Veteran linebackers boost Bobcat defense

BOZEMAN — Familiarity bred contentment for Rob Ash after Montana State’s second fall practice.

Familiarity arrived Tuesday in the form of three returning linebackers – in fact, three returning starters – whose presence give the Bobcat defense polish and tempo, MSU’s eighth-year head coach Rob Ash said. Alex Singleton, Na’a Moeakiola and Cole Moore each missed all or most of the spring with an assortment of injuries.

“Defense, especially the ones and a lot of the twos, the veteran guys, are playing really fast and know exactly where they need to be,” Ash said. “This is where we’re seeing the difference between spring ball and now. Those three (starting) linebackers, especially, being healthy and being out there for those team reps, it’s a whole different ball game when those guys are out there. They’re really good.”

The positive production doesn’t end with the starting unit, though. “The backups, like Rhett Young and Wyatt Christensen and Mac Bignell, are playing very well, too, because they got a lot of reps in the spring” due to the injuries, Ash said. “So we’re deeper at linebacker because of that situation, and we’re better at linebacker because we have the veterans back.”

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Things are less settled elsewhere on the depth chart, but according to Ash after Tuesday’s practice equally positive. He lauded the play of MSU’s three varsity quarterbacks – junior Jake Bleskin, sophomore Dakota Prukop, and redshirt freshman Quinn McQueary. He also praised the offensive line, which returns four starters.

The center position will feature a new starter in 2014 as well, but Ash said that in spite of its symbiotic relationship with the team’s most visible job vacancy there is no real correlation in the timing of settling the two. “I don’t think they’re related,” he said. “They’re independent positions. We have to be able to substitute at each position. Joel (Horn) and Quinn (Catalano, the center candidates) are capable, and the quarterbacks are all capable.”

Catalano, Ash has stated, will start at either center or right tackle. At the other spot, either Horn (center) or Alex Eekhoff (tackle) will start.

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Ash’s moratorium on evaluating the kicking game ends at the beginning of Wednesday’s practice, Ash said. “I gave them two days to get their feet on the ground, then we’ll start charting on (Wednesday). We told them the first two days don’t matter, but starting (Wednesday) there will be certain parts of each practice where they’ll count, and I really don’t know what’s going to happn but I feel pretty good about it.”

Place-kicking chores are being contested by junior Trevor Bolton, redshirt freshman Luke Daly, and true freshman Trevin Thompson. The punter will be either true freshman Matt Stewart or junior Jake Bleskin, also a possibility as the team’s starting quarterback.

— MSU Sports Information