Championship football teams are not built in a day, but Montana appears headed the right way.
That according to second-year coach Mick Delaney, who watched his troops work through a spirited session Tuesday under brilliant sunshine at Washington-Grizzly Stadium. One thing became apparent as the afternoon wore on: These Grizzlies are sure of themselves on both sides of the football.
“There’s some good stuff all the way around,” said Delaney, whose team was listed at No. 22 in the first Football Championship Subdivision coaches’ poll released Tuesday. “But we can’t be complacent and think we’re there after one day by any stretch.”
“... Like I told the guys afterwards, it was probably like an 8-4 practice, which is OK but not good enough. I thought our energy was pretty darn good. I thought our mental, you know our attention was pretty darn good ... It’s an 8-4 practice but nobody is happy with an 8-4 (record). We’ve got to get better.”
Junior quarterback Jordan Johnson is the most notable addition after sitting out last year’s 5-6 campaign with legal issues. He showed Tuesday that he can be a game-changer with his level of comfort and confidence directing the offense and his accuracy throwing the football.
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Still, if Johnson is to be successful, he’s going to need help from a bolstered receiving corps. Projected starters Ellis Henderson and Taylor Walcott made some sparkling catches Tuesday, but their back-ups grabbed almost as much attention.
Sophomore Jamaal Jones, a 6-foot-1, 188-pound transfer from the University of Washington, brings to the receiving corps a physical presence it hasn’t had in a while. He ran a lot of plays with Johnson under center Tuesday, which leads you to believe he’ll get his chance when they line up for real.
“He’s got some experience. He’s played. He’s fast,” Delaney said of Jones. “He knows how to use his body and he did some good things today.
“We’ve also got a little ol’ freshman, Dominique Bobo, who ran a 46.8 (400) last year in the state of Texas. He ran by a few guys today let me tell you and it looks like he can catch the ball.”
Jones put in a lot of work prior to last season but it didn’t result in a spike in playing time for the Huskies. That, more than anything, is the reason he’s in Missoula.
“I thought today was great,” he said of his first practice at UM. “I’m understanding the offense a lot coming out of U-dub, pretty similar offense.
“I think the receivers, all the way around, we did really well today. The potential is there. That’s a good practice to see how far we can go.”
Just as promising was the play of Montana’s defense backs in 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 situations. It’s an area where the Griz hope to make marked improvement. Corners Anthony Goodwin, Joshua Dennard and Nate Harris, in particular, experienced baptism under fire in 2012.
All three, along with safety Matt Hermanson, made slick pass breakups in helmet-only drills.
“I think we’ve got a lot of experience coming back so that’s going to make it extra fun because we’re like a band of brothers,” said Goodwin, a senior who transferred in from Mt. San Antonio Junior College in California in 2012. “I know from my personal experience coming in as a newcomer I didn’t really know the defense as well.
“This year I think all of us are coming together and everything is jelling. I think we’ve got it figured out. And the chemistry, it feels so much better. I’m not talking down on last year’s team. But this year, I just feel like we have a great chemistry and it’s going to help us win.”
Notes: Kalispell native Shay Smithwick-Hann took a lot of snaps as quarterback of the second team offense ... Projected backup Steven Rominger (free safety) made a nice pass breakup and sophomore transfer Jamaal Anderson (corner) jumped a short route to make an interception in 11-on-11 action ... The Griz go again at 2 p.m. Wednesday at Washington-Grizzly Stadium. Practices are not open to the public ... The first two-a-day practice day is Sunday and the first scrimmage is that evening at about 7:45.
Reporter Bill Speltz can be reached at 523-5255 or firstname.lastname@example.org.