jake Scott and punter Austin McCoy are back after handling those duties last season.

Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com.



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