Montana's wide receiver position will feature experience and youth in 2012

Sophomore WR Mitch Saylor

Sophomore WR Mitch Saylor

Aug. 23, 2012

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(Part 2 of 3 on the Griz offense + Current 2012 Fall Depth Chart Attached via PDF)

Two of The University of Montana Grizzlies' top receivers are gone, but that is an area that is starting to come on strong in fall camp, as the Griz prepare for their 2012 season opener - just nine days away (Sept. 1), against the South Dakota Coyotes here at UM in Washington-Grizzly Stadium.

Griz wide receiver coach Shalon Baker and offensive coordinator Timm Rosenbach were looking for players who could fill the gap left by big-play guy Jabin Sambrano and the sure-handed Antwon Moutra, who each had a team-leading (tie) 36 catches last season, and combined for 1,091 yards and 13 touchdowns (Sambrano had 10 TD grabs).

The cupboard is not bare, though, as the Griz return two experienced upperclassmen, some-up-and coming lettermen, and some talented young players at the wide receiver spots.

"We do have good potential at the receiver spot," said Rosenbach. "We've also got some good size mixed in there with a little bit of speed too. They've gotten better throughout last spring and this fall. We are looking forward to them doing a nice job blocking on the outside and catching balls in traffic when they need to, and making some big plays with their feet."

Veteran Sam Gratton (6-0, 199, 3V, from Billings) matched Sambrano and Moutra production-wise, as he also had 36 receptions last season. He will be starting for the third season in a row. The Billings Senior High School product begins his senior season with 92 career catches for 1,026 yards.

Another senior expected to be a major factor at wide receiver is senior Bryce Carver (6-1, 180, 3V, from Dillon), who had an outstanding spring and looked good early in fall camp, but has been slowed by an injury. Carver, who also missed part of last season with an injury, ended up with 11 catches for 140 yards and one score a year ago.

One of the projected starters at wide receiver is sophomore Sean Haynes (6-3, 190, 1V), who has good size and very good speed. Haynes has become more consistent, and he should be a big-play receiver for the Griz this year, although he has yet to make a catch at UM.

Also in the mix are senior Gerald Kemp (6-2, 215, 3V, from San Diego, Calif.), junior Cam Warren (5-7, 260, Jr., 1V, from Bellevue, Wash.), and sophomores Mitch Saylor (6-5, 215, 1V, from Vancouver, Wash.) and Kevin Berland (5-9, 175, SQ, from Missoula).

Saylor had 10 catches last season, while Warren had 4. Kemp, who was moved from quarterback to wide receiver full time this fall, had 17 receptions for one score last year.

"I would say Gerald Kemp has been a surprise - he's a physical, fast receiver, who kind of looks the part like one of the guys that play at the next level," said Baker, who is ranked third on UM's career list in receptions (182) and is fifth in receiving yards (2,561). "Ellis Henderson has really come on, and Berland has had a good camp. Mitch Saylor may not be a burner, but's he's a big target. Cam Warren is Mr. Consistent, and he's going to always be in the right place and make the catch, and he's really a pleasure to have on the squad.

Baker and Rosenbach expect three youngsters to become major contributors at wide receiver this year. All three of those players have one thing in common - they can run fast.

Redshirt freshman Ellis Henderson (6-0, 195, from Portland, Ore.) has outstanding speed and he has played his way into a starting role, after Carver was out of action. True frosh Chase Naccarato (knock-a-rah-toe), a 5-8, 160-pounder from Spokane, and Taylor Wolcott (6-0, 175, from Eugene, Ore.), both have sprinter-type speed and have all turned heads at some point during fall camp.

Henderson is a transfer from the University of Hawaii, where he was a "gray shirt." He was an outstanding sprinter as a prep, and had 2,500 career all-purpose yards as a wide receiver and as a returner at Skyview High School.

Naccarato ran the 100 meters in the 10.5 range at Mt. Spokane High School, where he set a record with 53 career touchdowns. Wolcott was the state champion in the 100 and 200 meters last spring at Marist High School, and he also excelled in football, scoring 44 touchdowns.

"Right now I think we are obviously a young group, but at the same time we have a few guys who definitely want to come out there and get the job done," Baker said. "We have a solid group - we're just young."

"We've got to be able to stretch the field, and I think we have some guys who can do that for us," Rosenbach said. "Sean and Ellis can help us in that area, and hopefully Taylor will too, and Chase Naccarato is not very big, but he can run. Those type of guys have to get out and stretch the field and do some things, whether they get the ball or not. We've got enough speed outside, and also inside, to loosen things up a little bit."

"We've got a couple of freshmen who are going to play in Chase Naccarato and Taylor Wolcott, as well as transfer Ellis Henderson," Baker said. "All those guys will contribute and go out and get the job done. These guys are young, but once they get experience under their belts and they know exactly what they are doing and where they are going, then I think you will really see their speed take over.

"Taylor missed a little bit of camp (with an injury), and he's playing catch up right now, but I like the things I've seen from him," Rosenbach said. "He's a tough kid and he's pretty strong."

GRIZ NOTES: The Grizzlies hold their final two-a-day tomorrow (Friday, August 24), and they are also scheduled to vote on their 2012 team captains. Last year's captains were offensive tackle Jon Opperud, linebacker Caleb McSurdy, and kicker/punter Brody McKnight.

The Griz have just 12 seniors on the squad this season, and just two of them, both with the first name of Josh, play on defense (end Josh Harris and linebacker Josh Stuberg). Stuberg is competing with junior Brock Coyle for one of the starting berths at linebacker, meaning Harris could be the sole senior starter on "D."

The offense will feature four senior starters: Gratton, Jake Hendrickson at left guard, Greg Hardy at tight end, and either Peter Nguyen or Dan Moore at running back.

At this time it looks like Montana will start eight freshmen or sophomores in its opener. The sophomores are Haynes, Trevor Poole (OT), Tonga Takai (DT), Zach Wagenmann (DE), and Matt Hermanson (FS). The frosh are Henderson, Trent McKinney (QB), and Nate Harris (CB).

UM NEXT: A look at the 2012 Griz offensive line.



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