BILLINGS — The most visible position battle at Rocky Mountain College ahead of the 2023 football season is at quarterback, where the Battlin' Bears must replace dual-threat veteran leader Nate Dick, whose injury-hampered career has come to an end.
Spring drills wrapped up last week with a scrimmage at Herb Klindt Field, and Rocky coach Chris Stutzriem said QBs George Tribble and Trent Nobach are the leading candidates to win the starting job.
But Stutzriem, a former college quarterback himself, added with a laugh, "I was the fourth guy at Wyoming after spring ball and ended up being the starter for Game 2. So I don't know if that's good or bad."
The point is, nothing is ever settled in the spring. But the Bears, after 14 practices and a final scrimmage that featured 74 live plays, have a clearer understanding of their team coming off a 2022 campaign that saw it lose three of its final four games and finish with a 6-4 record.
Stutzriem said he and his coaching staff were especially diligent about giving the offense and defense a variety of looks in order to rectify shortcomings from a season ago.
"We wanted to hit on every situation," he said. "Two minute, running the clock out, backed up, red zone, 1s versus 1s, 2s versus 1s, vice versa ... every type of situation over time that a player might see. There were even days when I played referee and would call a bad penalty just to see how we reacted. I wanted to get a lot of team reps and get guys in situations to really simulate what a game is like."
Stutzriem added: "Going into spring ball, the positions that we felt were going to be big for us were our defensive line. Our defense as a whole — linebacker, secondary. We've got a good quarterback battle going on, I think we have some key returners at running back. We have some young guys at receiver that we really like that needed to have a big spring and I thought they did."
Dick, a local talent who starred at Billings Senior, isn't the only stalwart they Bears have to find a suitable replacement for. Linebacker Nolan McCafferty, defensive lineman Wes Moeai, receiver Trae Henry and tight end Andrew Simon are among the others.
However, Dick's absence won't just be felt on the field, which is why Stutzriem has called on his quarterbacks — Tribble, Nobach, J.T. Allen and Hayden Ward — to take greater stock in the leadership category as part of the competition to become the team's next full-time starter.
"It's tough losing Nate," Stutzriem said. "It was tough last year. It was tough on him. He's one of those guys that when you've got him you don't realize how special he is.
"I've really challenged those guys in that room to develop a little bit more as vocal leaders and I thought they've handled it really well. And so they'll continue to do that stuff during the summer with throwing, running, individual workouts and things like that."
Rocky opens its season with the renewal of an old rivalry when it welcomes Dicksinson State to Herb Klindt Field on Aug. 26 at 6 p.m.