Grizzly football coach Bob Stitt entered Monday's first fall scrimmage with a mission: To hammer down his quarterback depth chart.
With first-stringer Brady Gustafson on the sideline for all but two series at Washington-Grizzly Stadium, Montana's remaining three QBs in the running showed as many hints at mastery as head-shaking moments. The offense looked inept for the first eight drives before scoring on three of the final four.
One No. 2 was cemented Monday, though, as the Grizzlies discovered whom they'll likely pair at wide receiver with team captain and senior standout Jamaal Jones. Ellis Henderson was cleared to play by the NCAA just hours before kickoff.
"When coach told me this morning, I just took a big sigh of relief," said Henderson, who was granted an academic waiver after withdrawing from classes last fall to deal with serious ailments, both mental and physical.
"I can't even explain how much it just felt good; all today the sun was brighter, I think the birds were chirping louder. It was a good day."
Henderson showed Stitt, his first-year coach, what kind of weapon he'll have on the outside late in the scrimmage. Facing a third-and-long, something the offense fell into far too often for Stitt's liking, junior QB Chad Chalich saw a seam in the defense and hit Henderson on a 72-yard bomb down the right sideline for a touchdown.
The defense gave a cover-2 look as the cornerback let Henderson by assuming the safety would pick him up. A momentary lapse instead left Henderson with only green surrounding him.
"The corner sat and the safety went with the No. 2 vertical and Ellis was just wide open," Chalich explained. "... You've got to take those opportunities when they present themselves."
It was the brightest spot of the day for Chalich, who along with Makena Simis began to pull away in the hunt for the backup passer's spot. Just the drive before, Simis, a sophomore, connected with Washington State baseball transfer Ben Roberts on a 34-yard touchdown, a diving play by the receiver.
The TD throw was Simis's second converted fourth-down attempt of the possession that covered 70 yards on 10 plays.
Yet neither Griz shined much beyond their scoring drives. Chalich completed 6 of 11 passes for 107 yards -- 72 on the one play remember -- while Simis was 6 for 14 for 67 yards. Sophomore Eric Prater, the Grizzlies' other QB in action Monday, was just 4 for 12 for 46 yards.
He also threw an interception.
"We'll come back in, watch the tape tonight and then make a decision where we're gonna go with it with those other three guys," Coach Stitt said of determining a backup. "It may be real tough.
"The thing we talk to 'em about is, bad plays may be bad plays but don't make them catastrophic. We're gonna go in and see who minimalizes the bad plays. Everybody's got good plays."
There were plenty of rough snaps for the offense, especially early. The D' sacked the quarterback four times officially -- Ryan Johnson had two -- while another three or four times the QBs got the benefit of the doubt in the two-hand-touch action on the passers.
Prater got the worst of it, clanging his hand on defenders twice as they got within arm's reach instantly. A third time he heaved a ball up to avoid a sack, overthrowing his receiver deep in the secondary and leading to an easy Eric Johnson interception.
"Our communication, we just had it on lock," Johnson said. "Pre-snap, we were calling out everything. We kinda had what the play was and I just shot it down. Ended up with the pick and luckily they blew the whistle before I scored because it was gonna be a touchdown."
Stitt focused much of his attention post-game on the offensive line, which was without two starters in center Ben Weyer and left tackle John Schmaing. Whether strictly that or disciplinary lapses, the line added three false start penalties to its blocking breakdowns.
"This offense doesn't work on 15 yards to go," Stitt said. "We need 10 to go and to be able to chip away at those drives."
Weyer, on crutches Monday with a heavily taped right knee, has undergone an MRI, Stitt confirmed. The coach wouldn't comment further than to say the junior is day to day and the team is hoping to have him back in time for the regular-season opener on Aug. 29.
Sophomore Robert Luke started at center for Weyer while sophomore David Reese took over Schmaing's tackle duties.
Montana's other score came off the foot of kicker Daniel Sullivan, a 34-yard field goal with Prater at the helm. The drive, 17 plays plus a pair of defensive penalties, covered almost 70 yards and set off a stretch of three scores in as many possessions.
Henderson led the receivers with three catches for 90 yards and Jones caught four balls for 30. John Nguyen rushed eight times for 26 yards, though the backs totaled just 50 yards on 29 carries as a unit.
Quick Hits: Brady Gustafson completed 2 of 5 passes for 20 yards in his brief action ... The Griz were without four receivers Monday as Chase Naccarato, Dalton Daum, Holden Ryan and Zack Hollenback were in sweats on the sidelines ... LB Jeremiah Kose was ejected from the game on the fifth drive for leveling a defenseless WR Ryan Burke ... The offense was 3 for 5 on fourth-down tries, one coming because of a penalty.