MISSOULA — The Montana football team entered Week Three of spring football on Monday, its final week of just practices before beginning game-week preparations next week ahead of its matchup with NCAA Division II Central Washington.
As the Griz work toward their first official game in over a year, Montana returns a number of key starters and experienced players this spring.
All eyes will be on the quarterback position, where the Griz are now tasked with finding a replacement for Dalton Sneed who started for the Grizzlies for Bobby Hauck's first two years back at the helm.
Redshirt senior Cam Humphrey is the clear No. 1 for the Grizzlies thanks to his experience on the field. Humphrey stepped in and started three games for UM in 2019 when Sneed was injured. In 2019, Humphrey completed 63 of 104 attempts for 761 yards and six touchdowns to two interceptions.
Other players in the QB room who could be thrown into the mix include redshirt freshman Kris Brown, South Florida transfer Kirk Rygol, Saddleback Community College transfer Robbie Patterson and true freshman Carson Rostad.
The Grizzlies lost a lot of experience with Sneed graduating, but Humphrey's in-game reps go a long way according to Hauck.
"That's college football for the most part. Rarely do you have a bunch of guys at quarterback. You're lucky if you have one that's had experience," Hauck said. "So we're in decent shape there. Like anything else they have some good days, they have some bad days. Always looking for consistency at that position and, generally speaking, the guy with the most experience is probably the most consistent, so as soon as the young guys can play more consistently, they’re probably going to have a better opportunity to challenge."
Outside of quarterback, talent is aplenty for Montana, especially at the offensive line, where the Grizzlies return four players with starting experience in Dylan Cook, Conlan Beaver, Colton Keintz and Moses Mallory. Those four were part of a line that blocked for a Griz offense that racked up 440.2 total yards per game and scored 36.7 points per game in 14 games in 2019.
"I think if you're going to have a good, consistent team throughout the season, you have to have depth," Hauck said. "It's just the way the game is. If you can play into your two-deep in college football, you're probably better off than the team that can't. I think when we've been good around here, that's the way it's been and I think we're getting to that point."
Then, there's skill position stars in receiver Samuel Akem and running back Marcus Knight. Akem caught 13 touchdowns in 2018 and went for 59 catches, 848 yards and five scores in 2019 before an injury against Idaho ended his season. Meanwhile, Knight is coming off of a 2019 where he set records for rushing touchdowns (23), total touchdowns (25) and points scored (150) while finishing with 1,030 yards on the ground.
Montana lost All-America receiver Samori Toure to transfer to Nebraska, but players like Mitch Roberts (37 catches, 420 yards, one score in 2019) and Gabe Sulser (196 career receiving yards, four total touchdowns) add depth to receiver with in-game experience, while Nick Ostmo also flashed potential at running back in his true freshman season, rushing for 319 yards and two scores.
Bryson Deming, who caught 18 passes for 195 yards and three touchdowns in 2019, and Matt Rensvold (105 career receiving yards and three touchdowns) bring experience back at the tight end position.
All in all, it's an offense with a lot of talent back, and Hauck has high hopes for it ahead of the games versus Central Washington on April 10 and Portland State on April 17.
"We need to get better," Hauck said. "I think we can score points. I think we can be balanced. I think we’ll be able to run it, I think we’ll be able to throw it. We’ve very multiple, I like where that is. We have a bunch of personnel groups we can get to so I like what I’m seeing.
"(Spring ball) keeps getting better and better. I like where we are. Certainly any time you approach a game as a coach you feel like the clock's ticking. I think our players have had that urgency so everybody's excited to get into game week."