Breaking Down the ‘Boys: Quarterbacks
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?
We've already touched on the Cowboys' defense. You can find those right here:
We've analyzed the wide receiver, full back, running back, offensive line and tight end spots. Today, let's talk about the young guys under center -- the quarterbacks.
Who are they: Gavin Beerup (Fr. 6-5, 201, Camarillo, Calif.), Sean Chambers (Soph. 6-3, 225, Kerman, Calif.), Jayden Clemons (Soph. 6-1, 208, Lehi, Utah), Hank Gibbs (Fr. 6-5, 226, Fayetteville, Ark.), Levi Williams (R-Fr. 6-5, 224, Canyon Lake, Texas)
How they fared in 2020: Two words -- not ideal.
Wyoming's starting quarterback Sean Chambers, facing a third and one at the Cowboys' 34-yard-line, took the snap, stepped to his right and was swarmed by a pair of Nevada defenders. His left leg got caught in the carnage. He slammed his fists on the ground in obvious pain.
It was the Pokes' third play of the season. It was a broken fibula for Chambers, his third straight season-ending injury.
How's that for not ideal?
Freshman Levi Williams entered the game and remained the starter for the remainder of the season.
In six games, Williams attempted just 119 passes. He completed only 59 of them and finished with one touchdown pass. That was to Gunner Gentry in that opening game in Reno, a 37-34 overtime loss.
Williams' 49.6% completion percentage ranked him 105th out of 108 quarterbacks in the country. His passing efficiency landed him in the 103rd spot nationally. Williams also threw three interceptions and was sacked 14 times.
Limited by design, Williams only carried the ball 56 times for 100 yards. With zero experienced depth behind him, Bohl and Co. made that decision to eliminate as many hits as possible. Williams did however rush for a team-high six touchdowns.
True freshman Gavin Beerup saw some time in mop-up duty, attempting 13 total passes. He completed just two of those and tossed a pair of interceptions.
Analysis: The air was clearly let out of the balloon the minute Chambers punched the turf inside Mackay Stadium. His teammates were concerned. Their captain was driven off the field in a cart.
It was a sad scene, especially since it had already happened to Chambers twice before.
Not all was lost though.
Williams earned his first start in the Arizona Bowl the previous December. He made plays with his feet and arm. He also showed toughness, taking a huge hit that left him under Georgia State's bench and Ayden Eberhardt in the Panther's end zone with a dagger of a touchdown just before half.
Williams finished that day in Tucson with three touchdown passes on just 11-of-26 passing. He also amassed 234 yards through the air and added 53 more on the ground, including a rushing touchdown. Wyoming rolled to a convincing 38-17 victory.
That game served as a possible glimpse into the future under center in Laramie.
Unfortunately for Williams and the Cowboys, reality set in quickly in Williams' second act.
He played well at Nevada, leading the team all the way back from a 28-6 third-quarter deficit. He was efficient the following week in a 31-7 home win over Hawaii, completing 9-of-18 passes for 112 yards.
It was Week 3 -- and against the Cowboys' biggest rival no less -- that things started to go south.
On the third play of the game in Fort Collins, Williams tossed a pick into the hands of Marshaun Cameron, who took the ball 30 yards down the sideline for a Colorado State touchdown. Five offensive plays later, Williams was sandwiched between a pair of Ram defenders and fumbled the ball. It was Cameron again credited with the strip-sack. CSU scored one play later.
Williams did have his best statistical outing that night, completing 19-of-31 passes for 321 yards, but the damage was done.
Over the final three weeks of the season, Williams completed just 15-of-39 throws, was picked off once and sacked five times. He was taking huge hits. He left the New Mexico and Boise State games with injuries.
Now, let's be clear -- this doesn't all fall on Williams' shoulders. The offensive line had its issues. Play calling was questionable at times and consistency was non-existent when it came to Wyoming's passing game. As mentioned, limiting Williams' ability to run didn't help things. That's a major part of his game.
It was easy at times to forget that Williams was still a rookie. After his performance in the desert against Georgia State, optimism and expectations were elevated. Williams didn't shy away from that. Despite his age and inexperience, Williams stood in front of the media each week and took the blame. He showed emotion. He took losses personally.
A finished product he isn't. A lost cause under center? He's far from that, too.
Questions: Let's be real -- the main question will always surround Chambers' health as long as he's on this roster. It comes with the unfortunate territory of having an injury history.
From the sounds of things, this is Chambers' job to lose heading into spring camp. He is one of four team captains and an unquestioned leader in that locker room. He is respected. He is loved by his teammates. It's obvious when you hear these guys talk about him.
Three season-ending leg injuries have derailed what has widely been viewed as a promising career in Laramie. We've all seen what Chambers can do with his legs, more specifically. He embarrassed Missouri in the 2019 season opener, gashing an SEC defense for 120 yards and a long touchdown run. He eclipsed the century mark three times on the ground that season. That's a weapon that has been missing.
A semblance of a passing game has basically been missing, too, since Josh Allen was the Pokes' signal caller in 2017.
Can Chambers find consistency when it comes to throwing the football?
He has the arm. In fact, fans -- and a certain reporter -- wonder at times if he even throws the ball too hard. Coaches believe he now has the weapons on the outside too in guys like Eberhardt, Isaiah Neyor, Alex Brown, Treyton Welch and others. In his 12 career starts, Chambers has completed just 65-of-142 passes and thrown 10 touchdowns. That's completing less than 45% of his throws.
Here's a stat for you -- Chambers has never completed double-digit passes in a game. He has reached nine twice.
His rushing stats are a tad different. In those dozen starts, Chambers has carried the ball 130 times for 796 yards and 12 scores.
Tim Polasek is not just the Cowboys' new offensive coordinator, he is also the quarterbacks coach. Can he bring out the best in Chambers with a new scheme? There's no guarantees when it comes to injuries, but Chambers did switch his jersey from 12 to No. 2. He promised Bohl that he left those scars and ailments in the old one.
Here's another pressing question -- How is Williams' confidence?
Last year was brutal for a number of reasons. The physical pain was obvious, but we saw a glimpse of another kind of issue when the QB announced on Twitter after the season that he had been receiving threats online. I can't imagine it's easy to go from the top of the world, holding a bowl trophy over your head after your first start to rolling in the snow in pain inside War Memorial Stadium as Wyoming's season came to an abrupt end with a 2-4 record a year ago.
I think we've seen enough out of these two guys to know they have the tools to get the job done. Can they though? That will be on the minds of Cowboy fans until they see it actually happen on the field in front of their eyes.
This will be a very important spring for both Chambers and Williams. Can they pick up Polasek's offense and develop a relationship over 15 practices? Not to add any more pressure, but this team as a whole seems primed for a run at a conference title. The largest question mark lines up under center at the most important spot on the field.
Who will seize the opportunity?