MISSOULA — Some of Montana's position groups have few veterans in the room. Other groups don't have much depth. But the Grizzly defensive line bucks both those things.
Because of that, the defensive line as a whole has had less learning curves throughout the start of camp.
"They are the farthest along of any of our defensive groups and that's shown itself in the first few days," Montana head coach Bobby Hauck said of the defensive line as a whole on Saturday afternoon.
But that doesn't mean everything's been perfect.
Defensive line coach Barry Sacks said they've been easing back into it this week.
"They're shaking off the cobwebs from the summer. There's some 'summer residue,' I call it," Sacks said. "It's one of those things I think they're shaking that off. Over the summer, they're on their own. They're working out on their own. They're lifting on their own, but there are things they develop over the summer amongst themselves.
"It's good, the camaraderie and things. But there's still some rustiness from the summer. Four days into it, it's getting better in increments. I am pleased with that. The great thing with this group is that they're not satisfied. Satisfaction leads to being mediocre."
Two starters, junior Jesse Sims and senior nose tackle David Shaw, are back in the mix and have nearly 30 starts at Montana between them.
And then there's senior defensive tackle Reggie Tilleman, who represented the Grizzly defense at the Big Sky Football Kickoff in mid-July.
"They're very serious and they love the game of football," Sacks said of Sims, Shaw and Tilleman. "They never really come to me like they know it all. They're an inspiration to the younger people because they're the template. No matter where they're going or what they're doing, they really take things to another level. They want to be pushed. They want to be better every single day.
"... I can ask of them just about anything and they'll do it. That's a great feeling. 'Coach, coach me hard. Coach me, coach. I'll jump off a cliff for this football team.' And I think that's an exceptional quality in young men."
Sims, a Stevensville native and a Corvallis alumnus, is the third-leading tackler returning from last season. The 6-foot-4, 272-pounder racked up 43 tackles last season as as sophomore, including six tackles for a loss of 25 yards, 3½ of which were sacks for a loss of 21. He also had two quarterback hurries and a blocked kick.
At halftime of the spring game, Sims trotted out of the Topel Tunnel wearing the No. 37 legacy jersey, passed down to him from former Griz defensive lineman Tucker Schye. Sims is the fourth straight and eighth overall defensive lineman to wear the jersey since Kraig Paulson started the tradition in 1983.
"We just don't give that number away," defensive coordinator Kent Baer said of Sims. "He's a good leader. He does everything right. He's tough and plays hard. Kids respect him, the players respect him. He's a junior, but it doesn't matter. He's been around the block a few times. Whatever he says, guys listen to him."
Sims started all 11 games last year at defensive tackle, right next to Shaw and Schye. He's currently listed on the roster as a defensive end. He also started in the first six games of his redshirt-freshman season.
"Jesse's got good temperament on the field and when we're training," Hauck said. "He's a lead-by-example guy, which is always welcome, certainly. It's probably one of the reasons why he's wearing that number (37)."
Shaw, Montana's go-to nose tackle for 10 of Montana's 11 games last season, is the seventh-highest returning tackler from 2017. He had 22 tackles as a junior, 3½ of which were tackles for a loss of 14 yards.
Before Shaw, a 6-foot-5, 319-pounder, came to Montana, he started in five games at Maryland.
"David's got good ability," Hauck said. "I think he'll be hard to deal with."
Tilleman added of both Shaw and Sims: "It's great having studs like them. Even studs behind us. The younger guys are doing a really good job of getting in there and mixing it up. It's always a competition within our group. Coach Sacks makes it that way. I don't think anybody would want it any way else."
Despite not having a single start to his name, Tilleman played in 10 games last season and picked up 13 tackles, two of which were tackles for loss and 1½ were sacks for a loss of 11 yards.
Tilleman is one of the final five members of Mick Delaney's last recruiting class. He started out as a walk-on tight end five years ago. Now he's a 250-pound defensive lineman who's in line to start this season.
"Reggie, to me, he's a tremendous football player," Baer said. "He's tough, smart. I'm surprised he didn't start more games before."
Hauck added: "Reggie, he probably made more plays than anybody in the group. We're expecting him to carry on. Obviously it would help us if he had his best season. He probably will have his best year."
Sims, Shaw and Tilleman aren't the only three making names for themselves so far.
Redshirt freshman defensive end RJ Nelson has turned some heads. He's batted down at least two passes during 11-on-11 drills throughout camp so far.
"Both him and Jed Nagler have done a really good job," Baer said. "They're long, athletic. They're young, but we need these next three weeks to get them where they need to be to play Northern Iowa."
Redshirt freshmen Eli Alford and Braydon Deming have also stood out.
"I think Eli's going to be a really good player some day," Baer said. "He's got a lot to learn, freshman, true freshman. Deming is going to be a really good football player. Young guy, athletic, long."
Sacks added of Deming: "Dem is really, at this point in time, extremely improved from the spring. He's much bigger now. He's more physical now. He's ornery-er. He has a real good streak to him. He's improved tremendously and I'm very pleased with that."
NOTES: The temperature hit 100 degrees as the Grizzlies broke their final huddle on Saturday. That mark tied the daily record, according to the National Weather Service.
Upcoming: Saturday was the last day of shells and shorts. Montana's first day of full pads is Sunday. The Grizzlies have suited up in shells for the previous two practices. Montana has its first off-day of camp on Monday, scheduled so the team can attend the Pearl Jam concert. Practice starts back up again 2:30 p.m. Tuesday at Dornblaser.