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Griz high on linebackers
Prior to the start of fall camp for The University of Montana football team, second-year head coach Robin Pflugrad said that he expected to have a solid defense in 2011 and that he expected to receive substantial leadership from the linebacker position.
His expectations make sense, as the Grizzlies return three of their starters at linebacker with seniors Caleb McSurdy and Alex Shaw and junior Jordan Tripp.
McSurdy, from Boise, Idaho, will be starting at the “mike” linebacker spot for the second year in a row. Last season he started all 11 games and had a team-high 112 tackles. He was a second team All-Big Sky Conference selection.
Shaw is starting at the “will” linebacker position for the third season in a row and is the Grizzlies’ third-leading returning tackler. Last year the native of Spokane was Montana’s fourth leading tackler with 62 stops.
Tripp (Missoula) is UM’s second leading returning tackler, and he started all 11 games a year ago and was second on the team with 99 total tackles. He was an honorable mention All-Big Sky pick.
With nine days of practice under their belts, Pflugrad lauded the play and leadership of his linebackers.
“The leadership part of it is very important and that is the core of our defense right now,” Pflugrad said. “Hopefully we will see some leadership come out of the D-line and the secondary, but right now it’s coming from the quality people and quality players who we have at linebacker. They are well-rounded players with good character, who represent the university very well, on and off the football field. Jordan Tripp, Caleb McSurdy and Alex Shaw are the real deal.”
“Again, like I’ve said, at the position of linebacker you’re kind of in the middle of everything, and some of that leadership just kind of falls into place,” said the modest McSurdy. “I think we’ve got some guys who have played a lot and know what they are doing, and we have high expectations. We’re just trying to work hard, achieve a lot, and do better than we did last year.”
The Grizzlies also have quality depth at linebacker.
Junior Josh Stuberg, sophomores Brock Coyle and John Kanogata’a, along with redshirt freshman Taylor Tuliapupu (LaVerne, Calif.) will be major contributors at linebacker. Frosh Addison Owen (Vancouver, Wash.) and Brian Maus (Missoula) are also in the mix.
“Josh Stuberg is having an excellent camp,” Pflugrad said. “He’s shown in every practice that he’s an excellent player. It’s great to have Brock Coyle back too. Those are two nice special teams players as well. It would have been nice to redshirt Kanongata’a last season, but we couldn’t do that.
“Taylor is a guy we might look at a little to play on the defensive line,” Pflugrad continued. “He is a pretty big guy and he might have the body type to get bigger; so we might look at him in a few practices there and see how that pans out. Addison Owen has done some good things in practice, and we’d like to redshirt him, but I don’t know if we can do that. Brian Maus has done a good job, and I think he will help us on special teams.”
“Those players are doing a fantastic job, but it’s those depth guys that have made me the most excited,” said Griz linebacker coach Ty Gregorak. “Josh Stuberg, John Kanongata’a and Brock Coyle are having fantastic camps. They were all here this summer and came to camp in great shape.
“They are leading by example on and off the field,” Gregorak said. “I am extremely pleased with the way the group is playing right now. We’re not perfect and have a long way to go to be perfect; but that’s something you always strive for - to be perfect. But, the core of the group is excellent.”
“I think coach Gregorak is doing a great job with them (linebackers),” said UM defensive coordinator Mike Breske. “They are by far the strength of our defense. We have a solid two-deep, which we haven’t had in awhile. Tripp, Shaw, and McSurdy are all talented and experienced guys, and we feel very comfortable with their back-ups. We’re going to be able to rest our guys (starters), so that in the fourth quarter we’re going to be able to play fast.”
GRIZ NOTES: Some 11-on-11 highlights today: A 55-yard touchdown pass from junior QB Nate Montana to senior wide receiver Antwon Moutra. Senior tight end Kavario Middleton had two catches for 45 yards. Junior quarterback Gerald Kemp had a 40-yard run and he also a 6-yard TD rush. Montana also had a short touchdown run. The defense had five sacks, two by junior tackle Bryan Waldhauser.
Also, sophomore safety Bo Tully had an interception in the two-minute drill.
Sophomore quarterback Jordan Johnson was back in pads this afternoon (Thursday, August 18th) and going at full speed.
Players wearing shorts this afternoon and unable to practice included junior wide receiver Bryce Carver, redshirt freshman receiver Sean Haynes, freshman safety Connor Lebsock, redshirt freshman wide-out Mitch Saylor, and freshman safety Justin Whited. Sophomore defensive end Clay Pierson was in a red jersey and held out of practice.
Sophomore linebacker Ethan Pateman from Stevensville suffered a major injury recently and will be lost for the season. Pateman was a special teams standout last season. “Ethan was having a solid fall camp, but he’s going to have surgery next week, so we lost him,” Pflugrad said.
By Scott Breen, KTVQ