MISSOULA — The wait for Griz football to return is nearly over.
Players report on Sunday and practices begin on Tuesday ahead of what is a make or break season for head coach Bob Stitt.
"Going into fall, it'll be pretty much be where spring left off," Stitt said back in July at the Big Sky Football Kickoff.
The Griz have 20 practices — including three scrimmages — before their season opener on Sept. 2 against Valparaiso.
Until then, Stitt and the Griz will be "continuing to grow as a team."
The following are five position groups to watch as Griz preseason camp begins:
The summer depth chart handed out at the Big Sky Football Kickoff in July was consistent with how things were left at quarterback in the spring.
At quarterback, it reads: Reese Phillips or Caleb Hill or Gresch Jensen.
If spring practices were any indication, the job appears to belong to Phillips, as the redshirt-senior transfer from Kentucky had a dominant performance in the second scrimmage. He completed 13 of 18 passes for 140 yards passing with two touchdowns.
Though, the good also came with the bad, as Phillips tossed four picks in a somewhat forgettable performance in the spring game. And junior college transfer quarterback Hill stepped up and completed three touchdowns against the second-string defense.
Jensen isn’t to be neglected either. The redshirt freshman is a dual threat under center and recorded impressive numbers during his high school playing days.
During his three years as a starter in high school, he had 7,000 yards passing and 73 passing touchdowns. On the ground, Jensen had 1,500 yards rushing and 19 rushing touchdowns. Even if he’s not tabbed as the starting quarterback this season, the Griz have a young, talented quarterback in their arsenal for the years to come.
2. Offensive Line
The key to any successful offense is having a solid offensive line.
The offensive line had its fair share of struggles in the spring game, giving up 12 sacks. Five of those sacks came via the first team and seven came from the second team.
Granted, not all of those sacks can be taken at face value as senior left tackle (and three-year starter) David Reese sat out due to an injury.
In addition to Reese, the Griz have veteran pieces in place with three other seniors in center Cooper Sprunk, right guard Robert Luke and right tackle Mike Ralston.
Even though Ralston is a redshirt senior, he’s new to the offensive line. He suited up as a tight end in 2014, a defensive end in 2015 and a wide receiver in 2016. He’s currently listed with redshirt freshman Thayne Jackson as the starter.
3. Running backs
The Griz have to replace John Nguyen in the backfield and junior Jeremy Calhoun has been primed for that spot.
But his first chance to shine as the No. 1 running back was overshadowed by an injury that sidelined him for spring ball.
His absence was evident as the first-string offense had only 7 yards rushing in the spring game.
Redshirt senior running back Treshawn Favors is listed as the No. 2 man and redshirt sophomore Cody McCombs is currently tabbed third.
All four slots in the Griz secondary have depth, but a lot of that depth is young.
Of the 11 cornerbacks and safeties on the summer depth chart, three are redshirt freshmen, two have either sophomore or redshirt sophomore standing and two are redshirt juniors.
Youth doesn’t necessarily equate to inexperience or talent, though, as redshirt sophomore safety Josh Sandry locked up the starting strong safety spot in the spring. He came away with three interceptions in the spring game and scored twice for the defense.
With the departure of Yamen Sanders and J.R. Nelson, at free safety and cornerback, Justin Strong has been slightly moved around. Strong, who started eight games at strong safety last season, is currently tabbed to start on the other side at free safety.
At cornerback, Markell Sanders appears to have retained his starting position and Ryan McKinley is poised to regain his starting position after briefly losing his starting slot to Nelson last season.
5. Special teams
Last season, Montana was near the bottom of the conference in several special teams statistics including net punting yards, kickoff coverage and percent of PATs made.
In what could have been a good rebounding opportunity from last season, kicker Tim Semenza didn’t have the best of outings during the spring game, as he missed two field goals and a PAT.
This season, the special teams crew is still young, as there’s only one senior in placeholder Makena Simis.