MISSOULA — Senior linebacker Josh Buss may not be listed in Montana's depth chart for Saturday, but head coach Bobby Hauck said on Wednesday that No. 42 has a solid chance of making an appearance against Northern Iowa.
"There's a good chance he'll be available to a degree," Hauck told reporters from 406mtsports.com and the Montana Kaimin.
Buss sat out of spring practices after recovering from an offseason surgery and missed most of preseason camp as well.
Hauck said Wednesday that Buss has been practicing a little bit recently.
"You know, he's practiced a little bit. How much he can actually play is still to be discussed," Hauck said. "We're trying to get him some plays in practice. He's had a few. Beyond that, it's probably going to be a, 'see how things go on Saturday.'"
Just because Buss could see some reps on Saturday doesn't mean he's back to full speed.
"It's going to be a long road back for him," Hauck said.
In the weeks leading up to the season, Buss earned a host of preseason accolades, including the Big Sky Conference preseason defensive player of the year, the STATS FCS preseason All-America first-team, the Butkus Award watchlist and the Buchanan Award watchlist.
Junior Dante Olson and sophomore Jace Lewis will be getting the starts at linebacker on Saturday, with redshirt freshman Marcus Welnel and senior Shayne Cochran filling out the two-deep.
The Grizzlies have voted, and the four captains for the 2018-19 season are junior quarterback Dalton Sneed, senior wide receiver Keenan Curran, senior defensive lineman Reggie Tilleman and Buss.
Sneed, Curran and Tilleman were also named starters for Saturday. The Northern Iowa game marks the first start at Montana for Sneed and Tilleman, while Saturday will be Curran's 21st start.
"Obviously, their teammates thought they did a nice job over the last eight months of leading the charge and doing things right and helping people along," Hauck said of the quartet. "I think the guys on the team did a good job of selecting those four."
Junior Jerry Louie-McGee and sophomore Samori Toure are starting at wide receiver. Junior Colin Bingham will start at tight end. Redshirt freshman Adam Eastwood will be in the backfield alongside Sneed, getting his first start at tailback.
Sophomore Conlan Beaver will start at left tackle. Junior Angel Villanueva will make his 23rd start at left guard on Saturday. Junior Cody Meyer will start at center. Sophomore Dylan Eickmeyer is lining up at right guard and redshirt freshman Colton Keintz rounds out the offensive line, starting at right tackle.
The starting defensive line consists of redshirt freshman RJ Nelson, Tilleman, junior Jesse Sims and senior David Shaw.
Montana has transitioned to a 4-2-5 defense, so there will be five defensive backs on the field. Those five starting defensive backs are junior Josh Sandry at nickel, junior Justin Calhoun and sophomore Dareon Nash at cornerback, and redshirt freshman Robby Hauck and sophomore Gavin Robertson at safety.
Senior Eric Williams retains his punting duties from last season. Junior Tim Semenza is the starting placekicker. Junior newcomer Adam Wilson will have kickoff duties.
Senior grad transfer Reid Miller holds down the holding duties, while sophomore Matthew O'Donoghue handles long snapping.
Louie-McGee — or "Mr. Electricity" as he's commonly called — will be back for punt return, while Justin Calhoun is handling kickoff returns.
There are 11 freshmen on Montana's two-deep.
Four of them — Eastwood, Keintz, Nelson and Robby Hauck — are starters.
But the other seven — redshirt freshman wide receiver Mitch Roberts, redshirt freshman tight end Bryson Deming, true freshman left tackle Sean Anderson, true freshman defensive tackle Eli Alford, redshirt freshman defensive tackle Braydon Deming, redshirt freshman nickelback Michael McGinnis and redshirt freshman kick return specialist Malik Flowers — could all see significant amounts of playing time as well.
Coach Hauck hopes that his freshmen will perform well under the pressure.
"(Northern Iowa has) a lot of returning starters and we've got a lot of freshmen," Hauck said on Wednesday. "I don't know. We're going to have our hands full. Our freshmen better perform."
Hauck added: "We've got a lot of young guys playing their first college football game. They've gotta play well if we're going to have a chance to win because they're playing a veteran playoff team."