For as anxious as Griz fans are to see how Montana's crop of potential starting quarterbacks looks, head coach Bob Stitt is considerably more eager.
"Quarterback's what you always want to see," Montana's third-year head coach said this week in the lead-up to Friday's first scrimmage of spring practices. "Don't have game experience with those guys extensively and we want to see how they handle it."
Friday marks the first chance for that discovery under live-fire type circumstances. The Griz will play in the first of three spring scrimmages at 5 p.m. at Washington-Grizzly Stadium in a full-contact practice that's open to the public.
Montana will hold a second scrimmage a week from Friday, again at 5 p.m., before the annual Grizzly Spring Game on April 22 in Butte. Admission for the first two scrimmages is free while the spring game is $5 for adults and $3 for children under 12 years old.
Friday's scrimmage will last about 80 plays, Stitt said, with a handful of special teams scenarios run before that. The Griz will also go "good on good," with the first-string offense pairing against the first-string defense on one drive and the second-stringers facing off on the next.
Montana is replacing Brady Gustafson at quarterback after the Billings passer handled the starting job in the first two years of Stitt's tenure at UM. Gustafson is now training ahead of the NFL draft while senior Reese Phillips, junior Caleb Hill and freshman Gresch Jensen work to try and replace him in the starting lineup.
Phillips has been in the lead in the early going this spring because of his existing knowledge of the offense. He played in four games last year after transferring to UM from Kentucky. Hill is new to the team this spring after transferring from Blinn (Texas) College and Jensen redshirted last season.
Despite his three QBs lacking the institutional experience of Gustafson, Stitt said he's quite pleased with where the offense is after three weeks of spring drills.
"Offensively, I think we are a little further ahead than we were the past two springs," Stitt began. "... Really, really happy with how the offensive line is coming along. We're getting protection that we haven't had. Our quarterbacks are able to trust that and stay in the pocket and get the balls off -- things we didn't do the first couple springs."
The Griz have looked good in practices, which got under way back on March 13, but now it's time to see how the players adjust to the intensity of game-like situations. Montana has been splicing in more high-intensity scenarios during practices to try and mimic a game environment.
"The biggest thing is coming out with a little pressure, having some people in the stands and doing it when it really matters," Stitt said.