With Montana navigating its third fall camp under head coach Bob Stitt, Skyline Sports will break down UM’s roster by highlighting prominent battles for playing time in various position group.
TODAY’S POSITION: H wide receiver
The players: Colin Bingham (6-3, 230-pound sophomore); Makena Simis (6-2, 235-pound senior); and Josh Horner (6-5, 232-pound senior).
What’s at stake: Montana’s wide receivers both outside and inside have talent in droves. The H position might be the most highly contested in terms of a position battle. All three top candidates will play on Saturdays, but the amount of time each garners will be based on performance through this camp and throughout the season.
All three players are more than viable options. Bingham had a breakout year as a redshirt freshman a year ago while Horner is the most experienced playing the position as he enters his third year in Bob Stitt’s offense. Simis has garnered rave reviews from the entire offensive coaching staff for his work ethic and ability to learn on the fly after switching from quarterback before last season.
The H receiver position in Stitt’s offense is different than the other three receiver spots in that the H sometimes lines up like a traditional H-back right off the line of scrimmage, similar to a wing-style tight end. The H has more blocking responsibilities in Stitt’s spread West Coast style system. All three players have the body type and physical mentality Stitt wants in his H receivers.
How they fared in 2016: Despite battling an ailing knee, Horner still managed to catch 22 passes for 242 yards and four touchdowns in eight games last season. The former Great Falls CMR quarterback started the final four games of Stitt’s first season in 2015, catching 22 passes for 294 yards and a touchdown. He had six crucial catches for 80 yards in Montana’s 24-17 win over South Dakota State in the first round of the FCS playoffs that fall.
Bingham was a part-time starter as a redshirt freshman, his first playing on the outside. The former Missoula Big Sky Class AA first-team all-state tight end filled in for then surpassed Horner last fall, catching 24 passes for 282 yards and three touchdowns. The son of Montana Hall of Famer Guy Bingham, a 13-year NFL veteran, was UM’s Offensive scout team Player of the Year in 2015.
That same season, Simis rose to become Montana’s starting quarterback for three games thanks to injuries to Brady Gustafson and Chad Chalich. Simis threw six touchdowns, tying a school record and leading Montana to a win over North Dakota in his debut. In five total games, Simis threw for 740 yards, seven touchdowns and four interceptions. The Boise native also rushed for 226 yards and a score while leading Montana to a 2-1 record in his three starts.
Simis moved to wide receiver before last season. He caught four passes for 46 yards in four games in 2016.
The case for Bingham: Bingham is the most physical of the trio, particularly when in motion and playing just off the line of scrimmage. He is the best blocker and one of the strongest pound for pound players on the team.
Bingham earned substantial playing time for the second half of last season and made the most of it. He proved to be a dynamic pass catcher, deceptively good in the open field with the ball in his hands. He also proved he has a nose for the end zone.
Bingham has the leg up for the starting position if he continues to steadily improve, giving Montana yet another underclassmen wide receiver ready to make plays.
The case for Horner: Horner has paid his dues and produced despite switching positions from quarterback to tight end when arriving at UM, then switching from tight end to receiver when Stitt took over.
The hard-working, tough fifth-year senior has the best ball skills, particularly on jump balls, of the three. He is likely the best red-zone threat, although Bingham showed good ability to take inside screen passes across the goal line last season.
If Horner is Montana’s third H, it’s a testament to the talent of Bingham and the rapid development of Simis more than it is a referendum of Horner.
The case for Simis: Simis put on at least 20 pounds in the off-season. The senior now looks as physically formidable as any skill player on the Griz.
He earned rave reviews in the spring. The positive returns continued as Simis scored a 37-yard touchdown during Montana’s first fall scrimmage earlier this week.
“Not a lot of people know, but I think you start with Makena Simis in that group as being the driving force,” UM wide receivers coach Mike Ferriter said. “He hasn’t played a lot of snaps as a receiver yet, but he is going to have a good season at this position.”
If that’s the case and Montana really does have three options, the Griz offense has a real chance to rotate 10 wide receivers and play at an even faster tempo than in Stitt’s first two years.
What they must accomplish during fall camp: Bingham was flagged for an off-sides penalty on a fourth down and short early in the scrimmage. He played sparingly thereafter.
Whether that was for punishment reasons or because Stitt believes he’s a proven commodity — fellow starters Keenan Curran, Jerry Louie-McGee and Justin Calhoun all left after the third series as well — is unknown. But Bingham is certainly assured heavy playing time as a sophomore barring injury.
Horner will have to fend off the ever-improving Simis if he hopes to replicate his production of the last two seasons. That will start with a standout fall camp performance.
Also on the roster: Matt Rensvold (6-4, 211-pound freshman); Bryson Deming (6-4, 228-pound true freshman).
Photos by Jason Bacaj and Colter Nuanez. All Rights Reserved.