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Grizzly Football Begins Fall Drills, August 9th

The University of Montana Grizzlies start their fall camp football drills on Tuesday, August 9, with a single afternoon practice at 2:00 p.m. on the South Campus practice facility.  Players report on Sunday, August 7th.  They will have physicals on Monday, August 8.

The players will participate in one-a-day practice sessions from August 9-13.  The first two-a-day is  Sunday, August 14th.  During two-a-days the team will practice at the South Campus fields beginning at 8:30 a.m., while the afternoon drills are in Washington-Grizzly Stadium and start at 3:00 p.m.

The Grizzlies have three scrimmages slated during fall camp: Sunday, August 14th (afternoon); Saturday, August 20th (morning); and Thursday, August 25th (morning).  UM’s scrimmages are held in Washington-Grizzly Stadium and are free to the public.

Montana’s annual “Great Griz Encounter” is slated for Thursday, August 25th in Missoula’s Caras Park.  UM’s 2011 All-American and honors candidates will be introduced at the “Encounter,” and second-year head coach Robin Pflugrad will talk about his team.

The Grizzlies open the season in just four weeks, playing the University of Tennessee Volunteers in 102,455-seat Neyland Stadium in Knoxville on Sept. 3rd in a 4:07 p.m. (mountain) kickoff.

Montana has 15-plus starters back from a 7-4 team that tied for third in the Big Sky with a 5-3 record.  The Griz return seven starters on offense, seven-and-a-half on defense, and their kicker/punter.

Pflugrad and offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith need to replace one of UM’s best running backs in school history in Chase Reynolds, who rushed for a school-record 52 touchdowns the past three seasons.  Reynolds, a team captain last year, recently signed a free agent contract with the Seattle Seahawks.

Also gone on offense are quarterback and team captain Andrew Selle, along with guard Russ Piette and center Alex Verlanic – two second team all-league picks last season, and quarterback Justin Roper.

Pflugrad and Smith have orchestrated a new look on offense.

“You could give our offense a couple of different names,” Pflugrad said.  “It’s the spread offense with a zone-read concept.  The passing game in it is based on a lot of run-and-shoot. I guess you could say we are a spread and shoot team.  Those two words would incorporate more of what we do.”

Last season Montana’s offense was ranked among the national leaders in scoring (16th, 31.73 ppg) and passing yards per game (28th, 233.55 ypg).

Three senior starters return to the O-Line: tackles Chuck Burton (6-5, 315) and Jon Opperud (6-7, 308), and center Stephen Sabin (6-4, 300, who started at guard last season).  “Super sophomores” William Poehls (6-8, 331) and Danny Kistler (6-8, 315) are expected to start at the two guard spots.

The Griz also return a crux of talented starting wide receivers in junior Sam Gratton, and seniors Antwon Moutra and Jabin Sambrano.  Other veteran wide receivers who are expected to see action are junior Bryce Carver and senior C.J. Atkins, along with sophomore Aaron Roberts, and redshirt freshmen Mitch Saylor and Sean Haynes.

Junior tight end Greg Hardy is another returning and talented starter, while senior tight end Kavario Middleton should be a major contributor at that position as well.

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The starting job at quarterback is open as UM starts fall camp.  Sophomore letterman Jordan Johnson, junior transfer Nate Montana, and junior letterman Gerald Kemp are vying for that berth.  Redshirt freshman Shay Smithwick-Hann could also see action as UM’s signal-caller.

At running back, junior Peter Nguyen and redshirt freshman Jordan Canada are expected to compete for the starting berth, while redshirt frosh Brett Kirschner should see action there too.  Juniors Beau Donaldson and Dan Moore are a solid tandem at fullback, and in a two-back set.

Key losses on defense were all-conference safety Erik Stoll, along with cornerback Brandon Dodson, and CB/safety Jimmy Wilson, who were both all-league honorable mention selections.  Other big shoes to fill on “D” are all-league end Severin Campbell and veteran and team captain Tyler Hobbs at tackle.

However, the Grizzlies do return seven-plus starters back on defense, spear-headed by three veteran linebackers, and senior All-American cornerback Trumaine Johnson.

UM’s trio of returning starting linebackers –  Caleb McSurdy. Jordan Tripp, and Alex Shaw, were ranked first, second, and fourth on the team in tackles in 2010.  McSurdy, a senior, had a team-high 112 stops, while Tripp a junior, had 99, and Shaw, a senior, garnered 62.

The Griz have improved their depth at linebacker with juniors Donaldson and Josh Stuberg, sophomores Brock Coyle, John Kanagota’a, Ethan Pateman, and Ty Timmer, as well as redshirt freshman Taylor Tuliapupu.

“I like those three linebackers (returning starters) a lot,” Pflugrad said.  “I also like some of our other players at that position.”

Johnson is Buck Buchanan Award candidate again this season, and has already been named to several 2011 pre-season All-American teams.  Seniors Donny Lisowski and Houston Roots are vying for the other starting cornerback job, with sophomore Sean Murray and junior Kevin Frank also in the mix.

Senior Mike McCord, who had eight starts a year ago, has the inside track for the berth at free safety, while senior Andrew Badger and sophomore Bo Tully are vying for the starting role at strong safety.  Sophomore Stephen Rominger and freshman Justin Whitted are also in the mix at safety, as are heralded incoming freshman Matt Hermanson and Connor Lebsock.

“Our secondary is a big question mark for us,” Pflugrad said.  “Who is it going to be, and how soon are they going to be ready to go?  Obviously with our schedule, they’re going to have to be ready to go for that first game.”

Bobby Alt, along with fellow senior Ryan Fetherston have started at defensive end.  Fetherston was an all-league honorable mention pick last year.  Another pivotal player who is back at end is junior Josh Harris, who could compete for a starting job after missing all of last season with an injury.

Senior tackle Bryan Waldhauser was a second team All-Big Sky pick last season and started in all 11 games.  Sophomore Alex Bienemann, senior Ben Hughes, and redshirt freshmen Tonga Takai add depth at D-tackle.  Local prep (Hellgate High School) Jesse Ginn will get a chance to play right away.

Montana had a solid “D” last year and was ranked 10th nationally in total defense, giving up just 289.82 yards a game and seventh in pass efficiency defense (98.08 ypg).

UM also returns senior kicker/punter Brody McKnight.  Last year McKnight made 14-of-18 field goals and averaged 38.5 yards per punt.

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