MISSOULA — Montana quarterback Dalton Sneed broke out as a first-year transfer last season, earning the Big Sky Conference newcomer of the year award.
Not satisfied with how he played, the senior has been working to take his game to another level.
Quarterbacks are said to make their biggest jump between years one and two, and Sneed feels like he’s in a better position to lead the Griz after learning the ins and outs of Montana coach Bobby Hauck’s offense last year and taking a deeper dive since then.
“Now it’s kind of when you get to the point where you don’t have to think about things as much and it kind of just clicks,” said Sneed, who was named a team captain Saturday along with linebacker Dante Olson and defensive tackle Jesse Sims.
“Now you’re thinking about what the defense is doing more so than what your offense is doing. Things are sped up and it makes it a lot easier on offense.”
Sneed has been trying to become a more complete quarterback since spring camp. The 6-foot-1, 216-pound Scottsdale, Arizona, native has focused on stepping up in the pocket, keeping his eyes down the field and working on his drops.
Last year, Sneed threw for 2,723 yards with 22 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He also led the team in rushing with 675 yards on some designed runs but also on some scrambles because of an offensive line that broke down.
“A lot of the times last year I was escaping the pocket way too early,” Sneed said. “I could’ve stood in there, obviously. I mean, we go back and watch film. But definitely staying in the pocket and delivering balls to receivers down field because they’re open and I’m just not getting it to them. A lot of the fault in our offense last year was hung on my shoulders.”
During the fall, Sneed worked on those areas by doing extra footwork drills and taking reps in which he focused on progressing through his reads of the defense. He said that work “has definitely helped. I think that’s just going to transfer on the field.”
Hauck said he doesn’t want his quarterback to try to force himself to stay in the pocket. He just needs him to know what the right play is in each situation and to be able to execute it.
“All the plays play out so differently,” Hauck said. “You can sit there and demand a guy hang in the pocket, and it could be wide open in front of him. So, you know, we don’t want to take that away from him. He’s a good player. He’s got a good feel for the game. I’m just kind of excited to watch him play.”
Sneed took some but not all first-team reps during fall camp, and Hauck previously said the reason was to “just give him a little rest.” Asked how he feels heading into the season opener Aug. 31 at South Dakota, Sneed said: “Good. No complaints. Just looking forward to going out there and playing next week.”
Redshirt junior quarterback Cam Humphrey took his fair share of the first-team reps during fall camp. With the increase in reps, he’s felt an uptick in confidence and comfort in the offense.
“Developing consistency is my biggest thing,” the 6-foot-2, 194-pound native of Issaquah, Washington, said after the conclusion of fall camp. “All the reps I was able to take helped me feel comfortable in the offense. Really feel confident going into the year for wherever they need me or whenever they need me.”
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Like most, if not all, backup quarterbacks, Humphrey has been preparing with the thought that he has to be ready to step into the starting role at any moment. He completed 13 of 24 passes for 241 yards and two touchdowns in six appearances off the bench last season.
“Right now, I’m behind Dalton, but I’m ready for my number to be called at any time,” Humphrey said. “With these reps that I’m taking, I’m able to feel more comfortable stepping into the game knowing what I’m doing, knowing the kind of checks I need to make. I feel confident in my abilities now and my understanding of the offense.”
Sneed said he’s been impressed with Humphrey’s improvement.
“Night and day,” Sneed said Friday. “He’s made a tremendous leap definitely from last year to this year. Not to say he was doing bad, but he’s just absolutely killing it. Spot on with his reads. His throws are tremendous. He killed it this fall camp.”
Sneed continued: “He’s doing a really good job with his reads and how quick he’s getting the ball out. He’s definitely not hesitating on any of his throws and is on time with everything. It’s been good to see.”
Comparing himself to Sneed without being asked to, Humphrey offered: “I’m not going to be as fast as Dalton, but I can definitely scoot along. I’d say my strong suit is definitely sitting in the pocket and delivering a strong ball. I can run around when I need to. Very mixed, I’d like to say.”
Senior center Cy Sirmon echoed Sneed’s thoughts on Humphrey improving as a backup.
“Cam’s been throwing some amazing footballs,” Sirmon said. “He’s really stepped up and been performing really well. Some of the passes, in film, we’ll rewind and slow-mo and watch the ball just drop into the guy’s hands mid-stride. He’s gotten much better this camp. I think that’s because of the competition.”
Hauck said in the spring that quarterback Garrett Graves could line up at multiple spots in the offense. He hasn’t given any further hints where that would be for Graves, a 6-foot-3, 202-pound Eureka grad, who’s taken quarterback reps in the fall.
“We’re trying to let him continue to develop at quarterback. He’s really improved this training camp there,” Hauck said earlier in August. “He’s athletic enough and ... we’d certainly like to utilize him some other places. Most of that will be based on his ability to comprehend, understand and execute at different positions. It’s hard enough to play one. So, we’ll see.”
Graves ran seven times for 18 yards in two games last season while preserving his redshirt under a new NCAA rule allows players to participate in up to four games without losing a year of eligibility.
Sirmon said he’s seen a “vast improvement from Garrett” in the fall.
“Just a much better understanding of the system,” Sirmon said. “He’s a young kid. He’s a heck of an athlete. He’s got a lot to learn being a redshirt freshman. He’s got a lot of upside.”