BILLINGS — Everything is kind of new for the Rocky Mountain College football team this spring.

Along with a new coaching staff, the Battlin’ Bears will go into the 2019 season with a new perspective.

From atop the Frontier Conference mountain.

“It’s a weird feeling,” said defensive end Ryder Rice on Rocky’s new vantage point. “Now we have to protect something instead of trying to take it. ‘Protect the Rock,’ takes on another meaning.”

The Battlin’ Bears began work in defense of their conference title with the first of 15 spring practices on Friday at Herb Klindt Field.

In 40-degree temperatures, new head coach Chris Stutzriem welcomed 86 players. The team breezed through a two-hour practice on the clean turf surrounded by snow banks.

“The energy was good. Guys were flying around and having fun,” Stutzriem said. “I wanted to see two things: cut down on the mental mistakes and effort. Making sure we’re doing the little things right.”

Working mostly with position coaches, players went through drills at various spots around the stadium.

“It’s definitely different,” said Rice of having Rocky coming back as league champions. “We have to work harder to keep that position.”

The learning process was alike for both players and the new assistant coaches.

“It’s just different, adjusting to a new coaching staff,” Rice said. “Guys are getting used to each other. We all have to get on the same page.”

Stutzriem, who was hired in December, was Rocky’s offensive coordinator in 2016 and 2017. He spent last season with Southwest Oklahoma State before returning to Billings. He replaced Jason Petrino who left to become the defensive coordinator at Southern Illinois University.

“It helps a ton. There’s a comfort,” said Stutzriem of being with the program previously. “There’s always going to be an adjustment when you have a new staff. Even if you have a returning staff, there’s adjustments.”

Stutzriem is also coaching the quarterbacks.

The offense — with Drew Korf and Nate Dick handling most of the quarterback reps — held the upper hand early in the light-contact scrimmage sessions with receiver Drew Bonds going high for a catch. The defense started to shift the momentum in the next series of plays.

“That’s what happens with good teams,” said Rice. “It changes every day. Some days, the offense has the upper hand. Other days, it’s the defense.”

Ty Reynolds and Shane Larson each had interceptions for the defense. Larson’s pick-6 down the right side ended practice.

“We have to keep working to get where we want to be,” said Rice.

The Battlin’ Bears practice again on Saturday at 10:15 a.m.

Email Joe Kusek at joe.kusek@406mtsports.com or follow him on Twitter at @GazSportsJoe

Sports writer at the Billings Gazette

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