Wyoming has had three spring practices and already change is in full swing.
The Cowboys are transitioning from a 3-4 defense to a 4-3 in an effort to minimize big plays and get more speed on the edges.
It’s a system coach Dave Christensen wanted to implement when he arrived last spring, but couldn’t because of the personnel. However, after recruiting two classes to the 4-3 scheme, Christensen said his squad is ready for the change.
“We’re trying to put guys in certain positions where they can make plays and get as much speed and athleticism on the field as we can,” Christensen said. “The reason we recruited some of these kids is that we projected them to be able to play different positions. We get more speed on the sides. So, now we’re able to get the faster players in different positions.”
Wyoming has run the 3-4 since 2005. In 2006, the Cowboys ranked ninth in the country in total defense and were especially good against the pass. In coach Joe Glenn’s final two seasons, the Cowboys ranked 22nd and 38th nationally.
Last season, Christensen's first year, Wyoming struggled and ranked 81st nationally with 393.31 yards per game. It was the lowest defensive ranking since the Cowboys were 102nd in 2003.
The Cowboys allowed 29 plays of 25 yards or more and nine of those plays went for touchdowns.
“The good news is that we weren’t very good going into this point in time last year,” Christensen said. “This year, we’re better athletically, we understand the expectation, how to do things. So, we’re a lot further ahead than we were a year ago.”
The biggest reason for the defensive switch is Christensen’s familiarity with the 4-3. It’s what teams have run at nearly every coaching stop he’s made throughout his career and it was a nice complement to his spread offense while at Missouri.
To facilitate this move, juniors Josh Biezuns and junior Gabe Knapton will move from linebacker to defensive end. Christensen said he’s a little light on depth at defensive tackle this spring, but the Cowboys will have more help when recruits arrive in August.
With the transition already in the works, Christensen is confident that his team will be able to execute the 4-3 by the time the season begins in September.
“I don’t think the transition will be that difficult,” Christensen said. “We are missing some guys, some defensive linemen that will be with us in fall camp. They’re going to miss out on some time right now, but other than that, most of the guys that played last year are back at other spots. So, we’ll be in good shape.
“We just feel like the 4-3 is the best direction for us to go for the future of our program.”