More than a name, Chase Naccarato is what opposing defenses will be doing when they face Montana this fall.
At least that’s the impression you get from watching the junior wide receiver work with quarterback Jordan Johnson in preseason football practice this week. They have developed unique chemistry and timing.
“When I really thought we clicked was the last game last year against Coastal Carolina,” said Naccarato, who may best be described as Montana’s version of Wes Welker, a small and quick possession receiver.
“That was my personal-best game with five catches. Ever since then, in the spring we connected well, then this summer for sure we were on the same page. We came out the first day of (fall) practice and everything just felt like it picked right back up from last season.”
Naccarato has piled up more receptions than probably any other Griz in scrimmage and 7-on-7 situations this week. One sequence in particular underlined how he and Johnson have established rapport.
“There was a play I think two days ago where I got past the safety and it was a read route,” Naccarato recalled before Friday’s practice at the Riverbowl. “(Johnson) was under pressure and he actually couldn’t see where I was. He told me he just threw the ball and I was in the right spot.
“That’s an example of he just knows kind of where I’m going to be.”
Naccarato is stronger and faster than he’s ever been after packing on seven pounds of muscle in the offseason. With the loss of Cam Warren to graduation, Chase will be relied on to pick up the slack at the slot position.
“I’m coming into this season with a lot more confidence,” said the Spokane product, who tallied 17 receptions in 2013, tied for fourth on the team. “Toward the end of last year I started making a name for myself. This year I’m in more of a leader role.”
From the first day he arrived in Missoula two years ago, Naccarato made an effort to pick Johnson’s brain – talking plays, adjustments and defenses. Montana coach Mick Delaney, for one, has been impressed with his work ethic.
“He and Jamaal (Jones) have had just a really good prefall,” Delaney said of his prized junior wideouts. “There’s a reason for that. They work every day all summer with Jordy (Johnson) too, so their timing is good, their routes are good and they’re getting better all the time.”
Naccarato says Welker, a star slot receiver for the Denver Broncos, is a source of inspiration. Montana’s No. 5 is not about to put himself in Welker’s class, but that’s the ultimate goal.
The Griz offense struggled on Thursday but showed improvement Friday morning.
“Right now we’re working out the bugs, but I think we’re going to click real soon,” offered Naccarato. “We have a lot of young guys on the o-line and a lot of inexperience there, but so far I’m happy with where we’re going and excited to see where we’ll end up.”
The highlight of Friday’s practice was Johnson’s 15-yard touchdown pass to Mitch Saylor, who has switched from wideout to tight end this season. The play was an example of Johnson’s veteran savvy as he convinced defenders he was throwing short before lofting the ball to Saylor, who was running up the seam wide open.
Backup tight end Cooper Sprunk, a redshirt freshman, also had a strong practice with several catches. Running back Jordan Canada made a nifty one-handed catch in the flat and his backup, Travon Van, lined up at wideout frequently, making one scrimmage catch on a short pattern.
Asked to grade his offense, Delaney responded favorably.
“Way better today,” he said. “We didn’t have a whole bunch of turnovers like we did yesterday. Then you know defensively we still played hard today, so it was a good practice.”
Highlighting the Griz defensive effort were interceptions by backup safety Jamaal Anderson and backup linebacker Connor Strahm. Working against the No. 1 offense, starting defensive backs Josh Dennard and Justin Whitted showed their athleticism by breaking up a long Johnson pass off a flea flicker.
The Grizzlies will have their first practice in full pads at the Riverbowl Saturday at 9:40 a.m. On Sunday they will have their first two-a-day inside Washington-Grizzly Stadium. Fans are invited to attend the night session.
“It’s going to be a great practice,” Delaney said. “We’ll have three or four situations where we will have some tackling and stuff but it is not a scrimmage scrimmage.”
Quick kicks: Friday was a shaky day for the three Griz place-kickers. Projected starter Chris Lider and backups Daniel Sullivan and Harrison Greenberg were all 1 for 3 in a mid-practice competition. Lider bounced back to hit from 33 and 35 yards later on, and Sullivan showed his strong leg on a boot from 35 yards out ... WR Ellis Henderson continues to sit out of scrimmage and 7-on-7 situations. He sat out most of spring drills with a stomach illness ... Injured wideouts Taylor Walcott and Sean Haynes continue to sit out of practice along with senior Trevor Poole, a projected starter at offensive tackle.
Bill Speltz can be reached at 523-5255 or firstname.lastname@example.org.