MISSOULA — Montana redshirt freshman quarterback Garrett Graves got to go live for the second consecutive spring scrimmage on Friday, exchanging his black no-contact jersey for a regular jersey during portions of the practice.
The Eureka grad took 36 of the Grizzlies’ 88 offensive snaps at quarterback, up from 26 of the 94 he had during the first spring scrimmage on March 22. He threw 18 passes, ran 13 times and handed off the ball five times as he worked to display his versatility, physicality and speed.
Graves might not end up starting at quarterback this season — returning starter Dalton Sneed is back — but head coach Bobby Hauck felt the live action was much needed for the 6-foot-3, 196-pound Graves if he’s going to be a contributor whenever and wherever he gets his shot.
“Garrett’s a guy that can probably play eight positions for us on defense and five on offense,” Hauck said. “So, he’s going to be part of the plan moving forward.
“He hasn’t been hit like he gets hit out here in high school. He just hadn’t played at that speed. None of them have. So, he needs some live action, and it’s really good for him to get him banged around a little bit, and he’s physical enough to give his own back. And I thought he did a nice job for a guy in really kind of his first live action.”
Graves didn’t crack the two-deep as a quarterback last season, running seven times for 18 yards as a running back. He played in just two games as he preserved his redshirt under a new NCAA rule that allows players to participate in up to four games without burning a year of eligibility.
After the scrimmage, Graves said he’ll play at whichever position the team needs. He did that in high school, lining up everywhere on offense and defense except defensive tackle, offensive line and tight end as he got recruited by former Montana head coach Bob Stitt as an “athlete.”
“Last year, we were a little sparse there in the running back position, so when there’s limited depth, I’ll step up wherever I’m needed,” Graves said. “But I think the coaches believe in me as a quarterback and (are) trying to develop me there. Obviously, I’ve got a long way to go, so (they’re) giving me a lot of playing time there to get better.”
On the ground Friday, Graves converted a pair of fourth-and-1s, rushing for 3 and 7 yards. He also ripped off a 20-yard run on fourth-and-5 on the final drive of the day, scrambling out of the pocket to his right. He was tackled in the backfield six times, two of which came on what appeared to be running plays.
In the first scrimmage, Graves had runs of 17 and 8 yards and showed his fearless physicality as a two-time undefeated state champion wrestler when he lowered his shoulder on All-American linebacker Dante Olson.
“Luckily, I was blessed with a pretty good ability to run, and I’m a big kid, so coach likes to have me use my body and run a little bit. I love to do that,” Graves said. “I’m a physical football player, so running’s really fun for me. I like lowering my shoulder out there, and it works out pretty well for me most times.”
Graves’ longest completion came when sophomore wide receiver Malik Flowers made a 33-yard reception in between two defenders on a ball thrown near the numbers on the left side of the field. Flowers was being covered closely by senior walk-on cornerback Kadeem Hemphill while sophomore safety Michael McGinnis provided help over the top.
Graves completed 10 of 18 passes for about 76 yards and was picked off once on a pass that was tipped by Hemphill. He had at least one overthrow, one drop by a wide-open receiver and had each of his final four passes broken up by Hemphill. He was taken down by a sack or touch sack four times on what appeared to be passing plays.
Hauck’s assessment of Graves’ passing was that “he’s doing some good stuff. He’s hitting some passes. He’s missing some. Looks like a freshman quarterback in that regard.”
As for going up against the secondary, Graves said: “Obviously, they know a lot of our looks. For me, our defense gives a lot of really good, different looks. So, going out there as a young quarterback with not very much experience, it’s definitely tough on me seeing a lot of different, revolving safeties and all that. So, the toughest part for me is just knowing what to expect.”
When the Griz close spring practice on Saturday with their spring game, Graves is hoping his work continues to pay off.
“When the spring game comes, I hope to be a lot more comfortable in the plays and know exactly where I’m going with it,” he said. “And I think that’ll help me out immensely. So, just getting the playbook down even more.”