MISSOULA — Included in the 19-plus returning starters on the 2013 University of Montana football team this season are six offensive linemen who started at one point a year ago, and three of those players are seniors who have 75 starts between them.
The Griz wrapped up practice number 18 Tuesday at the Riverbowl practice site, and coach Scott Gragg, who oversees and O-line and also serves as UM’s co-offensive coordinator, enjoys being the mentor of his guys.
Those three seniors include tackle Danny Kistler Jr., center Kjelby Oiland, and guard William Poehls. Juniors Trevor Poole and Logan Hines also have starting experience, as does sophomore John Schmaing.
“It’s been a lot of fun working with those guys, you feel like you brought up Danny and William and Schmaing and Trevor and all these guys.” said Gragg, and former UM All-American and 11-year player in the NFL. “They all have different personalties, but when they get on the field they play as a unit. It’s an easier job for me now because they work so hard, and they are so in tune with what they can do to get better.
“I think both of them (Kistler and Poehls) have a shot at getting to the next level,” Gragg said. They have worked so hard to better themselves, and every year they’ve improved on their foot speed and their pad level, and the things that are critical for them to be successful in the next level. I think they’ve got a better than a good shot on playing on Sundays. Not just being free agents, but a chance of getting drafted, and a chance of playing.”
Kistler (6-8, 315, Sr.) has started the past three-plus seasons at both tackle (2012) and guard (2010 and 2011), and was chosen a co-captain on offense this season. He was a first team All-Big Sky Conference pick last season, and is a preseason All-America selection this year. He has started in 29 career games.
“I am really excited about what we’ve done so far in fall camp.” said Kistler, from Seattle, Wash. “We’ve come out with this new offense, and we learned a lot of it over the spring and summer, and now we’ve got a chance to get physical. I’ve got probably the most physical guy in the Big Sky playing next to me in William Poehls, along with the rest of the guys along the line, like Schmaing, Poole, and Kjelby, and Logan Hines.
“It’s really exciting,” Kistler continued. “I think we are a very physical and athletic offensive line. My four years we’ve had a lot of competition on the offensive line, especially in the weight room, so push me. I really enjoy getting better every year, because I am never satisfied how I do each year. I am just excited to go out and try to get better every day. I am just thrilled to get this (season) kicked off in a couple of weeks.”
Poehls (6-8, 345, Sr.) is back at 100 percent after missing spring drills due to an injury. He started all 11 games last season and has 25 career starts.
“I think with Danny and all the guys we have back – it’s just a great group, with a lot of depth,” said Poehls, who is from Chandler, Ariz. “Fall camp is huge for me to get some chemistry going with the guys, because I missed spring ball and the new (offensive) system we installed.
“I’ve worked hard every year, and like Danny just said, there’s always room to improve,” Poehls said. “It’s constant work. You never arrive, you’re always working. I think we have a chance to be one of the best offensive lines around, now we just have to go out on the field and prove that. We have a lot of chemistry going, and I think that’s the real key to how successful we’re going to be.”
Gragg said that he is happy with the progress that the offense is making and his role as co-offensive coordinator (overseeing the running game) with Kefense Hynson, who works on the passing game.
“With our dynamic running backs and ‘Fence’ (Hynson) kind of as the mad scientist of the offense, it’s been a great opportunity to get involved with that and give some in-pit,” Gragg said. “Fence is doing a nice job, and I think we’ve got a good thing going with this co-coordinator thing.”
Oiland (6-4, 290, Sr.) and Poole (6-5, 290, Jr.) both started the first nine games of the year last season.
Oiland, who has 21 career starts, has been unable to practice the past few days, but is expected to return soon. He was an honorable mention all-league pick last season.
Junior Logan Hines (6-4, 290, Jr., 1V) had two starts at center last year. Schmaing (6-7, 291, 1V) had two starts a year ago and will start at left tackle. The guard position has been hampered due to injuries, but Jordan Hines (6-4, 291, Jr., SQ) and Ben Weyer (6-4, 270, Fr., RS) both returned to action today. Poole was moved to left guard about a week ago in fall camp, and will more-than-likely start there.
Two up-and-coming young players are tackles Max Kelly (6-7, 274, RS) and Clint LaRowe (6-2, 275, RS). Kelly backs up Schmaing at left tackle, while LaRowe is number two on the depth chart at right tackle.
Jordan Hines and Weyer are going head-to-head for the back-up berth at left guard, and both are still out of action due to injuries.
Other young players who may contribute at guard include Devon Dietrich (6-4, 270, Fr., RS) and McCauley Todd (6-7, 295, Fr., RS).
“I’ve always wanted to get the back-ups to get two, three series in a game, and I’ve had to do that in the past,” Gragg said. “It was nice last season to get John Schmaing in there for two or three series, because when he had to play at the end of the season it wasn’t a new thing for him. I will do that. The hardest part is probably at center. I don’t like changing that up very much. We’re going to probably have an eight-person rotation with our offensive line. Eight guys will see the field on any given Saturday.”
A couple of highlights from skelly today: junior wide receiver Sean Haynes (6-3, 185, 2V), from Los Angeles, continues to have a stellar fall camp, and he hooked up with QB Jordan Johnson on a 55-yard pass for a touchdown. Senior defensive tackle Alex Bienemann made a nice play on screen pass, batting down Johnson’s aerial.
Freshman halfback John Nguyen (5-7, 187) from Seattle had several reps during the running portion of Tuesday’s afternoon practice. Nguyen will be one of just a handful of true freshman who may be activated for the 2013 season.
Scouts continue to attend fall camp to evaluate UM players. On Monday a New Orleans Saints scout was here at the morning practice, while the Cincinnati Bengals had a rep here today.
The Griz have just a pair of two-a-day practices left, this Wednesday and Friday (Aug. 21 & 24). The third scrimmage of camp which was slated for this Thursday, was cancelled by Head coach Mick Delaney.
Dominique Bobo, one of the premier sprinters in the prep ranks last year from Wichita Falls, Texas, recently quit the Griz football team to focus on track and field here at Montana. Bobo was playing wide receiver.
— UM Sports Information