BOZEMAN — Spring drills at Montana State had an inauspicious beginning, with snow and sub-freezing temperatures obstructing the Bobcats’ initial practice schedule.
Though adjustments were made, the shortage of quality practice time didn’t really affect the veteran players or those you know will play big roles in 2019. The do-it-all Troy Andersen, for instance, has been held out of practice entirely.
Still, Jeff Choate, in his fourth year as MSU’s head coach, has regretted the fact that a slew of younger players haven’t had many opportunities to show what they can do, though some have still found a way to emerge.
Particularly, tight end “Ryan Davis has really made some strides,” Choate said. “(Linebacker) Daniel Hardy is a guy that physically you knew he was going to be something and he’s had a great offseason. (Running back) Lane Sumner” is another, the coach noted.
“These young guys that you really didn’t get a chance to fully evaluate outside of fall camp maybe, it’s really valuable for them,” Choate said. “That’s what I enjoy about it. I enjoy seeing these young guys flash and get their opportunity to be on the stage, get some positive feedback and make mistakes and learn from those.”
Montana State will, for all intents and purposes, wrap up spring ball Saturday with the annual Sonny Holland scrimmage at Bobcat Stadium in Bozeman. The game, which begins at 2 p.m., will be televised live statewide on SWX Montana stations.
Then it’s on to other things.
“We’re doing the spring game, we’ll have another practice, a (player-run) practice, and then we’re done,” Choate said. “I’m going to get these guys back into school, let them focus on finishing up the semester.
“We’re going to get into another training block — get into a peak-speed phase because we don’t get a chance to do that a lot around here because we don’t have a place to run inside — and we’re going to stick to the plan.”
Following are a few more tidbits as MSU’s enters the final stage of spring drills:
Tight end shuffle
In an effort to improve depth at a position that lost a ton to graduation, ex-safety/rush end/linebacker Jacob Hadley has again changed positions and will play tight end.
Hadley, a 6-foot-5, 220-pound Billings Central product, has struggled with injuries throughout his career as a defensive player, so the Bobcats are giving him a chance to be a force on offense — and try to keep him on the active roster. Davis, Derryk Snell and Treyton Pickering are also in the tight end rotation.
MSU said goodbye to seniors Connor Sullivan, Curtis Amos and Wilson Brott after last season.
“Jacob is a guy that I think has an unbelievable skill set,” Choate said. “If you go back and watch him, really his best position in high school was wide receiver, especially as a huge red-zone threat. We felt like just with some of the injuries he’s had, moving him back to the offensive side of the ball and at a position where we lost some depth was going to create an opportunity to play and to help us.”
Linebacker was a position of need entering the offseason, and the Bobcats hoped they’d found immediate help in junior college transfer Blake Flovin.
Flovin, who is 6-2 and 240, came to MSU from Foothill College in the Bay Area. He began his career at FCS Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts. Choate said Flovin has meshed well in a new environment.
“Blake’s been seamless. He’s been great. When you do it right that makes it easy,” Choate said.
“You can tell sometimes right away that you might have some buyer’s remorse, like that’s not exactly what (you) thought you were getting or this isn’t what we want to see. But Blake’s been amazing that way. He brings some maturity to that linebacker room. He’s willing to be vocal, which I’ve been really pleased with.”
On the mend
Two years ago, wide receiver Jabarri Johnson proved to be a force in the passing game, with 448 yards and four touchdown catches. Hopes were high for 2018, but Johnson was lost during spring drills to a serious knee injury.
Johnson, a former wideout at Sacramento State who transferred to MSU from American River College in California, missed all of last season and has still not been cleared for full participation. But there’s a chance the 6-4, 210-pounder can return for the 2019 campaign.
“Still kind of waiting and seeing,” Choate said. “We’re a year out, and this was not an injury that was going to be a year rehab.
“We want to give these kids every opportunity. These careers are so short and the games are so few that if it’s in his heart to want to try to do it, let’s (do it). But when we get to June 1, we’ve got to know. That’s kind of our timeline with him. He knows that. He’s working hard. We’ll see if he can get back and be a guy that contributes to the team.”