Gentry, Maulhardt looking for bigger things at wide receiver for Cowboys in West Coast offense

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LARAMIE, Wyoming — Tanner Gentry and Jake Maulhardt knew it as soon as the 2014 season ended.

They knew they were going to be the leaders of a wide receiver group for the University of Wyoming on and off the field.

"I wouldn't say it's added pressure, but it's an added opportunity," Gentry said. "We're going to have to make a lot of plays and put that on our shoulders."

UW's top two receivers from last season, Dominic Rufran and Jalen Claiborne, were seniors. They combined for 86 catches, 1,172 yards and three touchdowns. Two other receivers who saw playing time last season, Trey Norman and Keenan Montgomery, also were seniors.

Now juniors, Gentry and Maulhardt are the only two receivers on the roster this spring who caught passes last season. Gentry was third on the team with 32 catches for 435 yards. Maulhardt was fourth with 21 catches for 274 yards. They combined for three touchdowns.

Gentry caught 39 passes for 376 yards as a true freshman in 2013. Maulhardt caught nine passes for 76 yards and a touchdown.

Both figure to be the Cowboys' No. 1 and No. 2 receivers this season, although receivers coach Kenni Burns said the competition is "wide open." Burns said after last season, he watched every route of both players from 2014 to let them know what they did well and what they need to work on.

"I feel very good about those two guys. Are they where they need to be? Probably not," Burns said. "I have an idea in my mind of who should be (UW's top two receivers), but they're not there yet."

Last season was a big change for UW's receivers — and the entire offense — as it transitioned from a spread to West Coast scheme. Gentry and Maulhardt both said they feel more comfortable and confident with the offense this spring.

"I don't think we were as productive as we could have been," Maulhardt said of last season. "We know the playbook, and now it's more of getting the concepts and perfection of the playbook. I think the production will show up as a result."

Gentry and Maulhardt are the same in terms of their age and experience in the program, but they're different players. Gentry is 6-foot-2 and right around 200 pounds. He has good speed and has been one of the more impressive guys in the weight room in the offseason.

Maulhardt is UW's tallest receiver at 6-6, and even though he isn't the fastest receiver on the roster, his size and ball skills create mismatches for opposing defenses.

As far as his No. 1 and No. 2 receivers go, Burns said he is looking for "someone to be dominant on the edges that is technically sound, fast and a threat in a competitive situation with the cornerback."

"Tanner showed the ability to be that last year," Burns added. "But at same time, he missed a lot of opportunities to make plays. He took that to heart and had a good offseason. He had a good first day of spring practice (Monday). He looked like a different guy out there. He's more vocal and setting the tone, not just with the other receivers but for the entire offense.

"After watching the film from last year on Jake, we should have gotten him the ball more. He also had a good offseason. Jake wasn't as good as he wanted to be first day of spring, but there are still a lot of opportunities for him."

Not only does UW need Gentry and Maulhardt to emerge as its top two receivers, it also needs to find out who else can play.

Redshirt senior Justin Berger, junior Tanner Simpson and true freshman Joe Parker will get serious looks this spring.

Berger redshirted last season and has five catches in his UW career. Simpson, a former walk-on from Lander, has yet to catch a pass and also has battled injuries. Parker is one of five true freshman receivers UW signed in its 2015 recruiting class. He graduated from high school early and enrolled at UW in January.

Burns expects some true freshmen to play this season, but he said this spring is big for Berger and Simpson to see if they can establish themselves as possible contributors.

No matter how it turns out, Gentry is confident UW's receiving corps will be a strength of the team this fall.

"I think we can have one of the best receiving groups in the conference," he said.


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

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