All eyes under center as Wyoming opens fall camp Friday
LAS VEGAS, Nev., -- With 1:58 left in the second quarter, Sean Chambers took the shotgun snap, faked an end around to wide receiver John Okwoli and a simple handoff to Xazavian Valladay.
Missouri's linebackers froze.
Wyoming's quarterback patiently waited for the play to develop. Right guard Logan Harris pulled around the edge and took his man out of the play. Left tackle Rudy Stofer put a Tigers' defensive end on skates before bullying him into the turf.
Chambers found a crease and with one well-timed stiff arm was off to the races down the west sideline untouched for the 75-yard touchdown.
That's what Chambers can do that most signal callers can't.
On the flip side, the then-redshirt freshman finished the day 6 of 16 passing for just 92 yards. That included a bad miss deep in the red zone to tight end Josh Harshman who was running free.
Wyoming pulled off the stunning 37-31 victory over its visitors from the Southeastern Conference that evening inside War Memorial Stadium.
That string of events essentially tells the tale of Chambers' career in Laramie when he has been healthy.
He makes an amazing play -- at least one -- with his legs, doesn't complete 50% of his passes and the Cowboys -- more often than not -- end up on the right side of the scoreboard.
At Mountain West Media Days in Las Vegas, Wyoming was picked by the league's press to finish second in the Mountain Division behind perennial front runner Boise State. The Cowboys did receive a pair of first-place votes, but despite bringing back 95% of last year's roster and having the second-longest tenured coach in the conference, they are still searching for believers.
That starts under center, a position Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl said is the toughest in all of sports.
So, the main question for the Cowboys in attendance was this: What makes you believe Chambers is the guy?
"Sean brings a different style than a lot of quarterbacks just because of his ability to run and do a lot of read-pass options and stuff like that," said Valladay, Wyoming's junior running back. "Sean is a very versatile quarterback. A lot of people saw that and experienced that in his play, whether it was from 2019 and his long Missouri run or his toughness and his physicality to just take the ball and even get a tough two or three yards and push the ball forward."
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Wyoming's starting middle linebacker Chad Muma faces Chambers every day in practice. There's one thing that has really stuck out to him on the other side of the line of scrimmage -- leadership.
"When he's out there everyone just seems to gravitate toward him," Muma said. "He can get the offense going. If they are down in practice, I feel like he does such a great job of bringing guys together and being a leader out there. I think that speaks a lot to who Sean is."
For the first time in Chambers' college career, which is now entering year four despite still being classified as a redshirt sophomore, he will hear a different voice in the headset. New offensive coordinator Tim Polasek replaces Brent Vigen, who took the head coaching position at Montana State this offseason.
During the spring, Polasek said Chambers has the "it factor," comparing him to NFL quarterback Carson Wentz in that regard. He raved about the way Chambers maneuvered around the pocket and weight room. He saw glimpses of what Valladay and Muma said above.
Wyoming's potent rushing attack, Polasek added, should "create some shots" down field in a passing game that ranked 113th in the nation a season ago after Chambers went down on the third play of the season with a season-ending leg injury, his third straight.
Bohl penciled in Chambers' name atop the depth chart in early June, ahead of redshirt freshman Levi Williams, who took a majority of the snaps during last fall's abbreviated six-game schedule.
The separation between the two quarterbacks during 15 spring practices wasn't significant, according to Bohl, but he decided to go with the guy who has now been the Cowboys' starter for three consecutive seasons.
"I saw both he and Levi grow. I wouldn't describe it as exponential growth, but I saw growth," Bohl said. "Over the course of spring we charted every damn thing. I was in the those offensive meetings a lot. I think we saw some things in the spring game that looked different. For them to mature a little bit more and improve some of their fundamental things, but more so improve from the shoulders up. Where to go with the ball? How to go with the ball? Where is your primary receiver? What's your movement keys? Things like that. Both he and Levi improved."
In his 12 career starts, Chambers has a 9-3 overall record. The Kerman, California native, has rushed for nearly 900 yards in those games and found the end zone 12 times. Through the air, Chambers connected on just 43% of his passes in 2019. He threw for 915 yards and seven touchdowns in eight contests, but failed to hit the 100-yard mark in three of those.
Chambers has never completed double-digit passes in a game. He's never thrown for 200 yards, either.
Will that change? Can he bring balance to the Cowboys' offensive attack? How?
"We looked at sometimes you have all these different concepts and you're not doing a damn thing well," Bohl said. "You got all this stuff, I mean you watch the tape and it was like watching a bad movie. It was just some bad stuff. So we took those concepts and said 'OK, what are some things we can really do well? Who are these players?' We decided less is more. 'Let's tone some things down and zero in on what we can do well.' So that gives me confidence."
Bohl said the offense has been simplified.
"I wouldn't say we made our offense simple, but we took concepts that are going to play well for our players," he said. "We're not going to do near as many things, but do things to stretch the defense and do them really well. We tightened it up. We did."
Valladay said Chambers has the ability to make life miserable for opposing defenses. That, with the addition of a different scheme, Valladay believes can make this offense one of the best in the conference.
"I feel like it's a lot of confusion for defenses because you have a nice quarterback that can stand in the pocket and pass the ball, and then on top of that, just being able to run, as well," he said. "I feel like that's a threat to a lot of defenses because you have to work around that."
Training camp gets underway tomorrow in Laramie. Muma, like the rest of us, is ready to watch the competition under center unfold.
"I think this past spring was about him coming back from injury and kind of getting back into it. I think has been huge for him," he said of Chambers. "I think, for this fall camp, it's going to be exciting to see kind of how they both compete after they both have some experience under their belt."
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