MISSOULA — University of Montana football won’t kick off the season until the last day of August, but the Grizzlies have earned a spring break right now. The team has been working through winter conditioning and early spring practices for the past couple of months, and the progress shows.
Montana has much more experience returning this season, particularly on the offensive side of the ball. The Griz lost only one starter to graduation: wideout Kennan Curran. Everyone else is back, and they added a couple transfers that could help right away on the offensive line and at running back.
So even though they’ve only officially practiced eight times, everything is clicking.
“Definitely fired up,” said senior starting quarterback Dalton Sneed after the first spring scrimmage. “Everybody is stepping up, taking a new role on the offense — nother year older, another year wiser, understanding what they’re doing, bigger, faster, all of the above, etcetera. Everybody is taking that next leap in their step of development and definitely earning trust.”
“I just felt like we were more ready for what was coming this year compared to last year,” added junior wide receiver Sammy Akem. “Because I felt like last year we came out and everybody didn’t really know what to expect. I mean, new coach and everything. But this year I feel like we hit the ground and we’re just ready.”
The man in charge echoes his players. Compared to this time last year, coach Bobby Hauck is very pleased.
Hauck’s return to UM featured a very young team last fall. While the Grizzlies took some lumps because of their lack of experience, all of that turns into lessons learned with a large group of starters back.
The perfectionist can always find room for improvement, but spring practice through Montana’s first scrimmage last Friday gave Hauck the belief the Grizzlies are building something good.
“We have more people that are able to play at college speed today,” said Hauck. “I don’t know, we went 105 to 110 plays and most of it looked like college football. I think when some of our young guys are in there it doesn’t. But I think we’re significantly ahead of where we were a year ago today.”
One place the Grizzlies clearly want improvement was on display in the scrimmage. Montana spent time working on short-yardage situations, like 4th-and-1. Hauck knows his team must convert those chances at a higher rate. The head coach admits the offensive line still remains a question mark, but now he has more options and bigger bodies than a year ago.
The Grizzlies return to the field for seven more spring workouts starting on Monday.