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With 20 people on the case, the Griz could field a pretty sound offensive line come fall.

There are 18 linemen, counting tight ends, running through spring drills with the 2010 Montana Grizzlies, and two coaches trying to get them acclimated to a new regime.

It was 6-foot-8 Scott Gragg who stood out during the walk-through parts of Friday's practice, which began at the River Bowl. But the first-year college coach - Gragg is managing the tight ends - defers often to Bob Beers, the veteran O-line coach.

"I think it's a good situation for everyone," said Gragg, who like Beers was an All-American for the Griz (at offensive tackle, 1991-94; Beers was a linebacker from 1967-68). "We lost a lot of depth at both those places, on the line and at tight end.

"(Beers) has forgotten more than most people know about football, and for me to work alongside him is really to the team's advantage and my advantage."

The Grizzlies took a hit up front, losing seniors Levi Horn, Chris Dyk and Terran Hillesland after last year's 14-1 campaign. The mainstay would be Alex Verlanic, a 282-pound senior center. Jon Opperud (305) started at guard but the Griz have him at tackle now.

That has Beers a little cautious.

"You take two steps out and the scenery changes," he said. "A lot of them are at different positions. Chuck (310-pound guard Charles Burton) played a little bit last year, but isn't what you'd call a crafty vet."

There aren't many of those, though three transfers are vying for action: Russ Piette, who came over from Western Washington a year ago, and junior college products Jake Hendrickson and Stephen Sabin. Blake LeBeau, who was worked at center in previous camps, figures in at tackle as well.

"Russ Piette has really stepped up and dropped weight, and he's not bad," said Beers. "Sabin is building depth at guard, and Hendrickson is working his way in there, inside. You know, after one week - two days in pads - it's hard to get a great evaluation. But boy, they're picking things up."

That seemed to be the case, as head coach Robin Pflugrad mixed in some "thud" tempo and Chase Reynolds - who has run for 3,085 yards the past two seasons - repeatedly found running room.

The defense is mixing in more blitzes than Verlanic and Co. have seen previously, so it is trial by fire.

"It's a little bit of a learning curve," said Verlanic. "A lot of things they've tried to keep the same, to help more efficiently get the new guys in the system and going. It's gone real smooth, actually.

"We lost Levi and Terran and Dyk, and that's tough. But you know, Chuck and Russ and Blake Lebeau have stepped up and played with the ones this week and done a nice job. They've worked hard and they seem ready to rock and roll, which is good."

"We're wearing their heinies out a little bit," said Beers. "Because we've put the pressure on them in practice. It's fast, up-tempo."

"It's too early to say anything definitive," said Gragg. "I think we've got a good feel for where we're at. The critical thing is now that we're a quarter of the way through spring ball, what's the jump we make the second (week).

"Usually you have the luxury of resting your seniors and building your depth. Right now, because of the new system and having a bunch of new guys, the first group is going to see a ton of reps this spring."

QUICK KICKS: The Griz are off until Monday, and go full pads that day and Tuesday. They're off Wednesday, go no-pads Thursday and then scrimmage Friday, ahead of spring break. ... The Grizzlies conclude spring drills April 17 with a scrimmage in Butte. ... Contrary to previous reports JC transfer receiver C.J. Atkins won't join the Griz until fall camp. ... Trumaine Johnson, an all-Big Sky corner, hauled in a long TD pass during the "thud" portion of Friday's drills. ... The tight ends are Rob Overton - he had five catches, including a TD, in 2009 - Greg Hardy, Jacob Haas and Bobby Hirsch, with Levi Buckles moving to a big number (88) and possibly playing the H-back that senior Kevin Klaboe vacated.

 

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