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Montana safeties, new coach getting back to basics
The numbers don’t lie, so we’ll just get them out there: The Montana Grizzlies ranked 121st out of 122 Football Championship Subdivision teams in passing yards allowed last year.
While it’s true that there’s really no place to go but up, the Grizzlies’ safeties have another saying in mind for 2013.
“Pass before run,” said junior-to-be Matt Hermanson. “New motto.”
In 2012 the Grizzlies played with a certain, well, aggressiveness in the back end that got them in trouble. Witness the Big Sky Conference-record 660 passing yards North Dakota quarterback Braden Hansen piled up on Oct. 20.
The Griz were better than most against the run, and Hermanson and fellow starting safety Bo Tully were part of that. Likewise, they were part of a pass defense that struggled too often.
“I had a chance to watch the season with the defensive staff, and evaluate some things we have to work on,” said Jake Cookus, hired after the season to coach the safeties. “One of the big emphases, obviously, is our pass defense. We have to be better.”
Cookus spent last season out of football after coaching the previous seven at Weber State. He’s taken over a Griz group that has looked solid in spring drills, which continued Thursday and conclude Friday night with a scrimmage.
Besides Hermanson and Tully, Cookus has seen senior Steve Rominger and sophomores Zach Gratton, Justin Whitted, Jake Dallaserra, Adam DeBruycker and Herbert Gamboa all get in the mix this spring (Hawaii transfer Kendrick Van Ackeren, another sophomore, is getting a look at linebacker).
“Me being a new coach and not knowing all the safeties, it’s been a good opportunity to come in here and get a good look at all of them,” Cookus said. “We’ve got some young guys who haven’t played a lot of football but they’re developing.
“Justin Whitted’s had a good spring, done some good things. We have three guys who are upperclassmen in Steve and Beau and Hermie. Herbert’s shown some good signs; it’s his first spring. We’ve got a good group.”
The talent is there, and now it’s under a little different direction.
“Scheme-wise, we’ve tweaked a couple things but nothing much,” Cookus, who played safety at Oregon State, said. “Different coaches have different ways of doing things. As long as you get results it doesn’t matter.
“One thing I tell those guys is we have probably the best D-line in the conference and the best linebackers. And sometimes the best thing you can do as a safety is not do anything – stay back there and let the D-line and linebackers do their job.”
Translation: Pass, then run.
“We really have to play pass-first, because we got torn up a little bit last year,” said Hermanson, who was fourth on the Griz with 67 tackles in 2012 (Tully was right behind at 64). “It was frustrating, but it was kind of like a rebuilding year. We had to get through it, and I’m really confident for this year.
“We’re having fun. He (Cookus) is a fun guy. We’re flying around and learning new things.”
And reviewing old ones.
“We’re safeties,” said Cookus. “We’ve got to stay over the top and not let anything get behind us.”
The Griz began Thursday’s practice out on the Riverbowl, which is still waiting for its first spring mowing.
“I can’t wait to see the kickers freak out over this grass,” Griz coach Mick Delaney said.
The kickers adjusted, and then the group moved back to Washington-Grizzly Stadium about halfway through its 90-minute practice.
Jordan Johnson again threw well in drills, including a dart to the right corner that Taylor Walcott dove and caught in tight coverage.
QUICK KICKS: The Grizzlies voted on their team captains Thursday, with the results to be announced Friday before the final scrimmage. … Admission is free to the scrimmage, with should start around 7:15 p.m. Fans must enter the stadium through the west and south gates, and sit on the west side of the stadium. … Fans are also urged to park in Lot W or on the east side of the stadium; the Kyi-Yo Pow Wow event will be going on at the same time inside the Adams Center. … From 5:30-6 p.m., the Griz will go through coaching stations and drills with kids on the Sprinturf. After the scrimmage, at roughly 8:45 p.m., the Griz, along with national championship quarterbacks Dave Dickenson (1995) and John Edwards (2001), will sign autographs.