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Running back a strength for Cowboys with Wick and Hill, but there's room for improvement

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LARAMIE, Wyoming — If there is a position of strength for the University of Wyoming football team, it's running back.

The Cowboys return their two leading rushers from last season, senior Shaun Wick and sophomore Brian Hill, who combined for 1,549 yards and 13 touchdowns.

Wick is tied for eighth in school history with 19 rushing touchdowns and is 882 yards from becoming UW's career rushing leader. Hill led the Cowboys in rushing last season with 796 yards. He broke school and Mountain West records with 387 all-purpose yards against Fresno State, and his 281 yards rushing in that game was the second-best in UW history.

"I think, without a doubt, we are the best running back duo in the Mountain West," Wick said.

But there's still room for improvement.

"Shaun and Brian are both so young in our offense," UW running backs coach Mike Bath said. "There's so many different things, going back to last season, that we can build on, but also improve on."

One area is a better grasp of UW's West Coast offense, which was new for both players after coach Craig Bohl took over before last season.

"Shaun has a great level of understanding, but now it's taking it to that next level," Bath added. "He's a great student of the game, and it means a lot to him.

"For Brian, it paid huge dividends for him to play last season, especially in the last four games. He still has some rawness in terms of the run game, fundamentals, protections. He still has so much room to grow. It's not just learning the offense, it's learning why we were running the things were running. It's an overall big picture of why we are doing things."

Bohl's offense through the years has shown he likes to feature two running backs who get a similar number of carries. That was the case last season as Hill had 145 carries and Wick 126. Wick was on pace to lead UW in both carries and rushing yards, but missed most of four games with a broken hand.

At the start of last season, Wick and D.J. May were the top two backs, with Hill getting a few carries. But May tore the anterior cruciate ligament in a knee before the Oct. 25 game with Colorado State, and Wick broke his hand early in that game.

That increased the workload for Hill, and also got Josh Tapscott on the field some late in the season. He finished with 80 yards on 15 carries in five games as a redshirt freshman.

May has moved to safety for his senior year.

Assuming Wick and Hill are the top two guys this season, are there enough carries to go around?

There will be if UW shows it can run the ball with the consistency Bohl, Bath and offensive coordinator Brent Vigen want and expect.

"For me, it's not a concern," Bath said. "Coach Vigen or coach Bohl may say something different. The guys know we're a tailback-dominated offense, and they are going to get the carries and production.

"But also, Shaun would say he felt great when not taking 25 or 30 carries a game and getting 16 to 20. That makes you fresher. We're in it for game Nos. 13 or 14. Guys have to be ready to play and play hard late in the season."

Another question is who will play behind and compete against Wick and Hill.

Tapscott and redshirt freshman Nico Evans are the top two guys right now. UW adds true freshman Kellen Overstreet during fall camp. The Hamilton, Missouri, product was UW's first-ever Parade All-American signee back in February.

"Last year was huge evidence why we need a third and fourth guy," Bath said. "Brian went from six to 10 snaps a game prior to the Colorado State game to 50 or 60. Josh went from the scout team to about 25 plays versus Fresno State."

That message has been well received by the players.

"The most important thing is to be ready," Tapscott said. "You have the responsibility to your teammates for them to trust you. If they don't have that trust, the coaches won't have it when your number is called.

"Last season gave me a lot of confidence. I knew I could do it, but to show it really helped me. I'm trying my hardest to move up the depth chart. It's hard with what Shaun and Brian did last year, but during each practice, I can show the coaches what I can do, so when the games come, they have the trust in me if something happens to the other guys."

Wick and Hill played together extensively only once last season - the finale at New Mexico. Wick said he's looking forward to more of that this season, but he also said it doesn't matter who carries the ball.

"If you ask me, any running back can step on to the field and do work because coach Bath prepares us really well," he said. "The better players will see the field first."


Information from: Wyoming Tribune Eagle, http://www.wyomingnews.com

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