LARAMIE, Wyo. — Wyoming’s first-string quarterback has received more attention than just about anyone else in the Mountain West this offseason, but as Nick Smith knows all too well, he’s just one Josh Allen injury away from holding that title.
“You really are one play away,” the Cowboys’ backup quarterback said. “That’s what I learned from my redshirt freshman year: how quickly things can happen just in a matter of plays.”
Smith started two games in 2015 and played in five when Allen, then a backup, broke his collarbone. Last year, as Allen remained healthy and broke onto the scene, becoming a coveted NFL prospect in the process, Smith did not leave the sideline.
Then, when Allen pondered leaving for the 2017 NFL Draft, Smith waited to see whether the player ahead of him on the depth chart would be a Wyoming Cowboy in 2017.
“I was kind of like everybody else,” Smith said. “I was waiting to see. I didn’t know until everybody else knew. I talked to Josh a little bit right before the bowl game and we kind of talked a little bit about what was going through his mind. He was really open about it.
“That was kind of what I knew and what he was thinking, but throughout the whole winter, I really didn’t know what was going on or what was going on behind the scenes. I wasn’t told anything, but I just kind of took it like a normal offseason. I had to prepare, whether I was playing or whatever the role may be.”
Offensive coordinator Brent Vigen said shortly after Allen made the decision to return that Wyoming had been planning to bring in another quarterback — in addition to 2017 signee Tyler Vander Waal — if Allen would have gone pro. Smith said he wasn’t told about the prospect of a new quarterback coming in.
“There wasn’t any plan that was communicated,” he told the Casper Star-Tribune (http://bit.ly/2xcL3QQ). “It was kind of just whatever (Allen’s) decision was, we were going to roll with it and probably go from there.”
Though Smith didn’t play in 2016, he seemed to make great strides in spring camp.
“He’s throwing the ball a lot better,” head coach Craig Bohl said, “and his numbers — we track completion percentages, accuracy, decision-making and all those things — and he’s really improved each year.
“And another thing that I’ve appreciated, his number of live snaps last year (were) pretty small. But what you’ve seen is somebody who’s really been engaged and encouraging and learns from what he sees Josh doing. And then when he has the opportunity in practice, he’s taking advantage of it. I think he’s faster. He’s certainly a smarter player, and while he has not had a lot of game reps, I think he’s really improved.”
Freshman Chandler Garrett left Wyoming in November, but the quarterbacks room has a new scholarship player this fall in Vander Waal, a Ball State decommit.
“Usually in high school, you’re the best, and that’s why you get offered,” said Vander Waal, who said Allen’s decision didn’t affect his recruitment. “And now, they take the best from every high school, so you’re out there really with the top guys. Just really knowing the defense and the playbook is pretty complicated. It’s a complex playbook.”
Said Vigen: “I’ve been pleased with (Vander Waal’s) physical skill set — in kind of a small sample size, but I’ve been pleased with that. Certainly pleased with his willingness to learn, his ability to learn. And then his athleticism, too, has been a — I don’t want to say a pleasant surprise. I think we felt like he was pretty athletic. We had him in camp. I saw him play live. But he’s showed the ability to run and elude the rush, so that’s all positive so far.”
The Sacramento-area recruit’s high school film shows some similarities to Allen’s gunslinging style of play.
“I think the athleticism to evade the rush, a quick release (are similar),” Vigen said. “I don’t know that Tyler’s arm is maybe as strong as Josh’s, but he can get the ball out of his hand quickly. There’s not a lot of wasted motion there. So from that standpoint, I know we like what we see.”
Still, Vander Waal plans to redshirt this season, and Vigen said Smith is secure in his backup role, with walk-on Nick Szpor as the No. 3, in addition to holder and backup punter roles. Vander Waal will travel to road games, however.
“He’s going to be running the scout team,” Vigen said, “and that will be a really good experience for him, to be able to be playing ball every day and getting those reps with the rest of the youngsters on the team.”
Information from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, http://www.trib.com