MISSOULA — Bobby Hauck led some outstanding defensive backs during his first stint as head football coach with the Montana Grizzlies, including Colt Anderson, Shann Shillinger and Trumaine Johnson. His current group also has a chance to be pretty special.
Hauck and defensive coordinator Kent Baer want an aggressive, fast defense. Now with two years in the system, Montana's talented secondary relishes its role.
"He lets us play free," said junior cornerback Dareon Nash. "There is a lot of time we can do stuff on our own. We can make calls on our own."
Baer has installed a system with three safeties on the field nearly every snap. Hauck loves it because of the flexibility to match up with any offense. It helps that he has a talented group of safeties to pick from, led by his son Robby, Gavin Robertson and Josh Sandry, returning starters and some of the best tacklers on the team who often hit like linebackers.
"We're pretty salty and gritty," said sophomore Robby Hauck. "We've got kind of that chip on our shoulder. We've got a lot of guys that want to tackle, run to the ball, and all of that, which is important on our defense."
With safeties often coming close to the line to stuff the run, the Griz need their corners to perform on an island. And they believe they have found two shutdown options in guys who started their Montana careers as receivers, Nash and Justin Calhoun.
"It's definitely exciting," said Calhoun, a senior. "But you've got to definitely focus in more when it's one-on-one. I think we're doing a really good job playing the ball and finishing plays."
"You have to have a no-losing mentality," added Nash. "So when you make a mistake, forget about it. Flush it. And when you make a play, celebrate."
This secondary boasts some added depth to help the returning starters. Transfer corner Kadeem Hemphill and safeties Gavin Crow and Michael McGinnis have impressed through spring practices and early in fall camp. The celebrations could start early.
"I think everybody is pretty excited to get going," said Hauck. "It's a little different feeling from last year in a good way."
"We're ready for the season, ready for South Dakota right now, Week 1," added Calhoun.
The Griz secondary will face plenty of challenges. Four of their first eight opponents ranked in the top 20 in FCS passing yards last season (South Dakota, UC Davis, Idaho State and Eastern Washington). And that doesn't include a Week 3 trip to Oregon, with top NFL prospect Justin Herbert at quarterback.