Experienced Griz corners keep improving

MISSOULA — The University of Montana Grizzlies held practice number 14 of fall camp this afternoon (Friday, Aug. 16) and are gearing up for their second and final scrimmage, which starts around 10:10 a.m. tomorrow in Washington-Grizzly Stadium.

Head Coach Mick Delaney said Saturday’s morning scrimmage would probably last about 50 minutes and the offense will run about 60 plays, with emphasis on the kicking game.

With 10 starters back on defense obviously there’s a ton of experience returning, and the cornerback position definitely falls into that category.

Last season Montana’s cornerback spot, somewhat maligned at times, had four different players starting two games or more.

Griz cornerbacks coach Aric Williams, now in his fourth season at Montana, says the group of players he oversees are making steady progress.

That group of returning starters includes Joshua Dennard (5-11, 185, Jr., 2V), Anthony “Chief” Goodwin (6-1, 180, Sr., 1V), Nate Harris (5-10, 180, So., 1V), and Sean Murray (6-1, 190, Sr., 3V).

“It’s going great and I am very happy about where my guys are at from where we started at the beginning of camp,” said Williams, who was a two-time All-Pac 10 cornerback pick at Oregon State, lettering there from 2001-04.  “They all four started at one time last season and they are all fighting for a starting position.

“Right now I expect all of them to play, especially those four guys,” Williams continued.  “Right now JR Nelson, who was a redshirt freshman last year, has been playing amazingly well.  He’s hungry and he wants a chance to start too.  I told them to make it hard on me (on choosing a starter) and they are definitely doing that.”

Murray started in 10 contests, and tied for sixth on the team with 50 tackles, and was an honorable mention all-league selection.

“Right now I feel like I am getting better day-by-day just like the other guys,” said Murray, who is from Corona, Calif.  “This year I feel like we’re going to have a lot of depth, and that’s something we had last year, but everyone has improved.

“I definitely feel like I’m better on my preparation, my footwork, and my jamming, since we’re going to be pressing on every down,” Murray said. “That’s definitely what I’ve been trying to improve on.”

Dennard and Goodwin started five contests each, and Dennard was UM’s eighth leading tackler (46 total tackles), while Goodwin was 10th with 38 stops.  Harris had two starts and was 14th on the squad with 26 tackles.

“Like Sean said, we’re all improving,” said Goodwin, from Temecula, Calif.  “That’s a credit to our receivers and our coach.  Coach Williams is a great coach.  I think that we are just all getting better because of coach Williams, and we have a great receiving core – and they’re all working us to the bone.  Playing against those talented receivers challenges us to be at our best, and that just makes us get better every day.”

Adding solid depth at corner are talented redshirt freshman J.R. Nelson (6-0, 177) and sophomore transfer Jamaal Anderson (5-11, 180, So., JC).  Anderson just returned to the practice field after missing a couple of days because of an injury.

Also in the mix are a trio of gifted freshmen.  One or two of those newcomers, Ryan McKinley (6-1, 187, from Boulder Creek HS in Anthem, Ariz.), Chris Parker (6-0, 175, from Washington HS in Sioux Falls, S.D.), and Marquin Russell (6-0, 185, from Lakes HS in Lakewood, Wash.), may see action this season.

“Chris Parker, Ryan McKinley and Marquin Russell have come so far since day one to where they are now,” Williams said.  “I think they all have bright futures here at the University of Montana.  They’re all three going to be great defensive backs here.  Hopefully we won’t need any of them to play (this season) and they can have long careers and be part of the future of this program.  Their potential is unlimited right now.”

CAMP NOTES: Sophomore cornerback Jamaal Anderson returned to practice this afternoon after missing a couple of days with a minor injury.

HIGHLIGHTS IN TEAM AND SKELLY DRILLS TODAY: The defense made several big plays today.  Defensive end Zack Wagenmann forced QB Jordan Johnson out of the pocket and he had to pass the ball out of bounds to avoid a sack.  DE Tyrone Holmes read a screen pass to halfback Joey Counts and stopped him for a 4-yard loss.  Cornerback Nate Harris blew up a screen pass which resulted in a 2-yard loss, and he also had a nice PD in coverage of WR Ellis Henderson.  Linebacker J.P. Kanongata’a read an end-around play and stopped it for a loss.  Anderson stopped promising freshman tight end Mike Ralston (a 6-5 ½, 245-pounder from Sheldon HS in Eugene, Ore.) for a 3-yard loss on a screen pass.

An offensive highlight was a one-handed grab by Henderson for a 12-yard gain.  Counts picked up 40-plus yards on a rushing play off left tackle.

STAT FACT: The top two teams in the FCS in attendance last season square off in Montana’s opener at home on August 31 in WGS.  Appalachian State led the nation at 26,358 in seven home contests, while the Grizzlies were second, averaging 25,236 in six home games.  (James Madison was third (22,783 in six games, and the next highest ranked Big Sky team in attendance average was Montana State, ranked eighth at 17,627 in eight home games).

— UM Sports Information

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