Spring practices start Saturday
Forget a team roster. What is really needed as the University of Montana football team opens spring practice Saturday is a program with the coaches' pictures and bios.
Fans dropping by the Riverbowl during April will recognize the likes of quarterback Drew Miller, running back Yo Humphery and linebacker Adam Boomer.
Fans might be at a loss, however, trying to identify new offensive coordinator Ron Richards, new defensive coordinator Mike Breske and new head coach Joe Glenn.
Glenn, the staff and the players hit the field for the first time Saturday at 10 a.m. During the next month the team will practice Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 3:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the Riverbowl.
The defending Big Sky Conference champions will hold their first scrimmage April 15 in Great Falls and follow with scrums on April 22 and April 29 at Washington-Grizzly Stadium.
"I'm really excited," said Glenn, who took over in December for Mick Dennehy. "This is what it's all about. The recruiting and the public relations and the speaking engagements are a fun and exciting part of being a coach, but it's all about the team and the kids and the game of football. So here we go."
The Griz will go without several injured players. Wide receiver Tanner Hancock (shoulder), defensive end Justin Brannon (shoulder), strong safety John Hefty (shoulder) and free safeties Jason Miller (knee) and Trey Young (knee) underwent off-season surgery and aren't expected to compete in spring practice.
Receiver Michael Westbrook, a junior transfer from Brigham Young, is academically ineligible. Westbrook was enrolled in a class fall semester at BYU that he thought he had dropped. Westbrook quit attending the class early in the semester and received a failing grade.
The 6-foot, 180-pounder was expected to compete for a starting job. He played prep football with Miller at Lakes High School in Tacoma, Wash.
"We're hoping he'll get himself squared away academically," Glenn said. "It would appear to me that he needs work in that area. He's behind the 8-ball academically. It would be a good idea that he focus on academics this spring anyway. Hopefully, he can take care of that and help us in the fall."
Three other receivers from last year's squad no longer are around. Matt Thompson, Tighran Delaney and Michael Smith left the team during the off-season. All three are still attending UM.
Delaney and Smith were highly touted coming out of high school. Delaney, who would've been a junior next fall, caught seven passes in his career. Smith, a speedster from Los Angeles, failed to catch a pass.
The losses at receiver leave the Griz a little thin experience-wise this spring. Senior Jimmy Farris and junior Etu Molden join seldom-used T.J Oelkers and sophomore Brock Sunderland as the No. 1 receivers on the depth chart.
Because of the injures to Young and Miller, Jeff Shoate, who was UM's third cornerback last season as a true freshman, is listed No. 1 at free safety.
In hopes of keeping the team healthy, Glenn said there won't be a lot of contact in the practices or scrimmages.
"I'm not a big beat-on-my-own-team coach," Glenn said. "We don't want to leave our team out on a stretcher. The main thing in spring football is to teach the team the offense you're going to run in the fall, the defense and the special teams."
"A lot of schools border on the Bataan Death March," Glenn added. "We have to have football coaches who understand it isn't a deal where you go out and beat on your team. We're really going to make an effort to thud up and not take people down on the ground."
Glenn's not inclined to make many changes in an offense that finished second in I-AA in yards and points. Eight starters, including Miller, a second-team All-America selection, and Humphery, are expected to return next fall.
"You should see a mirror image of the offense," he said. "Why wouldn't you? If it isn't broke, don't fix it. The offense is built for the kids we have."
Breske and Glenn have some plans to tweak defensive schemes, including using more zone coverage.
"Hopefully, we can re-route some receivers and be very physical with them within the boundaries of the zone defense," Glenn said. "We're going to work very hard on a zone-blitz package, so … we don't put our corners in harm's way as much as maybe we have in the past."
The Grizzlies need to find a replacement for left tackle Chase Raynock, who is expected to be selected in the upcoming NFL draft.
Brian Pelc, a 6-4, 280-pound sophomore, is listed No. 1 at left tackle. Scott Kaminski, a 6-6 300-pound junior is listed second.
Starting spots also are up for grabs at middle linebacker, outside linebacker and defensive tackle.
Dan DeCoite, a junior transfer from BYU, and Dan Orizotti, a junior from Butte, will battle for the middle linebacker position.
Juniors Matt Steinau and Jacob Yoro, who split time starting in 1998, will duel for an outside linebacker spot. Jeremy Jacobs, a junior college transfer who will arrive in the fall, also could figure into the mix.
Seniors Corey Mertes and Jeramiah Butenschoen will compete to replace the graduated Kelley Bryant at one defensive tackle spot. Mertes, a Great Falls High graduate, recorded 29 tackles and four sacks as a reserve in 1999.