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It's always sunny in Bozeman
Montana State football coach Rob Ash always finds a silver lining. His star quarterback, DeNarius McGhee, has been limited throughout spring ball, but that’s allowed backup Grayson Galloway to gain some much-needed experience running the team’s intricate offense.
Some might say being without their best player is a detriment to the defending Big Sky Conference champs. But as Ash noted, it’s been a big positive. And it’s obvious why.
I talked to Ash for about 30 minutes on the phone this morning, and we covered everything from what he’s learned about his team throughout spring drills to its potential for the 2011 season. Ash reiterated that McGhee’s limitations – which stem from offseason surgery to his left (non-throwing) shoulder – have been strictly precautionary, and that the 2010 Big Sky co-offensive MVP will be just fine come the fall.
He also spoke about his team’s recommitment to the running game on both sides of the ball, about some positions that might still be “unsettled,” and about the leadership factor.
MSU wraps up camp Saturday afternoon with its annual spring game – the Sonny Holland Classic – at Bobcat Stadium, which Ash says will feature a fun-loving atmosphere. It serves as the Bobcats’ last team activity before they roll into their summer conditioning program.
Here are a few tidbits I gleaned from Ash:
GENERAL THOUGHTS ON PROGRESS THIS SPRING
“It’s been a little strange because of the situation with DeNarius. He’s still rehabbing his left shoulder. Physically he’s fine … he’s throwing great. He’s just not permitted to go 11-on-11, even in a red jersey. So we’ve been missing a key component to our team’s makeup, and that’s put a damper on things to some extent. But on the flipside, Grayson Galloway has made great progress, which is good. That strengthens our team.”
ON RECOMMITTING TO THE RUN
“Overall, we wanted to work on the running game and stopping the run. We’ve done a good job and we’ve made progress in that area. We’ve been without a couple offensive linemen that are important guys – Ben Tauanuu and Tyler Thomas. Both guys are in contention to win starting jobs, but they’ve been out with injury. And Zach Logan, a good defensive line prospect, missed the entire spring. So in the trenches we just didn’t have the guys out there to do the evaluations we wanted to do.
“But overall I’m happy with the progress we’ve made. The running game and our run defense improved because of what we did this spring.”
ON HIS CONCERNS
“We’re still trying to get settled in the secondary. We lost a lot of good players … three safeties and a corner. So we have a pretty young secondary. Darius Jones has had a very good spring, and we’re very excited about that. But we lost Joel Fuller to a concussion, and we’ve sort of been grooming him to be our leader in the secondary. So we’re still a little bit unsettled.
“The other position we didn’t resolve was at tight end. Shane Robison and Steven Foster have been out top two guys, but we lost Shane to a knee injury.
“And our running back situation is not settled yet either. Kerry Sloan got hurt on his third carry (at the Triangle Classic) in Great Falls. He was going to get 15 or so carries in that scrimmage. So we didn’t really get to finish our evaluation at running back.”
ON DeNARIUS MCGHEE
“I don’t know if that kid’s ever been frustrated. He has a positive attitude about every single thing. I know he’d rather be playing, but he was in my office a couple minutes ago, talking about how he was going to go home for a week after finals but come right back and get to work. There’s still a lot of things he wants to improve on. We think he’ll be able to do all the drills and all the things a quarterback would do beginning in August.”
ON NEW TIGHT ENDS COACH ERIK LINK
“He’s done a fantastic job. He’s picked it up right away, with terminology and steps and schemes. We’ve really hardly missed a beat. I’m very excited about what he’s done. He’s also going to do a lot of recruiting in Montana for us, and he’s a great recruiter. That will be a big part of his job.”
ON WHAT HE EXPECTS ON SATURDAY
“What we want to do is have fun. We want to play fast and have some good competition. We want to remind the guys that football is a fun game. It’s not going to be a work day. It’s going to be a fun day.”
ON HIS TEAM’S POTENTIAL
“I feel very, very positive about this team from a talent standpoint. We’re going to be just fine in terms of athletic ability and depth. I’m very confident about this football team.
“We’re still a work in progress in the leadership department; we had a great senior class, and they were the difference in us winning some close games and winning the Big Sky championship. But summer is when players work out on their own, and it’s one of the great incubators for leadership. Hopefully it will be in place when we come back in August and we’ll be in position to contend again.”
By Greg Rachac, The Billings Gazette