BOZEMAN –- On college football’s feel-good day, Rob Ash led the parade. “I love this,” Montana State’s eighth-year head coach said enthusiastically after presiding over the first practice the 2014 season.
Ash welcomed over 90 players Monday, including 11 returning starters and All-America return specialist Shawn Johnson. MSU’s veteran head coach liked what he saw.
“This is a great, great feeling compared to the spring,” Ash said, referring to the spate of injuries that hampered the team throughout March and April. “We have so many more guys out here. We got our injury report today and it was really positive, the guys have done an awesome job in the off-season getting rehabbed and getting in shape. I feel really good about the health and condition of our team.”
The first day of practice is primarily about the veteran players who will likely carry the load during the season, but it’s also the first real opportunity to evaluate newcomers. On that count, Ash was pleased.
“We’re fast,” Ash said. “We have some really good speed, and I like the big, young guys, too. The three offensive linemen, they’re not going to play now and maybe not even next year, but they’re going to be good. The young guys on the D-line, they’re going to be good. Around the horn we’ve got pretty good speed. The young receivers, the freshmen tight ends, I like this group, I really do.”
Ash knows that most of the attention this fall gravitates to the quarterback competition between junior Jake Bleskin, sophomore Dakota Prukop, and redshirt freshman Quinn McQueary. His preliminary evaluation of the pass game was positive.
“I thought they looked really good,” Ash said of the QBs and receivers. “I told the team after practice that I thought we threw and caught the ball really well.
"We had very few balls on the ground – right at the end I think we had two balls on the ground, but the rest of the day we threw and caught the ball (well). We were at a tag-off tempo, but even in the spring we had the ball on the ground on the same sort of plays.”
The quarterback competition captures much of the attention, but Ash appreciates the fight for playing time across the board. “It’s not just the starting positions, and especially not just who’s going out at quarterback on the first play against Arkansas State. Guys are fighting literally for reps, for plays during games, and that takes the competition deep into the team. So there’s a lot more happening competition-wise than just who’s going to play on the first play against Arkansas State.”
Montana State practices again Tuesday at 9:15 am on the MSU practice fields.