Wyoming Football – Breaking Down the ‘Boys: Cornerbacks
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?
Yesterday, we broke down the Cowboys' safety group. Today, let's talk about their running mates -- the cornerbacks.
Who are they: CJ Coldon (Jr. 6-1, 178, Belleville, Ill.), Azizi Hearn (Jr. 6-1, 193, Oceanside, Calif.), Xavier Carter (Fr. 6-0, 175, Manvel, Texas), Taylor Dodd (Jr. 6-2, 205, Laramie, Wyo.), Trae King (Jr. 5-9, 165, Fort Worth, Texas), Max Mazurie (Fr. 5-10, 177, Lander, Wyo.), Caleb Roberson (R-Fr. 5-11, 181, Eastvale, Calif.), Cameron Stone (Fr. 5-10, 175, Rosharon, Texas), Zaire Jackson (Fr. 5-11, 170, Parker, Colo.) Jovan Marsh (Fr. 5-11, 170, Robbins, Ill.), Kolbey Taylor (Fr. 6-2, 175, Houston, Texas)
How they fared in 2020: Craig Bohl put a ton of faith in starting corners Azizi Hearn and CJ Coldon last fall. Same can be said for first-year defensive backs coach Benny Boyd. Not that Bohl had much of a choice in the matter. Those were the only two guys on this roster with any experience on the outside.
Hearn has been steady since the moment he arrived on campus in 2019 as a transfer from the University of Arizona. He's played in all 18 games and been more than effective as a starter. In 2020, Hearn broke up four passes to go along with 12 tackles in six games. It appeared he snagged his first collegiate interception in Reno on opening night. The junior battled Nevada standout Romeo Doubs for the ball before ripping it out of his arms as he rolled over the goal line.
After video replay, officials stuck with their ruling of an incomplete pass. Six plays later, Nevada quarterback Carson Strong tossed a touchdown in the corner to Cole Turner to give the home team a commanding 28-26 lead.
That was by far the worst outing of the season for this undermanned group as Strong threw for 420 yards and four touchdowns in a 37-34 overtime loss.
Before last fall, Coldon had only played in six total games over the previous two seasons. An injured nerve in his neck erased the final nine contests of the 2018 campaign. A torn ACL cost Coldon nine more and a bowl victory in 2019.
"Of course it messes with my head a little bit," he said about those setbacks in mid-October. "I just have to stay mentally strong. I've never been injured before."
Coldon played in all six games in 2020 and, along with being the Cowboys' seventh most-effective tackler with 26, he picked off a pair of passes and broke up three more. That helped Wyoming finish No. 29 in the country in passing yards allowed (202.4).
The combination of Hearn and Coldon limit quarterbacks like Hawaii's Chevan Cordeiro and Boise State's Hank Bachmeier. Wyoming didn't allow New Mexico to throw for 100 yards through the air. They held Hawaii (110), UNLV (158) and Boise State (181) under 200. This duo was also one of the reasons the Cowboys were ranked No. 7 in the nation in red-zone defense. Opponents tossed just three touchdowns against these guys inside the 20.
How important were these two? Well, they rarely left the field. In short spells, true freshmen Cameron Stone and Xavier Carter saw the field. Caleb Roberson and Taylor Dodd mostly played special teams. One thing that can't be overlooked is the help this unit received from safeties Esaias Gandy and Braden Smith. You can't overstate the impact nickelbacks like Keyon Blankenbaker and Keonte Glinton had, too.
Analysis: This position was supposed to be one of the Cowboys' strengths before the 2019 campaign got underway. Tyler Hall and Antonio Hull were veteran returners. Hearn was new and could add true depth. Coldon was seeing plenty of playing time, too. You might remember he returned a Kelly Bryant fumble against Missouri to get Wyoming on the scoreboard. However, things didn't go quite as planned. Hull left the team, forcing Coldon into the starting lineup. His injury in Week 3 sent Hearn into a starting role.
Hall is now a member of the Atlanta Falcons and coming into 2020 the question was: Can Hearn be a No. 1 corner. More importantly, can Coldon stay healthy?
We know that answer now.
What we still don't know is who is playing behind those two. Stone and Carter combined for three tackles in four games last year. Dodd and Roberson appeared in just three games. Hearn and Coldon showed they could hold down the fort in 2020 -- and excel -- but that was just six games. Can they do it for 12? 13? 14?
In 2019, true freshman Jordan Murry stepped in and gave the Cowboys a major depth presence. He left the team before the season began a season ago.
Questions: Who will be the Cowboys next Jordan Murry?
After Hearn and Coldon, there are a bunch of names listed on the roster, including Zaire Jackson, who will be the only incoming recruit to take part in spring practice. Can one -- or more -- of these youngsters step in and play big minutes if needed?
Remember, UW's entire 2020 freshman class was forced to quarantine during an already shortened fall camp a season ago. That took away even more learning and on-field experience from those guys.
Something that could help this inexperienced depth come of age is all the other returners around them on the defensive side of the ball. Wyoming should be able to get to the quarterback with its front four, let alone a nice unit of athletic linebackers led by Chad Muma. We all know what that does for a corner. Those safeties and nickel backs mentioned above will help, too.
I think we all know Hearn and Coldon can handle a bulk of the workload. We saw them battle with guys like Doubs, Khalil Shakir, Dante Wright, Elijah Cooks and others. But is it realistic to think these two can play nearly every snap of a full 12-game schedule?
Someone will need to step in and step up at some point. Who will that be?
Follow us on Twitter @7220sports
Download our free app right HERE
Get our newsletter right HERE
Listen to our podcast The Roaring Repeater right HERE