MISSOULA — Last week we took a look at what the Montana football team brings back on the offensive side of the ball.
As UM prepares to welcome Central Washington on Saturday, the defensive side of the ball is similar to the offense in that it returns plenty of talent from the 2019 campaign.
"They're doing a good job, we've had some guys who have been pretty productive there as well," Montana coach Bobby Hauck said. "We have seniors move on and you have to handle the attrition and develop players and that's why we come out here and practice. I think it's been pretty solid so far."
On that side of the ball, Montana welcomes back seven players with starting experience, highlighted by all-Big Sky Conference talents Jace Lewis and Robby Hauck. Lewis, a linebacker, was the 2020-21 preseason defensive player of the year pick in the conference after earning first-team all-league honors in 2019 where he racked up 131 total tackles, 12 for loss, along with 4.5 sacks and two forced fumbles. Hauck, meanwhile, was a second-team selection in 2019 at safety and named to the preseason all-Big Sky team in 2020-21. Hauck finished with 129 total tackles, three sacks, two forced fumbles and one interception in 2019.
Montana returns 2019 sack leader Patrick O'Connell to once again suit up alongside Lewis at linebacker. O'Connell, a Kalispell native who broke out in 2019, racked up 6.5 sacks in 2019 along with 56 total tackles, 7.5 for loss.
On the defensive line, Montana returns three players with starting experience in Joe Babros (17 total tackles in 2019), Braydon Deming (3.5 career sacks at UM) and Alex Gubner (36 total tackles, 2.5 sacks and four interceptions in 2019), while Gavin Robertson (72 total tackles, one sack, two interceptions in 2019) returns alongside Hauck as a starter at safety.
Last year in 14 games Montana allowed 25.1 points and 399.1 yards per game. Montana also totaled 16 interceptions, good for second in the Big Sky Conference, and 34 sacks, which ranked fourth in the conference. However, the Griz move forward this spring and into the fall without program staples Dante Olson, Jesse Sims and Josh Sandry, all of whom graduated after the 2019 season.
The Grizzlies released their two-deep depth chart for the Central Washington game on Tuesday afternoon. Defensively, Helena native Marcus Welnel will join O'Connell and Lewis as a starter at linebacker. Oregon State transfer Omar Hicks Onu will start at cornerback along with sophomore Corbin Walker, who flashed plenty of potential in 2019 including a pick-6 in UM's playoff game against Southeastern Louisiana. Like Hicks Onu, UM could get an additional impact at corner from fellow Oregon State transfer Trajon Cotten as well.
Arizona transfer Justin Belknap is slated to start at defensive end while Eli Alford (19 total tackles, 1.5 sacks in 2019) is listed ahead of Gubner at nose tackle. Nash Fouch, who had 21 total tackles and two interceptions in 2019, will also start on Saturday.
For a full look at the released two-deep, click here.
All in all, Bobby Hauck is pleased with what the team has brought to the table so far in spring ball as they head into Saturday's contest.
"I think this is a group that will play with a great deal of effort and we tackle well so those two things (stand out)," Hauck said. "Hopefully those will show up on Saturday."