BOZEMAN — This is Jeff Choate’s fourth fall camp as the head football coach at Montana State, and the Bobcats’ practice process seems smoother and more businesslike than it did even last year.
Saturday’s helmets-only outing, the second of the team’s month-long preseason preparation, had a similar vibe. And a little bit of everything.
“I don’t yell as much. I think that’s probably good,” Choate said. “I think our kids understand the routine and what we’re trying to get accomplished. I think they understand that we’re going to be smart with them and try to build them for game day, not have a ton of contact but get what we need to get to have our saw sharp and ready to go.
“It feels easier, I guess, because we’re all on the same page.”
But that hasn’t made it any less of a grind. MSU’s coaches put the team through a rigorous conditioning period to close practice No. 2, and some players (like the Troy Andersen’s of the world) appear in great shape. Others, not so much.
But, as Choate would say, it presents an opportunity to get better.
During conditioning, 380-pound true freshman defensive lineman Tua Areta was visibly struggling to finish his sprints. That’s when senior defensive end Bryce Sterk jumped back on the field and joined Areta to help him along.
“He was hurting, so I just wanted to make sure I ran with him and gave him a pace,” Sterk said. “I’m really glad he finished. As a freshman, that’s really hard.
“Seeing him finish and not give up, I’m actually really happy for him. I don’t care how fast he does it, just that he powered through it. Hats off to him for doing that.”
Sterk, formerly of the University of Washington, had 8.5 quarterback sacks and 17 tackles for loss last season to establish himself as one of the top defensive linemen in the Big Sky Conference. But this was a big-time leadership move.
As for the full scope of practice, it was a day that featured quarterbacks throwing the football with purpose, pass-catchers completing tough catches and the defense making its share of plays.
Tucker Rovig and Casey Bauman, the presumptive leaders of the QB competition, came out in 11-on-11 team drills zipping the ball around the field. Both seemed to show good operational awareness — Rovig played primarily with the first team while Bauman took reps with the 2s.
Bauman seemed to build a nice connection with freshman wideout Logan Kleinhans. Meanwhile, receiver Coy Steel’s one-handed, low-to-the-ground snag was one of the best catches of the day, though Peyton Hanser also had a diving reception and tight end Ryan Lonergan went up high to haul in a pass over the middle from John Knight.
Defensively, safety Jahque Alleyne made a nice break-up of an early Rovig pass while cornerback Damien Washington had the day’s only interception.
Rovig and Bauman are competing against a quality defensive backfield — as well as each other.
“It is so interesting to see those guys back there right now; there’s not a lot of windows to throw into,” Choate said. “It’s a very good secondary.”
Members of the offense say they are seeing good things out of both Rovig and Bauman early in camp.
“All summer they’ve been competing their butts off. They’re both fighting,” right guard Lewis Kidd said. “Whoever is going to be the guy, we’re going to trust him and we’re going to block the same way.
“We’re confident in either of them. It’s just who’s got the most consistency. Both have been doing a good job of taking control of the huddle and really taking command of the offense.”
“It’s a close call right now between both of them,” left tackle Mitch Brott said. “They’re both showing great leadership skills. They’ve made a big step since last year and they both have a lot more confidence.”
The team will practice again Sunday at 10:30 a.m. at the Dyche Fields on MSU’s campus, this time in helmets and shoulder pads.
The first two practices were more about fundamentals than contact, but Brott, a senior out of Billings West, said the offensive line is ready for the pads to pop.
“We just want to get our pads on and let it go,” Brott said.
NOTES: CB Tyrel Thomas was absent for the first two days of practice working to finish one summer class. Choate said he expects Thomas to be at practice next week. … One player standing out early is true freshman RB DeMareus Hosey, who Choate said is “very mature” and “very focused.”