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Montana Griz position preview: Defensive line ready to cause 'controlled chaos' on opposing offenses

Justin Belknap and Joe Babros.jpg
Posted at 6:42 PM, Aug 18, 2021

(Editor's note: This is the fifth in an eight-part series highlighting the position groups for the Montana Grizzlies football team. For Part 1 on the quarterbacks, click here. For Part 2 on the running backs, click here. For Part 3 on the wide receivers/tight ends, click here. For Part 4 on the offensive line, click here. For Part 6 on the linebackers, click here. For Part 7 on the defensive backs, click here. For Part 8 on the special teams unit, click here).

MISSOULA -- As a unit, the Montana Grizzly defense has looked sharp through the first few weeks of fall camp.

Looking at the defensive line, UM brings plenty of experience back from the 2019 season, and all of its starters back from the spring, as the Griz aim to wreak havoc on opposing offenses this upcoming fall.

The Griz got a boost from Arizona grad transfer Justin Belknap last summer, who initially came to Montana to play linebacker, but seamlessly fit in at defensive end in the spring where he started.

"There were a couple of injuries, I had to go down and help with the D-line and coach (Barry) Sacks just never gave me back," Belknap said. "It was my natural position so I felt more comfortable getting down there. I felt like I was playing a position I already knew how to play rather than learning a new position so that definitely helped."

Belknap spent five years at Arizona as a defensive end and was awarded a medical redshirt after injury cut his 2018 season short. In 38 games with the Wildcats, he tallied 54 total tackles, 4.5 sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss.

"We're frantic," Belknap said. "We get after the ball, we want to take your head off. We're not the biggest, strongest people, per se, but we're going to be fast, have speed and we're going to try to take you out."

Belknap has worked in the mix with fellow FBS transfer Joe Babros, Montana's other defensive end who came to Missoula from North Carolina State in 2019 and was thrown into heavy minutes right away. In 2019, Babros finished with 17 total tackles and added a pick as well.

Montana typically rolls with three down linemen, so returning vets Eli Alford and Alex Gubner both are set to rotate at nose tackle alongside Babros and Belknap. Gubner led Montana in interceptions in 2019 with four during his redshirt freshman year while adding 36 total tackles, 2.5 sacks and three tackles for loss. Alford finished 2019 with 19 total tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks.

Montana oftentimes will also blitz its linebackers, meaning the defensive linemen and linebackers work in tandem to create pressure on opposing quarterbacks, something Montana has found plenty of success in from both positions.

"Speed is our ally," Babros said about that pressure. "We’re not always the biggest guys on the field but we’re always trying to be the fastest guys and if we’re not the fastest then we’re the most violent. And we’re just frantic and it just creates a lot of chaos up there. Overall it's just controlled chaos."

"I love knowing that if you’re going one way, the backer is going the other way, and that what you’re doing makes sense and what the people behind you are doing makes sense to what you’re doing," Belknap added. "It all plugs in and applies and it makes a lot of sense when you see the whole picture."

For the D-line, consistency is key as fall camp rolls on as they aim to improve each day with this veteran group.

"I think the biggest focus for us is to keep our formula and our momentum because we know what we’re doing now," Babros said. "And I think we want to keep our status quo and keep our standard up high.

"It kind of feels like we picked up where we left off in the spring. Usually you feel like you've been gone longer, but our guys look good and its cool to see some of the younger guys come up and kind of prove themselves during camp and see some new faces kind of make their way into the room and make their way into some playing time."

Griz defensive linemen on the 2021 roster by number

No. 40, Kale Edwards, R-FR, 6-5, 240 pounds, Coeur d'Alene, ID
No. 47, Kellen Detrick, FR, 6-foot-3, 230 pounds, Havre, MT
No. 48, Zac Evans, FR, 6-0, 230 pounds, Helena, MT
No. 50, DeAri Todd, R-JR, 6-2, 272 pounds, Lorain, OH
No. 53, Lorenzo Brown, R-SO, 6-4, 220 pounds, Chicago, IL
No. 55, Alex Hurlburt, R-FR, 6-3, 242 pounds, Salem, OR
No. 56, Joe Babros, R-SR, 6-4, 230 pounds, Mission Viejo, CA
No. 59, Corby Mann, FR, 6-5, 220 pounds, Red Lodge, MT
No. 90, Justin Belknap, R-SR, 6-3, 240 pounds, Henderson, NV
No. 91, Eli Alford, JR, 6-1, 290 pounds, Park City, UT
No. 92, Jacob McGourin, R-FR, 6-5, 265 pounds, Cheney, WA
No. 93, Sloan McPherson, FR, 6-4, 230 pounds, Savage, MT
No. 94, Noah Kaschmitter, FR, 6-3, 260 pounds, Grangeville, ID
No. 95, Dylan Smith, FR, 6-4, 230 pounds, Whitehall, MT
No. 96, Henry Nuce, FR, 6-4, 250 pounds, Kalispell, MT
No. 97, RJ Nelson, R-JR, 6-4, 250 pounds, Hillsboro, OR
No. 98, Journey Grimsrud, 6-3, 272 pounds, Huntley, MT
No. 99, Alex Gubner, R-SO, 6-3, 294 pounds, West Hills, CA