The defensive end ranks for the University of Montana took a hit when junior-to-be Michael Stadnyk injured a shoulder, but the position still looked strong during Saturday's football practice.
It wasn't just Mike Murphy or Kroy Biermann who were strong in 11-on-11 drills at the South Campus Fields. Sophomore David Haile and freshman Austin Mullins had back-to-back (touch) sacks of sophomore Cole Bergquist as well.
Mullins could step in nicely to the spot left by Stadnyk, who had surgery last week. The Great Falls Russell product, a middle linebacker in high school, was a redshirt in 2005 because he, too, had shoulder surgery.
"I injured myself going into my homecoming game, my senior year of high school," he said. "I really didn't think it was that serious. Then I got here and the trainers looked at it, and recognized it quick because Murphy had the same surgery.
"I knew I was probably going to redshirt, so I just figured to get it done, get back and get a full year of training in."
In that span Mullins went from 230 pounds to 250. Big enough to play end, if not defensive tackle.
"He's an either-or," said defensive coordinator Kraig Paulson. "He's a good kid with a great motor. The only thing he said when he signed is he wanted to play. We said, 'We'll do our part, which is find the best position for you.' "
Mullins, Class AA's co-defensive MVP as a senior along with Griz linebacker Shawn Lebsock, figured he'd be a defensive end for UM. Paulson said it was a no-brainer.
"If you look at our end position, they're all ex-linebackers," Paulson said. "He's just one of many. He's got good eyes and good effort, and we just felt this would be the best place for him to play."
Murphy, a senior and Buck Buchanan Award hopeful, is a former high school teammate. Biermann, a junior, looks strong at the other end. Senior Dustin Dlouhy, who like Mullins sat out spring drills after shoulder surgery, is back. Then there's Haile and fellow sophomore Karl Pitcher.
"It's fun to learn from Mike Murphy and Dlouhy and Biermann and Karl Pitcher and Mike Stadnyk," Mullins said. "It's a real good group of guys, and that's what this year is really all about - learning, and hopefully getting on the field."
The defense dominated the 11-on-11 drills, forcing several turnovers, including two interceptions by senior cornerback Tuff Harris.
Both came off senior quarterback Josh Swogger, who also had a blown-up screen play end in a Murphy interception. Swogger rallied to hit Marc Mariani, a redshirt freshman, with a 20-yard touchdown.
The unofficial totals for Swogger and Bergquist: 11-for-27, 106 yards.
Injuries have cropped up some. Receiver Ryan Bagley (thigh bruise) was hurt Saturday, and fellow wide out Matt Troxel (ankle) was hurt Friday.
Junior guard Eric Michel is nursing a sore hamstring, though Griz head coach Bobby Hauck hoped he'd be able to go Sunday, when the Griz go full-pads for the first time.
Sophomore center Trapper Hight also suffered what could be a serious ankle injury Wednesday.
"I don't know, I would assume it's going to be fairly long-term," Hauck said.
Senior center Jeff Marshall is back after missing spring drills with shoulder surgery. On Saturday, Marshall played guard with the No. 1 offense, along with 313-pound redshirt freshman Terren Hillesland.
"We'll have numerous guys moving around," Hauck said. "Dan Girard and Marshall can play guard and center. Hillesland can play guard and tackle.
"That's important to have guys play more than one position so you can have your best players out there on any given Saturday."
The Grizzlies have yet another Division I-A transfer in Spokane Rogers product Levi Horn, who was a redshirt offensive lineman last year at the University of Oregon. Horn, 6-foot-7 and 260, arrived Monday and was on the practice field Friday.
"We're fired up to have him, and we think he's excited to be here," Hauck said of the freshman. "He's close to home, and hopefully it will be really good for him."
The Griz have their first of six two-a-days on Monday. They'll go half-pads at 8:30 a.m., and full-pads at 3:15 p.m., Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Their first scrimmage is set for 10:10 a.m. Saturday at Washington-Grizzly Stadium. Another scrimmage is set for Thursday, Aug. 24.
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