MISSOULA, Montana — The Montana Grizzlies return 18 players with starting experience, including at every single offensive position, although all 11 might not start in 2019.
The Griz have entrenched starters at quarterback with senior Dalton Sneed, inside linebacker with Buck Buchanan finalist senior Dante Olson and on the defensive line with senior Jesse Sims, who will wear Montana’s iconic No. 37 one more season. It will be hard to displace sophomore safety Robby Hauck or senior tight end Colin Bingham or senior Rover Josh Sandry or junior wide receiver Sammy Akem in the Griz starting lineup.
Senior wide receiver Jerry Louie-McGee and sophomore burner Gabe Sulser are sure to see plenty of touches on offense. And returning offensive tackles junior Conlan Beaver and sophomore Colton Keintz surely have advantages over any challenger.
But Montana head coach Bobby Hauck has long taken pride in cultivating internal competition on his roster. The Griz opened fall camp with their first practice at Dornblaser Field on Tuesday afternoon with temperatures soaring above 90 degrees.
When asked what position battles he was most eager to watch, Hauck said, “All of them.”
“I think when we were good around here, we had good depth,” said Hauck, who won seven straight Big Sky Conference titles at Montana during his first stint at his alma mater between 2003 and 2009. “Our groups beyond our starters were good players. We didn’t go seven years without an injury. So we are going to develop depth and they will all compete for playing time. That goes across the board.”
Here are the top five position battles to watch for the Grizzlies this month.
5. Safety next to Hauck
In defensive coordinator Kent Baer’s hybrid odd-man front defense, the Grizzlies most often play with three safeties on the field. It’s unlikely that anyone will beat out Robby Hauck, a 5-foot-9, 170-pound tackling machine who runs the alley as well as any player in the Big Sky.
It’s also unlikely that Sandry, a 6-foot-1, 210-pounder out of Big Fork, will relinquish his stronghold on UM’s hybrid rover position, although former Arizona transfer Gavin Robertson, down 14 pounds to 208 this off-season, will push Sandry.
The third safety spot is wide open. Robertson is expected to compete with upstart redshirt freshman Nash Fouch, who added 11 pounds to get up to 203 on his 6-foot-3 frame. Gavin Crow, up 14 pounds to 216 after playing cornerback last season, is back at safety and will push for time in the rotation as well. Sophomore Michael McGinnis (6-3, 208) has been a special teams standout and a rapidly improving player overall who could also factor into the mix.
Fouch put himself in a favorable position after a great spring in which he showed his versatility and penchant for contact. The former 3-star recruit came to Montana from Woodinville, Washington as one of the most highly touted recruits in Hauck’s first class. After piling up 80 tackles and 12 interceptions to go along with 130 catches for 1,702 yards and 23 touchdowns in his decorated prep career, he chose Montana over offers from Montana State, Eastern Washington, Idaho, Northern Iowa, Cornell and Air Force.
Crow, a redshirt junior from Kennewick, Washington who played a season of high school football in Japan, has 13 career tackles as a Grizzly.