MISSOULA — Offensive line is a position with plenty of question marks for Montana this year because of the group's youth.
They lost three starters from last year's team in Dylan Cook (right tackle), Conlan Beaver (left tackle) and Moses Mallory (right guard) and a couple of backups in Kordell Pillans and Skyler Martin, so plenty of new faces are now tasked with stepping into the fold.
Redshirt juniors AJ Forbes (center) and Hunter Mayginnes (left guard) know exactly how it feels to be the new guys on the offensive line after both transferred to Montana from other schools. Forbes came to UM from Nebraska in the summer of 2020 while Mayginnes joined the team last summer from Washington State.
Now, they're the vets tasked with leading the group.
"Coming into this season, Hunter and I understood that even though we were considered the new guys last year that we were going to be able to embrace the role as more of the leaders in the position group this year," Forbes said. "I think both of us are definitely mature enough to handle that and we’re taking it by the horns."
The Grizzlies added Nebraska transfer and senior Chris Walker in the summer, who is expected to fill in at starter at left tackle.
But aside from those three, it's younger, more inexperienced players who are now tasked with filling in the holes on the line.
Redshirt freshman Liam Brown has been seeing a lot of reps at right guard, and sophomore Brandon Casey has been slotted in at right tackle.
Offensive line is one of the most challenging positions in sports, and guys like Mayginnes and Forbes are doing what they can to bring them along.
"You have to be so technical with your feet and fast with your feet. Have to be so technical with your hands and fast with your hands. Make sure you have the right head spot," Mayginnes said. "Honestly, when we’re out here we’re just trying to push the pace and bring the young guys along and it’s not even so much talking about it, it’s about being about it and making sure that we just keep on pushing the pace and make sure those guys keep on following."
While young, Casey saw time in six games last year for Montana and even started two games at right tackle to fill in for injury.
Aside from the starters, the second-string players the Griz have and beyond also are also young and without much in-game experience, which is why this fall camp is so important in catching them up to speed. Redshirt freshmen like Kevin Good and Kukila Lincoln could be players on the offensive line while fellow freshman Journey Grimsrud also made the switch from defensive line to help boost the offensive side. Redshirt sophomores Colin Dreis and Dillon Botner also seem poised to crack the two-deep while redshirt juniors like Gerrit Bloemendaal and Cody Kanouse also add depth.
"Camp is always the most difficult part of the year because everything is flying around and all of these young guys are like what is going on," Mayginnes said. "You got to learn the playbook, you're trying to meet your teammates. But as long as you're out here putting in the work, everything will fall into place and there's light at the end of the tunnel so no matter what you do just keep on pushing through and working hard and it'll pay off in the end."
Chemistry is of paramount importance when working with each lineman, as well as the team's quarterbacks and running backs, so growing that has been a focal point all camp as this group gets ready for the season.
"The O-line is a unit where you need to be a unit. We need to be on the same page, chemistry needs to be top tier in order to be a successful unit," Forbes said. "I think a lot of guys are getting good reps and they're improving and listening to coaching and they're getting pushed. It's a great environment for them to be in because of the standard we have set for ourselves."
Griz offensive linemen on the 2022 roster by number
No. 55, Chris Walker, R-SR, 6-foot-6, 290 pounds, Lincoln, NE
No. 57, AJ Forbes, R-JR, 6-foot-4, 303 pounds, Bellevue, NE
No. 60, Dillon Botner, R-SO, 6-foot-6, 260 pounds, Whitefish, MT
No. 61, Hunter Mayginnes, R-JR, 6-foot-5, 330 pounds, Chandler, AZ
No. 62, Kevin Good, R-FR, 6-foot-4, 300 pounds, Rocklin, CA
No. 64, Ethan Barney, FR, 6-foot-4, 280 pounds, Sumner, WA
No. 65, Gerrit Bloemendaal, R-JR, 6-foot-3, 319 pounds, Great Falls, MT
No. 66, Brandon Casey, SO, 6-foot-5, 285 pounds, Sandpoint, ID
No. 68, Cody Kanouse, R-JR, 6-foot-6, 320 pounds, Gig Harbor, WA
No. 73, Colin Dreis, R-SO, 6-foot-7, 275 pounds, Tucson, AZ
No. 74, Kukila Lincoln, R-FR, 6-5, 253 pounds, Kamuela, HI
No. 75, Declan McCabe, R-FR, 6-foot-4, 240 pounds, Waco, TX
No. 76, Journey Grimsrud, R-FR, 6-foot-3, 272 pounds, Huntley, MT
No. 77, Michael Ray, FR, 6-foot-3, 270 pounds, Yakima, WA
No. 79, Liam Brown, R-FR, 6-foot-5, 307 pounds, Beaverton, OR