The new man in the middle for Montana’s defense had two tackles in his first two years as a Grizzly.
Knee injuries were the culprit for Jeremiah Kose, a junior projected to start at middle linebacker when UM opens its football season at Wyoming on Aug. 30. Kose redshirted with an ACL tear from junior college in 2012, then suffered a freak season-ending ACL tear on the same knee at North Dakota last year.
Was there anything to be gained from those miserable experiences?
Kose thinks so.
“I think being injured you learn patience,” he said at preseason practice Thursday at the Riverbowl. “You learn how to be humble.
“Just to be able to watch Brock Coyle and them play and learn the defense even more is, I guess it’s a blessing in disguise.”
Kose’s knee prevented him from going all-out in spring drills, but he’s “feeling great” this week. The California product one of three newcomers in the starting linebacker corps along with Herbert Gamboa and Kendrick Van Ackeren.
“It’s a big step,” Kose said of taking over for Coyle, who is in the Seattle Seahawks’ camp. “Linebacker is one of the hearts of the defense so you have to make the calls, make the checks and make sure you’re doing the right things so you don’t make everybody else look bad.”
The Griz defense looked good Thursday, forcing five turnovers. Cornerback Nate Harris forced two fumbles and JR Nelson picked off a pass against the No. 1 offense in a limited contact scrimmage in helmets and shoulder pads.
UM defensive coordinator Ty Gregorak played a lot of nickel, utilizing five defensive backs. Kose (ko-say) was taken off the field in most of those situations, mainly to prevent an accident with his knee.
“Any time you’re working with a linebacker or any position on the field that has had two ACL’s, it is a little worrisome,” Gregorak said. “If he can keep that knee healthy, he’s going to have a very good year.
“He’s got a great football feel. In terms of football savvy, he and (Van Ackeren) are a couple of the best I’ve got to coach in the last few years. Where Brock (Coyle) and Jordan (Tripp) were so gifted athletically, they really had to study and work at it. Kenny (Van Ackeren) and ’Miah have real nice heads on their shoulders football wise.”
Holding off Gregorak’s imposing front line was a real problem for Montana’s offense Thursday. Defensive end Tyrone Holmes made the most noteworthy play, swatting a Jordan Johnson pass attempt while bearing down on the senior.
“It’s always a race to the quarterback – me and Zack have an ongoing joke,” Holmes said of fellow defensive end and Big Sky Conference preseason defensive MVP Zack Wagenmann.
“It’s a party at the quarterback, whoever gets there first. We grade every practice. We keep track of that – who has what and how much production we’re having. He’s beating my by one right now.”
With high-powered passing attacks waiting in the wings this season, Gregorak has high hopes for his nickel package. On Thursday his five defensive backs in the scheme included Harris, Josh Dennard, Justin Whitted, Matt Hermanson and either Nelson or safety Jake Dallaserra. He went with two linebackers, moving Herbert Gamboa from strong side to weak and Van Ackeren to the middle.
“I told the defense this morning, we had a quick unit meeting and I said, ‘Listen, I want to get speed on the field and be able to match personnels,’” shared Gregorak. “But I’m not going to take great players off the field if I feel like we’re losing ability out there.
“Then the next evolution possibly is a dime package. Just keep mixing and matching ideas. I thought they responded great today. We had two defensive offsides, which is unacceptable. But I had us for five turnovers. It’s a great practice.”
There were some highlights for the offense. Sophomore Ryan Burke of Billings continues to stand out at wide receiver, making several catches across the middle while playing with the first team offense.
True freshman Sean Foley of Whitefish and redshirt freshman Josh Janssen of Missoula also had noteworthy catches in their bids to earn playing time. They saw extra reps because Montana’s top wide receiver, Ellis Henderson, sat out of contact drills for the second time in three days with a non-football medical issue. Henderson did dress for practice but did not wear shoulder pads like his teammates.
Montana will practice at the Riverbowl again on Friday at 9:40 a.m. The Griz will hold their first scrimmage in full pads on Sunday night inside Washington-Grizzly Stadium.