MISSOULA — Montana linebacker Jace Lewis and others in the position group wanted to have fun with then-Grizzly linebacker Josh Buss.
Some of them switched their Twitter bios to reference Buss, a 2017 Buck Buchanan Award finalist and a preseason All-American heading into the 2018 season. Lewis, a Townsend native, changed his bio to read, “THE Josh Buss’ backup,” while Michael Matthews wrote “Josh Buss’ Agent.”
They both still have those bios up, as of Saturday. Lewis said his reason for changing it and keeping it up is simple.
“He’s a legend,” Lewis said of Buss after the fifth practice of fall camp, the first one in full pads, Saturday afternoon. “He’s a legend around here. All of us were just giving him a hard time. We all switched our Twitter handles to something weird like that. It’s pretty funny. Still left it because he’s a legend.”
Lewis, a second-team all-Big Sky special teams player last year, will be trying to replace that legend following Buss’ final season in 2018. He had in fact served as Buss’ backup, as his Twitter bio states, and is working to earn the starting spot.
Now at 6-foot-1 and 230 pounds, the junior has been practicing with the first-team defense throughout spring and fall camps. Lewis’ focus has been on cutting down on mistakes, fine-tuning details and better understanding the deeper dive of the defense in year two under head coach Bobby Hauck.
Lewis replaced Buss once when he saw time with the first-team defense last year while Buss was recovering from an undisclosed injury. When the season began, Buss returned to his starting role, but Lewis continued to learn from Buss and split time with him on his way to tallying 62 total tackles, fifth on the team.
“We all had a big role last year,” Lewis said. “I split time with Buss, and Dante (Olson) split time with Marcus (Welnel). I don’t think there’ll be much difference this year because there’s some younger guys coming up that’ll get some playing time. We all push each other to be great. So, there’s no slacking in our section.”
Lewis also has had another mentor in senior Dante Olson, a 2018 postseason All-American and 2019 preseason All-American who finished third in voting last year for the Buck Buchanan Award, given to the top defensive player in the FCS.
Olson, who’s lined up next to Lewis in the spring and fall, had high praise for his fellow linebacker.
“He’s one of those guys you like to be around, you like to be on the field with,” Olson said. “I trust him quite a bit. He really cares a lot about it. If he does something wrong, he wants to fix it the next play, doesn’t hang his head. He’s a really tough dude. He’s going to brush off the little things. He’s a really trustworthy player to be out there with.”
As Lewis prepares for a potentially larger role, his experience on special teams can carry over. He was on Montana’s kickoff coverage unit, navigating traffic to make tackles, a trait that’s necessary while roaming the field as a linebacker.
“He’s able to make tackles in space, which again, it’s a space game more and more,” Hauck said. “The special teams work that all these guys get as younger players usually helps them be better both in the secondary, wide receiver, linebacker, tight end, running back. It just helps.”
If Lewis can continue working to improve and translate that to success in a larger role as a starting linebacker, maybe someone else on the team will want to change their Twitter bio to reference him.
“I’m a lot more confident going into this year compared to last year,” Lewis said. “There’s a lot more familiarity with the defense and the group of guys we’re around. We’re all excited for this year to just get in and make some plays.”
Hauck spoke before Saturday’s practice about some early impressions of the team heading into the first day of full pads.
“The wide receivers have looked good. They’ve done a nice job,” Hauck said when asked which group has stood out. “The O-line’s much improved. Then you notice some of the young players either showing up or trying to catch up. Basically, it’s the two first groups have looked pretty good.”
Asked which young players have shown up, Hauck mentioned true freshman cornerback Corbin Walker from Renton, Washington, and true freshman defensive lineman Jacob McGourin from Cheney, Washington.
“Corbin Walker at corner has shown up. He’s done a nice job,” Hauck said. “Jacob McGourin’s shown up. I don’t want to shortchange. There’s been a lot of good performances. And as typical with young guys, it’s a little hit and miss. One day they’ll look pretty good, and then we’ll install a bunch of stuff and they won’t look worth a darn the next day.”
Returning quarterback Dalton Sneed didn’t take first team reps for the fourth consecutive day, standing behind the offense by the quarterbacks and coaches during 11-on-11 action.
“Just give him a little rest,” Hauck said of why Sneed hasn't taken those snaps.
Sneed did some running, individual quarterback work, light tossing of the football short distances. He also took snaps during a drill that featured the full team minus receivers and cornerbacks, handing off the ball and taking an inadvertent hit from the defense, which he shook off to return for the next snap.
Hauck, when asked if he expects Sneed to return to taking first-team reps, said, "Yeah, sure."
Junior quarterback Cam Humphrey took those reps for the fourth day in a row, redshirt freshman Garrett Graves handled second-team reps and true freshman Kris Brown saw some action.
During 11-on-11 work, Humphrey hit tight end Colin Bingham over the middle, and Bingham broke a tackle attempt by cornerback Dareon Nash. He had a pass to Mitch Roberts deep down the right sideline broken up by cornerback Kadeem Hemphill and had a pass to Roberts down the left sideline broken up by cornerback Justin Calhoun. Humphrey was also the recipient of a touch sack by defensive lineman Alex Gubner.
Graves connected with redshirt freshman tight end Colten Curry over the middle for about 30 yards and with Malik Flowers for a gain of about 30 yards.
True freshman receiver Keelan White made a leaping grab on a pass from Brown down the left third of the field. Brown bobbled a snap that true freshman running back Elias DeWaters grabbed out of the air before running up the middle for a gain of about 25 yards.
During 7-on-7s, Olson broke up a pass from Humphrey, and senior safety Josh Sandry made a diving interception. Graves hit redshirt freshman receiver Nick Germer deep on a cross from right to left and hooked up with Curry for a gain of about 40 yards.
Senior offensive lineman Cy Sirmon sat out for the second day in a row. He was dressed in full pads. Sophomore Skyler Martin again played center with the first-team offense.
Sophomore right tackle Colton Keintz returned to practice after sitting out Thursday and being a partial participant Friday.