MISSOULA — Montana has some position groups that have enough bodies to put together a four-player-deep depth chart. 

This spring, the offensive line barely has enough to fill out the two-deep.

Since the 2017 campaign wrapped up, five offensive linemen left the team: four seniors  — all of whom started — and a freshman.

Those departures depleted the offensive line to just nine players.

"The goal down the road is to never be in this situation again," Montana's head coach Bobby Hauck said Monday. "Hopefully that will never happen to us again." 

He added: "In the recruiting process, we have a tendency to get caught up and lured into being able to take a good player. In order to do that, your numbers are finite. When you do that, you have to short some other position and that's the predicament we're in."

Angel Villanueva, a junior, is the lone returning starter to the offensive line. The Duarte, California, native has started in 22 consecutive games that date back to his redshirt-freshman season. Villanueva is tied for the team lead with senior linebacker Josh Buss and senior punter Eric Williams in consecutive games started. 

Villanueva said it's a little odd being the veteran leader now, especially after bonding with the four departed seniors from last year. 

"I'm just so used to having Cooper (Sprunk) around, talking about food or something like that," Villanueva said. "I'm used to (David) Reese just being there so serious throughout the practice. It's a little weird. It's definitely taking a little adjusting to. They were a great group of leaders. I kinda know what to expect and do my best to try to pick up that role as a leader."

And Villanueva's leadership is invaluable right now. 

"Angel does a good job of being a leader both vocally and leading by example," offensive line coach Chad Germer said of Villanueva. "He's playing well and is playing with energy and is technically playing well. That gives a lot of the other guys something to model. He's also taken a leadership role off the field, even more so.

"Losing those four starters, we lose a lot of reps and a lot of experience. There's really no substitute for that. Obviously the goal through spring ball is to maximize the reps and get as many in each practice as we possibly can because there's no way to replicate that without doing it."

The offensive line is currently up to 10 as two players — Esai Longoria, a former defensive tackle, and McKenzie Holt, an all-purpose player — have been getting reps with the offensive line this spring. 

"The attitude when they come out here is just awesome," Villanueva said of Longoria and Holt. "Regardless of if they were tight ends or defensive ends, they come out here and you would never tell them apart from the offensive line. They play hard. They play mean. They play to the whistle and they're always eager to learn and perfect their craft, regardless of the situation or circumstance."

Their additions to the offensive front helped soften the blow after Thayne Jackson, a junior, announced via Twitter that he underwent hip surgery during the offseason.

Jackson was the second-string left tackle all of last season behind four-year starter Reese.

"He's still working hard," Germer said of Jackson. "He's doing everything he can to get himself healthy and I know he's anxious to get going once the time comes.

"I wish Thayne was out here, but whenever you get short, somebody else is going to benefit from it. Somebody else is going to get reps that that person isn't getting."

For now, Montana will be working with what it has. 

At this point in the cycle, getting an FBS drop-down or a junior college transfer in that position would be a borderline miracle. 

"That'd be great, but those guys don't come around very often," Hauck said. "That's a real rare species to find this time of year. They just don't exist."

There are some positives in the distance, though. 

Montana signed six incoming freshman offensive linemen who will arrive in the fall and there aren't any seniors on the line, meaning the offensive line corps has plenty of time to get better and build upon the reps they're getting now.

"We're a little low right now but the good news is, if there is a silver lining, they're all getting a ton of reps," Germer said. "Everybody's getting equal reps. They're getting a ton of reps. Nobody's spectating. They're all out there trying to improve. That's the good news is everybody's playing and everybody's getting a chance to improve."

NOTES: Offensive coordinator Timm Rosenbach sported Shann Schillinger's — current Montana safeties coach, former Montana safety and former NFL player — Atlanta Falcons jersey during practice on Monday, garnering several chuckles from fellow coaches, the players and onlookers. 

"Everybody in town's got one of these," Rosenbach said jokingly as he came out of the tunnel with the jersey on. 

After practice, Hauck laughed and said Rosey was just making fun of Schillinger. Schillinger is one of the youngest coaches on Montana's staff and of the Montana coaches who've played in the NFL, Schillinger is the one with the most recent stint in the pros.  

There is one more practice before Montana's Spring Game on Saturday. That practice is Wednesday at 3 p.m. Montana's Spring Game kicks off in Washington-Grizzly Stadium at 1 p.m. Saturday. Tickets for the game are $5.

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Amie Just covers Griz football and Missoula-area preps. Follow her on Twitter @Amie_Just or email her at Amie.Just@406mtsports.com.

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