MISSOULA — Montana football coach Bobby Hauck had a four-word message for his team ahead of Monday’s practice: “capitalize on your opportunities.”
The Griz will have one last chance to do so in their 15th practice of spring camp when they take to the field for their spring game at 6 p.m. Friday in Hamilton. This will be their last team practice until the start of pre-season camp in early August, about a month before the season opener.
Hauck is treating the 60-minute game like just spring training, so it’s unclear how many veteran starters, like Robby Hauck and Pat O’Connell, or those returning from injuries, like Marcus Knight and Gabe Sulser, will play. The game could end up being a showcase for young talent, and UM has plenty of that with 63 freshmen or sophomores on the 93-player roster.
The spring game will be the first opportunity to catch a live look at UM’s six transfers and how they’ve adjusted to a new team. It should also be an opportunity to see how the substitutes have managed to work their way into the starting points as the coaches start preparing for their pre-season camp.
“It’s part of college football, it’s enrollees, graduates and young people have to pick up the flag and charge a little bit,” Bobby Hauck said.
Here are five things to watch for in the Grizzlies’ spring game:
Montana is young up front on both sides of the ball, but the offense as a whole has more question marks than defense, so O-line play will be critical to the team’s success in the fall. . Juniors AJ Forbes and Hunter Mayginnes return to center and left guard, marking the only returns from the veteran line from last year.
Who will rise around them? Will it be older guys like senior Cody Kanouse and junior Gerrit Bloemendaal? What about highly recruited underclassmen like sophomores Brandon Casey and Colin Dreis? Or how about other youngsters like sophomore Dillon Botner or redshirt freshmen Liam Brown, Kukila Lincoln and Kevin Good?
Like the O line, UM’s defensive line is young, aside from inside linemen Alex Gubner and Eli Alford. The Grizzlies’ ability to find their next D-ends to tighten their tackles could help their defense, which brings All-American or All-Big Sky players in the other three position groups, to the next level.
Who will prove worthy of a shot? Have sophomore Jacob McGourin and senior DeAri Todd taken the next step after their first full season? How does Nebraska transition Garrett Hustedt into a new system and a new position? What about sophomores Henry Nuce and Noah Kaschmitter after they each had a few snaps last year?
As tradition dictates, UM’s quarterback battle is arguably the hottest topic of the spring. San Diego State transfer Lucas Johnson, second Kris Brown and redshirt rookie Daniel Britt are vying for the spot, but whoever wins may not find life in the pocket too comfortable unless the offensive line does not find its place.
Still, the battle rages on and is sure to go deeper into fall camp, as is also tradition. So far, how well has Johnson taken up the attack after joining the team in January? How much has Brown improved his game after starting four times in the fall? And what is Britt like now that he’s no longer stuck leading the scout team?
Montana will need to replace many of its specialists, including the most accurate field goal shooter in school history, an American kick and kickoff specialist and a long snapper who won’t never made a mistake. Malik Flowers highlights returning players and is two return touchdowns away from tying the FCS record, but there are questions beyond that.
What look like sophomore Carver Gilman and redshirt freshman Camden Capser handling kickoff, punt and kick duties on the field as the Griz wait the arrival of Patrick Rohrbach in the fall? How does redshirt freshman snapper Grayson Pibal behave after learning from Matthew O’Donoghue? And who will step in to stop the revolving door of punt returns?
Montana needs to replace one of the best wide receivers in program history and is looking for its next big point guard in that position. Senior Mitch Roberts is a returning starter who is more of a possession receiver, senior Malik Flowers has caught just 20 career passes while running the ball 13 times and excelling in throw sweeps, and junior Gabe Sulser just got hurt.
Who is ready to break through among a group of deep but unproven talents? Have sophomores Ryan Simpson, Keelan White and Aaron Fontes taken the next step in their development? How is sophomore Junior Bergen adjusting after running back? How does Washington’s Sawyer Racanelli transfer fit in? And what about redshirt freshmen Nick Williams and Drew Deck?