MISSOULA — The summer has flown by, August is here, and you know what that means: Montana Grizzly football is officially back.
The Grizzlies took the field at Dornblaser on Monday afternoon to officially kick off fall training camp and their 2023 season. So, we'll take a look at some of the top storylines for this year's Grizzly squad as they gear up for the newest campaign.
"Always excited for the start of fall, one as a coach, two as a college football fan," UM head coach Bobby Hauck said. "This is the 12th (overall) season here so this is fairly routine but every day is different which makes it exciting."
Coming out of the media day in Spokane, Washington, the Grizzlies were picked to finish third in the Big Sky Conference by the media and sixth by the coaches.
Montana is also ranked No. 14 in the FCS to start the season.
1. QUARTERBACK COMPETITION
The first storyline to follow in fall camp — as it has been the last few years — is the quarterbacks.
It's another QB competition in the works for the Grizzlies, highlighted by Boise State transfer Sam Vidlak, veteran returner Kris Brown, and Central Arkansas transfer Clifton McDowell.
Brown, a junior, comes in with the most experience as the main backup for Montana the past two seasons, while Vidlak, a sophomore, looked sharp in the spring and is the early favorite for the job, while the senior McDowell could figure into the mix thanks to his ability with his legs.
But all three signal callers will vie for the starting spot, with UM's success hinging on productivity from the quarterback.
2. COACHING CHANGES
Storyline No. 2 is coaching changes.
This offseason saw the Grizzlies shuffle the coaching staff quite a bit, with the staff largely the same, just with different roles including new offensive and defensive coordinators in Brent Pease and Ronnie Bradford, respectively.
So with the deck reshuffled, how will those changes affect how the Griz operate both schematically and in terms of growth and development?
3. REPLACING ALL-AMERICANS ON DEFENSE
Storyline No. 3 focuses on defense, and more importantly, replacing key standouts.
The Grizzlies had three All-Americans over the past two seasons in Patrick O'Connell, Justin Ford and Robby Hauck, so who will now step into their shoes to fill the productivity of all-time greats? But on that side of the ball, UM returns key pieces like defensive tackle Alex Gubner, linebackers Levi Janacaro and Braxton Hill and safeties TraJon Cotton, Nash Fouch and Garrett Graves.
4. OFFENSE RETURNS STRONG CORE
Storyline No. 4 focuses on the offense.
The Grizzlies return their entire starting offensive line of Chris Walker, Hunter Hunter Mayginnes, AJ Forbes, Journey Grimsrud and Brandon Casey, as well as key productive players at receiver and running back.
UM will be without All-American tight end Cole Grossman this season, so who fills his role is key, while guys like running back Nick Ostmo, wide receivers Aaron Fontes and Junior Bergen and more return to lead the offense.
5. HAUCK'S CONTRACT YEAR
Storyline No. 5 is a pivotal one, as this fall enters the final year on Bobby Hauck's contract as head coach. His deal expires in January.
UM fell short of expectations in a disappointing season a year ago, and while they've made the playoffs three falls in a row, last year's step back coupled with expectations always being through the roof at Montana have the spotlight a little brighter in 2023.
So with Hauck in the final year of his deal, it's a win-now scenario for the Grizzlies as they aim to make a deep run, but they feel that's the case every year in their program.
"Well the only expectation I'm really aware of or care about is my own and that's to win," Hauck said. "Every week I want to win that week."
The Grizzlies will practice for the next four weeks before opening the season at home on Sept. 2 against Butler.
"You have to be ready to go and play college football by the time you get to the first of September," Hauck said. We try to be pretty scientific about that. Hopefully we are and I think that historically, because the way we approach it, I think we've been ready for first games."