Trying to find a weakness on Wyoming’s defense might be a fool’s errand. The Cowboys led the nation in takeaways last season and led the Mountain West in yards per play, points per game and opposing touchdowns allowed.
But if you had to pick, cornerback might be the spot you’d settle on. None of the Cowboys’ starting corners from last season are listed at that position this year, as Rico Gafford and Robert Priester graduated and Tyler Hall moved to nickel back.
In step Antonio Hull and Althoff Catholic High School graduate C.J. Coldon.
“The corner group, we go out there, we work,” Hull said. “We all work. That’s what I love about the group. We work. We don’t complain.”
Hull isn’t new to the position, having been a starter for Wyoming in 2016, but he missed almost all of last season with a freak thigh injury.
“I knew coming back I was going to be a little rusty in the spring,” said Hull, a junior who received a medical redshirt. “I used that to see where I was, see what I needed to work on and stuff like that. And now coming back, this summer I worked, and I feel good now.
“It’s more like the mental part was going to be more important for me to know, not busting any coverages and things like that, the mental aspect of the game.”
Freshman Coldon earned the Cowboys’ other starting cornerback job in spring camp. Coldon dressed and traveled last year as a redshirt, just in case he would be needed because of injury.
“I’m just getting better and improving every day and perfecting my craft,” Coldon told the Casper Star-Tribune. “My team does a good job helping me do it, and our position group, we just keep each other up and help each other every day.”
Coldon is a 2017 graduate of Althoff, where he was part of an athletic class to win a state basketball championship and make a run at state football titles. As a wide receiver his senior season, he led the Crusaders with 58 catches for 965 yards and 11 touchdowns. He also was among team leaders in tackles.
A three-star recruit per Rivals and Scout, Coldon possesses natural length that neither Hull, Gafford, Hall nor Priester have to work with.
So Hull has the experience and Coldon has the athleticism. But they’re still new pieces for a defense that was far from dominant when Hull last played a full game.
If the two have any trouble adjusting, though, the nine Cowboys around them should help. Coldon couldn’t have asked for a much better situation to step into as a first-year starter.
“They make me feel comfortable out there,” Coldon said. “It’s really on me. I feel pressured, like I don’t want to mess up. Because I’m the new guy, and I don’t want it to be on me. They do a good job being behind me, keeping me up and we just play together.
“... Obviously, we get pressure a lot up front, so all we’ve got to do is work our technique and stay in coverage.”
A defensive front that includes all-conference linemen Carl Granderson and Youhanna Ghaifan should prevent Hull and Coldon from having to chase receivers around for too long.
“Sometimes (it will be) for only two, three seconds,” Hull said.
Even so, cornerback will always be an isolated position, regardless of the talent elsewhere.
“You’re on an island,” Hull said. “You’ve still got to do your job. But we’ve got Carl and Sid (Malaulu) and YoYo. We’ve got some guys down there. So that’s going to help most definitely.
“... But we’ve always got to be on point, because you can always get beat. You can always go to sleep and think nothing is coming your way. It happened to me before (on a 75-yard touchdown pass in 2016) against Air Force. You can always get beat, but you’ve just got to keep your head.”
That’s a lesson he has tried to impress on the newbie.
“If you can be a young guy and take it as serious as possible, that’s when you’re going to separate yourself from the other young guys,” Hull said. “(Coldon) is already athletic. He’s already long. He already can run. He already has that natural ability. Now he’s just got to have the mental (approach) of, ‘I’m going to be great every time.’
“And that’s something that I try to do also. So I can at least tell him, ‘That’s what we need to be working on.’ Trying to be great every play.”
And while Hull and Coldon are the presumptive starters, they won’t be the only two cornerbacks to see the field. Redshirt freshman Keyon Blankenbaker emerged as the third cornerback in spring camp, and Ja’Lani Ellison has earned more praise from head coach Craig Bohl than any other true freshman this camp.
“It’s important so if somebody goes down you always want somebody to come step up,” Hull said. “I don’t know how the rotation is now. It’s early in camp, but it’s always important to have somebody that can step up and get in there and get the job done.”