MISSOULA — The stands at Washington-Grizzly Stadium were largely filled with snow, some Montana football players wore jerseys and shorts without any undershirts or leggings, and the Griz opened spring practice on Monday with temperatures in the low-to-mid 30s.
Spring practice was scheduled to start last week, but lingering winter weather conditions and an icy playing surface forced Montana to move back the start date.
Now that they’ve gotten under way, the Griz are focusing on day-to-day improvements, but it’s with an eye on the Aug. 31 opener at South Dakota.
“Being a week late, everybody’s pretty anxious to be out here,” Montana head coach Bobby Hauck said. “We’ll get caught up. We feel like we’re behind, which is sort of ludicrous because we haven’t started. It’ll be good. Everybody’s excited to get out here, and certainly we expect the enthusiasm level to be high.”
The Griz will still have 15 days for practices, scrimmages and the Spring Game. With the start date being pushed back, the schedule will be condensed across four weeks instead of five weeks.
Montana returns eight All-Big Sky players from last season, including senior quarterback Dalton Sneed, who was the Big Sky Conference newcomer of the year and an all-conference honorable mention. He was a transfer competing for the job this time last year and now feels he has more of a leadership role.
“I’d say more so staying positive than anything,” Sneed said of the attitude needed during the spring. “We’ve got a few new faces out here. They’re trying to pick it up on the fly. There’s guys that are moving positions. I think constructive criticism, getting guys and telling them, ‘We need to be doing this better.’ So, definitely having a positive attitude and getting guys looking the right way.”
For senior defensive end Jesse Sims, who wears the No. 37 legacy jersey, the approach to spring practice is about simplifying things and going back to the basics.
“I think we’ve got to look at it as starting from scratch and working on the basics, and the fine detail stuff will work itself out later on,” Sims said. “Just come out high energy and make sure we’re working hard every day and doing what the coaches want.”
Montana is coming off a 6-5 season in which it missed the playoffs, fumbling on the goal line against Montana State in the finale with a potential playoff spot on the line. Hauck summed up his hopes for spring practice as “get better. That’s it.”
“We need improvement,” Hauck said. “Certainly, no one here’s satisfied with — though we did some decent things last fall — no one here’s satisfied with the result. And we want to get better.”
The Griz were in a non-padded, helmets-only practice on Monday. Hauck said they’d be able to dive in with “a significant portion of the base offense and defense” on Monday because of offseason installation meetings.
Compared to this time last year, when Hauck had just taken over a few months before, he feels the team is “more comfortable with what we’re doing.” He also said no starting jobs will be awarded in the spring.
Junior college transfers Marcus Knight, a running back, and Kordell Pillans, an offensive lineman, both practiced. Knight broke off a long run for a touchdown.
“You bring in transfers to contribute,” Hauck said. “I mean, you don’t bring them in to be part of the depth and work their way into it. They need to progress quickly. Otherwise, you just recruit freshmen.”
The Griz added two walk-ons in running back Ryan Arntson and defensive end Zane Whiting, who both practiced. Arntson, a 5-foot-7, 180-pound junior from Helena High, played the past two seasons at Carroll College. He averaged 83.4 all-purpose yards per game last year and 39.2 rushing yards per game two years ago. Whiting, a 6-foot-4, 200-pound sophomore, spent the last two years on a mission after playing as a wide receiver at Division II Adams State in 2016, catching three passes for 40 yards.
Sophomore Tanner Wilson, who had been a backup quarterback, is now listed as a quarterback/linebacker and had an interception as a linebacker on Monday. Sophomore Patrick O’Connell, a Glacier grad and 2018 spring walk-on, and senior Kobey Eaton also had an interception.
Senior kicker Tim Semenza and junior offensive lineman Brandon Scott didn’t practice. Semenza watched from the sideline.
Junior defensive lineman Jed Nagler, a Whitefish grad, was practicing after suffering an undisclosed injury against Idaho last season.
Montana’s two players who grayshirted in the fall, linebacker Braxton Hill and tight end Cole Grossman, both practiced.
The Griz had three other walk-ons trying out for the team — two on defense and one on special teams — but none of them have been officially added to the roster yet.
The Griz will host four returning players and three players from other schools during their Pro Day from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Tuesday as they look to get a shot at the NFL.
Montana’s former players who are participating are wide receiver Keenan Curran, tight end Caleb Hill, safety Reid Miller and punter Eric Williams, a Missoula native and Loyola grad.
The Griz will also host Montana Tech wide receiver Dion Williams, Rocky Mountain College center Troy Bacon and Rocky Mountain College defensive end Jo-Jo Bones.
Pro Day is closed to the public.