Griz Spring Football Report: First Scrimmage of Spring Drills on Saturday

By DAVE GUFFEY for GoGriz.com

The University of Montana Grizzly football team will culminate their first week of spring drills on Saturday, March 22, when they hold the first of three scrimmages.

The scrimmage will start around 10:20 a.m. in Washington-Grizzly Stadium, and it is free to the public.

Tomorrow’s scrimmage for the 82 players who are out for spring football (practice started last Saturday, March 15) will also be practice number five for them.

Third-year head coach Mick Delaney said tomorrow’s action will be a controlled and a situational type of scrimmage, consisting of around 40-45 actual plays, plus another 35-40 structured drills.  It will include goal-line drills, “skelly,” special teams, and conclude with a “move the ball” period.

“We call them scrimmages, but the general public in the old days, when they see the word scrimmage really think you go up and down the field, keep score, and move the chains and do all of that type of stuff Delaney said.  “We don’t do that type scrimmage anymore very often.  Even in the pre-fall we may just do one segment of that type of scrimmage.

“Football has turned into such a situational game that we want to make sure our guys know how to react to an actual game-type situation,” Delaney said.  “Tomorrow we will have a goal-line, live drill, and to us that’s a scrimmage, because we only have three real live practices (UM’s three scrimmages) during the spring.  We will then hold various third down situations, because you get many of those in the regular season.

“Now in our spring scrimmages we just work on the things and the situations that we would see in a regular football game, and make sure our guys are prepared and know how to react under, sort-of-speak, pressure situations,” Delaney said.  “But it’s not the traditional, full-fledged scrimmage like we used to have, although our Spring Game (April 12) will be juiced up a little bit.”

Senior and returning starter Jordan Johnson is the Grizzlies’ incumbent at quarterback, and another veteran and two youngsters are vying for the back-up role there.

Senior Shay Smithwick-Hann, sophomore Brady Gustafson, and redshirt freshman Makena Simis are the two players vying to be UM’s number two signal caller.

Smithwick-Hann, at 6-4, 219, was a prolific player at Glacier High School where he passed for more than 4,000 yards, started three games for the Griz in 2012 and is 2-1 as a starter.  Gustafson, a 6-7, 230-pounder, is Billings West’s all-time career passer with 6,202 yards.  Simis is a 6-2, 195-pounder from Boise (Capital High School) where he amassed 5,085 career yards and 51 TDs.

“That battle will continue into the fall, and Shay has the upper hand right now, just because of his vast amount of experience, and knowledge of the game of football, and knowledge of our offense,” Delaney said.  “Brady is still a young guy with a lot of ability, and Makena is making strides.  Those two (Gustafson and Simis) are going to be very fine quarterbacks for the Griz.”

For eight Griz players 2014 spring football will serve as a learning experience, as they are playing a different position.

Moving from offense to defense were senior Spencer Hale (wide receiver to safety), juniors Trent McKinney (quarterback to safety) and Aschan Richards (tight end to defensive end), and redshirt freshman Zach Vis (wide receiver to linebacker).

Jonathan Richards, who was injured in a recent practice, was the only player who went from defense to offense (linebacker to fullback).  Other position changes were made by senior Jamaal Anderson, switched from cornerback to safety; junior Herbert Gamboa went from safety to linebacker (he actually made that change late last season); and senior Mitch Saylor moved from wide receiver to tight end.

“Trent McKinney has a lot to learn, but he’s an outstanding athlete and could help us there (at safety), but it’s too early to tell at this point,” Delaney said, when asked if any of the players in new positions had stood out.  “He was fighting that two-three thing (on the depth chart at quarterback) and he wants to play football.  He’s working really hard at it and probably a little uncomfortable there right now, but I think he’s enjoying it.  He’s getting 60 to 70 reps a day, where as before he was getting five to 10.”

Next week’s practice schedule

Monday, March 24: Practice #6, 3:15-5:15 p.m.

Wednesday, March 26: Practice #7, 3:15-5:15 p.m.

Friday, March 28: Practice #8, 4:15-6:15 p.m.

March 29-April 6: Spring Break.  Tuesday, April 8: Practice #9, 7:00-9:00 p.m.

Montana’s annual Spring Game will be in Missoula on Saturday, April 12 at 6:00 p.m., while its third and final scrimmage is slated for Thursday, April 17 in the evening.

CAMP NOTES: Starting offensive tackles Trevor Poole and John Schmaing will not participate in tomorrow’s scrimmage due to minor injuries…Poole, a senior who will start at right tackle in 2014, started 13 games at left guard last season…Schmaing, a junior, started all 13 games at left tackle…junior guard Samson Kalekini will also be unable to play in Saturday’s scrimmage, and he is competing for the starting job at right guard with sophomore Ben Weyer.

Max Kelly from Spokane is Schmaing’s back-up at left tackle, while fellow sophomore Clint LaRowe from Miles City is number two at right tackle behind Poole.

“Max Kelly and Clint LaRowe are just getting many, many turns and they need it,” Delaney said.  “We are working them pretty hard at about 100 reps a day or close to it.  They’re guys who have to play for us, so it’s for the best.  We need to get those other two guys healthy and finish out spring ball, but in the meantime, Max and Clint are gaining valuable experience right now.”

GRIZ STAT FACTS: Last season Montana was ranked second in the FCS in turnover margin at +1.4; third in fewest passes they had intercepted (5); fifth in fumble recoveries (16); sixth in fewest turnovers (14); and eighth in total turnovers gained (32).

Numerical Roster(PDF)

****