Mar 29, 2012 - The Associated PressLARAMIE (AP) -- Patrick Mertens has seen Wyoming's defense morph before.
He was a redshirt when the Cowboys used a successful 3-4 scheme in 2009.
Mertens' presence was part of the reason the team switched to a 4-3 base one year later.
With the defensive tackle out again last year due to illness, a 4-3 became a 4-2-5 and at times it was tough to know exactly what the base was.
With spring camp going on, the Cowboys shifted into learning mode once again, this time under the tutelage of new defensive coordinator Chris Tormey.
"This being our third or fourth defense in four years will be hard, but I think this is the fourth time, so we're kind of used to getting a new defense every year," Mertens said.
With a depth chart chock full of players with on-field experience, expect the Pokes to show multiple formations and personnel groupings depending on offensive schemes and down and distance.
But if Tormey has his way, it's the principles that will remain consistent after he inserts his new scheme.
"It's all brand new right now," Tormey tells the Casper Star-Tribune. "You want them to understand the concepts. What are the strengths and weaknesses of the defense? Where is my help? Once we have a profound understanding of that, we can have our eyes in the right place.
"Then we can start to play real fast. If you play real fast on defense, then you've got a chance to be successful. If you're tentative, you're never going to succeed."
That's a mantra that's built up over three decades of coaching.
He was a graduate assistant at the University of Washington when Cowboys head coach Dave Christensen played there.
Thirty years -- including stops at Nevada and Idaho as a head coach -- later, the two have reunited in Laramie.
"The last five years I've been four different places," Tormey said. "As a coach, you want to get into a stable situation and this appears to be very stable."
Now he's charged with stabilizing a defense that ranked just 98th out of 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams nationally last year.
The Pokes were one of the nation's best at forcing turnovers, but ranked 115th in stopping the run.
It led Christensen to shift former defensive coordinator Marty English to the role of coaching only linebackers. English later left the program to become an assistant at Colorado State.
"Thirty-one takeaways was an exceptional number," Tormey said. "If we can have the same kind of success taking the ball away and just be more sound against the run I think we've got a chance to be a pretty solid defense."
That transformation begins this spring.
The Cowboys saw just how critical the 15 camp practices can be when they installed a new offense under first-year coordinator Gregg Brandon a year ago.
"(Tormey) is very knowledgeable, a great coach," safety Luke Anderson said. "I just have to get used to the scheme. It's different.
"We've got to be able to adjust. I'm in a learning phase right now and I'm a long way from where I want to be. But it's cool. It'll teach us humility. We're doing a lot of cool things, I've just got to get it all down."
The Cowboys have been here before.
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