BOZEMAN — For all intents and purposes, Montana State’s scrimmage Saturday will mark the end of fall camp as it’s traditionally defined. Starting Monday, the Bobcats will begin shifting toward a more game-week approach in advance of their Aug. 31 opener at Texas Tech.
But there’s still a lot to be decided, notably the pecking order on the depth chart at positions like inside linebacker, tight end and even cornerback.
“I think there are several positions where there is very tight competition, and so this is really the last opportunity we’re going to have to kind of examine that and decide how we’re going to move forward, because we want to be a week ahead,” coach Jeff Choate said Friday following MSU’s 14th practice of camp.
“We want to use next week to really simulate how we’re going to practice (during) the season. We’re going to go to our in-season practice schedule.”
Choate said Saturday’s scrimmage, which is slated to begin at 6 p.m. at Bobcat Stadium, will start with some special teams work before the younger players take the field for the opening segment. The first- and second-team offense and defense will follow.
Choate said he expects the young guys to run between 40-45 plays, while the top two groups will take around 25 snaps. The scrimmage, Choate said, is expected to last about 90 minutes.
With respect to the linebacker competition, particularly at the two inside positions within MSU’s base 3-4 alignment, Choate said it’s been a toss-up between Callahan O’Reilly, Nolan Askelson and Josh Hill at the one spot, and Chad Kanow, Michael Jobman and Walker Cozzie at the other.
“There’s six guys at inside linebacker that you could almost flip a coin on,” Choate said. “You’ve got a good, quality three-deep at each position, and you can see why we need to find some clarity there.”
The tight end competition has comprised, in part, Ryan Davis, Jacob Hadley, Treyton Pickering and a good-looking true freshman in Ryan Lonergan.
Greg Filer, Damien Washington, Tyrel Thomas, Level Price and Ty’Rhae Gibson have largely made up the cornerback battle. Filer and Thomas were bookend starters last season.
Jalen Cole, a key member of this position group, is likely out for the year due to an injury he suffered toward the end of last season.
However the positional hierarchy shakes out for Week 1, depth isn’t a problem for MSU on defense, and that can perhaps render the proverbial food chain inconsequential because it’s likely that everyone will have a role, especially during a 12-game schedule.
But that’s not always how the players see it.
“I think it’s a big deal to the guys, and I get that,” Choate said. “As old as I am now, I remember wanting to be ‘the guy.’ You want to have your name on the scoreboard announced in front of the crowd before the game. And so I think that’s important for their self-esteem.
“But from my perspective as a coach it’s kind of meaningless. We’re going to need a bunch of bodies, and everybody’s going to have to own their role and go do their thing.”
Choate added: “It’s all about being honest and up front and doing a good job of charting things and being clear with the players about what the expectations are.”
Sunday is what Choate said will be a big day in terms of ironing out the depth chart. It will serve as the team’s “roll call” day, when the coaches meet individually with the players to make sure everyone is on the same page in regard to his duties and assignments going forward.
Scout teams should be in place early next week when MSU is scheduled to begin its Week 1 preparation. Practices will be closed to the media and the general public beginning then.
Choate has one particular goal for the final fall scrimmage.
“What am I nervous about? Making sure everybody gets out healthy,” he said. “That’s what I lose sleep about.
“There’s always going to be some emotions, and that’s one of the things you’re trying to get out of a scrimmage like this, too — to try to simulate somewhat of a game environment so they can know what it feels like.”
NOTES: Saturday scrimmage will be centered on MSU’s annual “Family Fun Day” at Bobcat Stadium, a free event open to the public that will consist of mini clinics and an autograph session. MSU football and volleyball players, as well as the spirit squad, will partake in these activities starting at 3 p.m. Gates open at 2.