The Montana Grizzlies hit the weight room for the first time at fall camp on Monday morning, and also hit the scales to gather official weights and heights.
While weights are naturally always in flux, nowhere are those measurements more important than on the offensive line and Tight Ends.
The weigh-in gave both players and fans a quantifiable snapshot of the progress the Griz made over the summer. Head Coach Bobby Hauck has called this the best summer session he’s ever been around, and a quick glance at the updated measurements back up that claim.
The Grizzly O-line will look a whole lot heftier in 2019 thanks to some offseason additions and big-time progress made in the weight room by the group’s youngsters who were thrust into a starting position a year ago, and at times struggled to assert itself.
“The place that probably inhibited us from winning more games last year the most was probably the O-line. It was a tough situation in terms of injury, youth, and lack of depth. I was proud of those guys for owning up to it week in and week out, and fighting their tails off. They have continued to do that in the offseason,” says Hauck.
“We are still young there, relatively inexperienced even though a lot of them have played some. I am hoping what I perceive to be tremendous growth by that group in the offseason shows up on the field.”
Tremendous growth indeed.
In 2018, Montana’s starting front five at the end of the season (Conlan Beaver, Skyler Martin, Cody Meyer, Cy Sirmon, and Colton Keintz) averaged 281 pounds and consisted of two freshmen, one sophomore, and two juniors: one a former walk-on and the other a converted linebacker.
In 2019, some sizable puzzle pieces are starting to be put in place that could make the Grizzly O-line one of the best in the league.
Beaver now checks in above 300 pounds for the first time in his career, Martin has packed on 12 pounds in the offseason, Sirmon has moved to center and added 18 pounds to check in at a strong 290, and Keintz reported to camp at an eye-catching 6-foot-8, 304 pounds with 17 pounds gained in the offseason.
Also gained in the offseason: two mountainous transfers that could change the look of the O-line entirely should they work their way into the starting lineup. Kordell Pillans joined the team in the spring as a junior guard transfer from Mesa Community College and checked in at 333 pounds. Junior guard Moses Mallory, who once held an offer from West Virginia, came to Missoula this summer, and reported to camp as the heaviest player on the team at 350.
If the two transfers earn a starting spot, the average weight of the O-line suddenly jumps from 281 pounds to 316 pounds, a 35-pound swing that could give the entire offense the ability to better impose its will. But the final look of the group may take time to develop.
“A year ago, we had to play a lot of really young players. When you’ve got freshman up front on offense, it’s probably not a good thing. Those guys should be in the weight room for two more years before they get out there, and just aren’t ready to move people around,” added Hauck.
“Adding two more mature veteran players with some size inside will help us. Obviously, Kordell was with us this spring, so he is way ahead. I wouldn’t anticipate Moses being game ready early on, but he is a guy that had a lot of offers, has good size, and can move his feet. As this will be his first time running through the offense, he’ll have a lot of learning to do that others have already had, and he’ll have to catch up with the division-one level of play.
While Mallory adds depth to the guard position, he won’t just be handed a starting job. Senior Angel Villanueva has started 29 games for the Grizzlies and has done the opposite of most other linemen on the team this year: he’s dropped weight to check in at 301 pounds.
The result is a leaner and more agile option at guard that should improve his footwork in the trenches while not giving up the strength to hold off defenders.
“At the left guard position right now is kind of open. My hope is that Angel can take that job. He is down about 30 pounds, he is moving around better, and his health is better,” said Hauck.
“So, whoever knocks the guy opposite them off the ball the best will be the guy that starts there. But he has some young guys that are really challenging in there, it will be an interesting battle in training camp.”
Also set to be a senior leader on the offensive line is Sirmon, who swapped sides of the ball in fall camp last season and quickly earned a starting job at guard despite being undersized. Now he moves to center where his newfound size and strength will combine with the footwork and football smarts of a former linebacker to be a commander up front.
“Cy has done a great job in leading the group in the offseason. He is a really good athlete, meaning we can do a lot with different things at center, even pulling him some. He is football savvy enough to make a lot of calls and get things right,” added Hauck.
“So, he has a tremendous upside in there and is big enough to handle it this year. A year ago, he was probably 20 pounds underweight and just not ready to be a dominant player in there, but I think he will have a great year.”
When Hauk resumed the head coaching duties at Montana in 2017, he inherited a sizeable group of receivers that were recruited to serve as H-backs, a sort of hybrid receiver/tight end.
Now two years in, those players have all been transitioned into a more traditional tight end role, and have needed to bulk up to assume the required blocking duties that come with the position.
Leading the tight ends in 2019 is senior Colin Bingham, a Missoula native (and son of Grizzly Sports Hall of Famer Guy Bingham) who has appeared in 31 games at UM, catching 40 passes for 425 yards and five touchdowns.
He’ll be the senior statesman in a deep group that could be dominant for the Griz in years to come, with sophomores Matt Rensvold and Bryson Deming each possessing comparable size and length, and having provided useful minutes as freshmen.
“The tight ends are all growing up. I used to give Bingham a hard time when I first walked in the door a year and a half ago. I’d say ‘you haven’t had a carb in three years. Have at it, we want you to get big.’ I think he is probably closing in on 245 or 250 and looks good. Same with the two young sophomore tight ends. So, I like that group, and I think some of our young kids will push, not sure if they can break into the lineup or not but we will see. But, I like our tight ends,” said Hauck.
Having a group of tight ends as capable as this will also allow Hauck and offensive coordinator Timm Rosenbach to vary the offense to compliment UM’s dangerous group of wide receivers.
“If you take one of the wide receivers the field to put a tight end in, that’s great, but vice versa you have to take a good tight end off the field to put a receiver in,” Hauck added.
“You only get to play with 11, so we will have multiple personnel groups, and I like where that is.”
Montana opens its fall camp practice schedule on Tuesday afternoon at 2:30 at UM’s Dornblaser Field.
Sean Anderson – R-Fr. – OT
Conlan Beaver – R-Jr. – OT
Colin Bingham – R-Sr. – TE
Gerrit Bloemendaal – R-Fr. – OG
Colten Curry – R-Fr. – TE
Dylan Cook – R-So. – OT
Bryson Deming – R-So. – TE
Dylan Eickmeyer – R-Jr. – OG
Tyler Ganoung – R-Fr. – OG
Cody Kanouse – So. – OG
Colton Keintz – R-So. – OT
Esai Longoria – R-Jr. – OG
Skyler Martin – R-So. – OG
Conor Quick – R-Fr. – C
Matt Rensvold – R-So. – TE
Cole Sain – R-Fr. – C
Cy Sirmon – R-Sr. – C
Angel Villanueva – R-Sr. – OG
Trevor Welnel – R-Fr. – OT
Noah Ambuehl – Fr. – TE
Johnny Barthel – Fr. – OL
Dillon Botner – Fr. – OL/ATH
Colin Dreis – Fr. – OL
Joey Elwell – Fr. – TE
Moses Mallory – Jr. – OG
Kordell Pillans – R-Jr. – OG
Dumitru Salagor – Fr. – OL
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