Griz linebacking corps should be the primary strength of the defense
Aug. 17, 2012
(Third part of a three-part preview of the 2012 Griz defense)
The University of Montana coaching staff, and specifically defensive coordinator Ty Gregorak, knew going into the 2012 season there were numerous holes to fill and Griz Nation was shaking their collective heads wondering which players would emerge and be stars this season.
The only spot on Gregorak's defense that had a good nucleus of returnees is also the position he coaches - the linebackers.
That talented group of linebackers and the rest of the Griz team will get to show how much they have progressed in fall camp this Saturday, August 18, when the team holds its second and final scrimmage of fall camp in Washington-Grizzly Stadium. The actual scrimmage is slated to start around 11:00 a.m.
Coach Gregorak compares this year's linebacking corps as one of the best he's seen in his eight-year stint with the Grizzlies.
"I said last spring that I kind of relate this group to the 2007 team when we had five seniors (Tyler Joyce, Kyle Ryan, and Loren Utterback were the starters in `07, and Tyler Corwin and Muckie Foreman were also key players then)," Gregorak said. "This year we have three juniors and one senior, and it is a nice looking group. They look the part; they play the part; and they are good people off the field."
WILL LINEBACKER: Buck Buchanan Award candidate Jordan Tripp (6-3 ½, 244, Jr., from Big Sky High School in Missoula), started at the "Sam" linebacker position the last two seasons, but was injured in the Eastern Washington game and eventually received a medical hardship. Tripp started all 11 games and was second on the team with 99 total tackles as a sophomore in 2010. That season he had 10 or more tackles in six games and was an honorable mention All-Big Sky Conference selection.
The back-up at "Will" is Nick Holt, a 6-0, 215-pound transfer from the University of Washington, where he played fullback and linebacker as a walk-on. Also vying for playing time is sophomore Brian Maus (6-2, 232, from Missoula's Sentinel High School).
"Jordan spent the bulk of his career basically removed from the box at our "sam" position and he was more of a field player," Gregorak said. "We moved him to "will," which really makes that position a lot more dynamic and athletic than it's been in the past. Not to take anything away from Alex (Shaw, former Griz starting will linebacker), but Jordan just runs so well.
"He (Tripp) is very rangy, and as I have said earlier, we are going to do a lot with Jordan," he continued. "You're going to see him all over the field. He's going to have to take on a lot more blockers than he has in the past, and that will be an adjustment. He's around 6-4, and he can run as well as about anyone on the team. I am expecting Jordan to have a big-time, break out year.
"Nick Holt is getting a lot of reps, and he will be able to help us as a depth guy at both the mike and the will positions," he said. "He's a solid depth guy."
MIKE LINEBACKER: Two talented players, junior Brock Coyle (6-2, 240, from Bozeman High School) and senior Josh Stuberg (6-2, 233 from Helena High School) are competing for the starting job at mike linebacker.
Coyle is Montana's sixth leading returning tackler. Last season he played in all 14 games and was the team's 16th leading tackler (31 stops), despite not starting. Stuberg is UM's fifth leading returning tackler (37 stops) and has played in 35 career games.
"One is a senior from Helena and one is a junior from Bozeman and I love having Montana guys in this group, and being a focal point of the group," Gregorak said. "They are both doing a lot of good things. They are both going to be on the field at the same time with some of the different packages that we have. We will have four linebackers on the field at the same time. Our base will still be a 43.
"Brock has been fighting a hip injury the past four or five days and he practiced as long as he could, but they finally pulled him, so he will be out a couple of days," Gregorak said. "Stu is doing a great job. They're both very capable guys. Whichever one emerges as the starter - they're both going to play a lot. They are both very capable inside the box. You know the way I love to rotate linebackers."
SAM LINEBACKER: Junior John Kanongata'a (5-11, 230, from Bellevue High School, Wash.), became a starter when Tripp was injured in the Eastern Washington game, and the results were dramatic. "JP" is UM's leading returning tackler. Last season he started in the last 11 games in a row and was Montana's second leading tackler with 93 stops; was a second team All-Big Sky Conference pick; and led the team with 12 tackles for loss.
Promising redshirt freshman Addison Owen (6-2, 220, from Camas High School, Vancouver, Wash.), backs up Kanongata's and will definitely see action. Owen missed the first part of fall camp after undergoing an appendectomy. Another redshirt freshman, Jonathan Richards (6-3, 208, from Butte Central High School), will also vie for playing time.
"John Paul is a football player - I just don't know what else I can say," Gregorak said. "John's got the intelligence, and athletically he's just dynamic. He can run; he's great in space; he's a very good blitzer. He's the whole package.
"Addison's going to play a lot," Gregorak said. "He was out with his appendix, but he got an infection, which set him back a week or so. He will be a player for us. We are actually playing both Jordan and Addison at rush end too. They will take snaps coming off the edge, while we have our other linebackers still in the game. So Addison will have a role both as a rush end and an outside linebacker for us."
GREGORAK COMMENTS ON THE OVERALL DEFENSE: "I think our first unit out there is a very capable group," he said. "The education that I got by being in this business is that you're only as good as your back-up. Those back-ups are going to play, and they're going to play a lot. And our goal isn't (to play) 11 games - our goal is 13, 14, 15 games every season.
"What I wanted to see the most out of this fall camp is that second group," he said. "The first group needed the reps because they really aren't tested, but the second group really needed to emerge because they're going to play. Just ask Jordan Tripp and John Kanongata'a - you're just one play away from being a starter.
"I really wanted to see us develop our depth," he continued. "We're into the end of week (of fall camp) two here, and we know who can play and who will help us this year, and who can't. The reality of it is we play two weeks from tomorrow (Aug. 18). Who are the 22, 23 guys we're going to war with? We've got a good idea on who that is now.
"I am happy with the way fall camp has gone, but we are far from where we need to be," he said. "I am glad we have 15 days left to prepare for South Dakota (UM's season opener on Sept. 1 in Missoula). I know coach (Joe) Glenn (former Griz mentor now USD's head coach) will have his Coyote team juiced and they will be ready to play.
"We're bouncing in and out of 30 and 40 fronts, and guys like (sophomore end) Zach Wagenmann and (freshman end) Tyrone Holmes can stand up on the edge and be a hybrid ends/backer," Gregorak said. "Our linebacker group should be the core of this defense, I'll always believe that. They (the linebackers) have the potential to be very, very good. In my eyes they should be the best group I've had the opportunity to coach here at Montana."
HEAD COACH Mick Delaney's COMMENTS ON SATURDAY'S SCRIMMAGE: "I think we are right where we'd like to be. As hard as our guys have worked and as focused as they've been, we're on schedule to have a great scrimmage tomorrow hopefully, and then next week start to prepare to play a game.
"Tomorrow (Aug. 18) will actually be the scrimmage. I know we had scheduled one for next Thursday (Aug. 23), but we will not scrimmage that day. We know that everybody out here likes to play football. They're going to play hard and they're going to play fast. We can correct a lot of things without beating each other to death here in the next 10 or 11 days. Hopefully we will run 80 to 90 plays tomorrow."
COACH DELANEY'S COMMENTS ON THE QUARTERBACK POSITION: "If we were to play tomorrow (redshirt freshman) Trent McKinney would be the guy. Trent has earned the job in two weeks. Is he the starting quarterback today - he is. Will he be a week from today? You would anticipate that, but it's still open for competition, and that's the same with every position."
SATURDAY'S GRIZZLY FOOTBALL SCRIMMAGE & PRACTICE SCHEDULE (11:05 a.m. to 12:05 p.m.)
Red Zone, 25-yard line.
Red Zone, 17-yard line.
Red Zone, 8-yard line.
Offense starts at -30-yard line.
Offense starts at +45-yard line.
Offense starts at -2-yard line.
Offense starts at -45-yard line.
Offense starts at +35-yard line.
MEDIA DAY EVENTS: 12:15 p.m.-1:30 p.m.
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