Jamaal Jones wasn’t the first name that came to mind last fall when opponents talked about stopping Montana’s most dangerous weapons.
It wasn’t even the second name. Or the third.
The University of Washington transfer often flew under the radar, quietly putting together a strong season at wide receiver with 42 catches for 760 yards. For the record, that was one catch shy of Ellis Henderson’s team-best total.
Blending in won’t be nearly as easy for No. 6 this season.
Not after what he did at the end of 2013, snaring 11 catches for 223 yards and two touchdowns in games against Montana State and Coastal Carolina. And not after the noise he’s been making in preseason football practice this week at the Riverbowl.
On Tuesday Jones had the highlight of the day, catching a 40-yard bomb from Jordan Johnson after cutting across the field. On Wednesday he showed good hands and quickness on an out pattern, gathering in a laser from Johnson as he approached the sideline while being harassed by linebacker Kendrick Van Ackeren.
“I’m coming into this camp with a lot more confidence,” Jones told the Missoulian Wednesday. “I know my leadership role. I know what I’m supposed to do, so that makes it so much easier compared to last year, trying to find out what to do.”
Building chemistry with Johnson in Montana’s pro set offense took time. The chemistry was good by December, but it’s even better now.
“We’ve had all summer to work and it really helps on the longer routes,” Jones said. “Last year he would overthrow me in the beginning, then toward the end we started to link up way better as far as being accurate.”
Jones is his own toughest critic, whether it be running routes or making the most of his receptions. He’s looking for bigger and better things starting Aug. 30 when Montana plays its season opener at FBS Wyoming.
“I wanted to come out first day of practice this year making as many plays as I can,” he offered. “More than that I want to do things right.
“I’ve tried to work on my speed and my catching and mainly my run after catch, because I caught a lot of passes last year but I didn’t really show the ability to run after the catch as much as I wanted to. This year it’s going to be a lot more catching and running and making people miss.”
News that Griz senior offensive tackle Trevor Poole has a disc problem and is sidelined indefinitely wasn’t exactly a pick-me-up on the first day of drills Tuesday. A day later, Montana coach Mick Delaney put things in perspective.
“The line is young, very inexperienced for the most part, but that’s OK, that’s college football,” he said. “Any time you lose three guys to NFL camps, then we’ve got Trevor fighting a back situation we’re not sure how that will come out ... But we have to put all our energy into coaching the guys that are here.
“We’ve got guys that are eager to learn, eager to be the next guy. There will be some growing pains but I have a ton of confidence in the young men we have. As we get going, we’ll be fine.”
If there’s ever a good time to lose someone like Poole, it’s the start of the preseason. It gives his successor three-plus weeks to adjust.
“Obviously there’s guys at new positions, so we’re learning the plays, learning little things we need to get used to,” senior center Logan Hines said. “Coach (Scott) Gragg talks a lot about perfecting the wide zone that we want to do. So really it’s doing that and getting a better understanding of that for each position.”
Hines, like Delaney, is confident the line will be rock-solid in time.
“The team chemistry is way better than I’ve seen since I’ve been here,” Hines offered. “That’s big on the offensive line. Every play we have to trust each other, communicate well with each other.
“We communicate well and really get along well, so that helps as guys are coming along.”
Hines credited new UM strength and conditioning coach Mike Gerber for getting his group ready for August.
“You’d be surprised to see how strong we’ve gotten even since last summer,” Hines said. “I think it’s just a different lifting style. More power lifts, low reps, lot of sets, heavy weight. We’re going up every week in weight.
“For us as big guys up front, it really helps to build that strength. All of us guys were here for 2 1/2 months over the summer working out.”
On Wednesday the Griz first-string offensive line at the start of practice consisted of Logan Hines along with brother Jordan Hines, Devon Dietrich, Ben Weyer and Jackson Thiebes. John Schmaing and Clint LaRowe also saw time with the first unit and redshirt freshman Mike Ralston played tight end.
It’s hard to learn a lot watching the practice for two days in helmets only. But there is an element of efficiency that bodes well for the opener.
“They’ve come in really focused, especially the older kids,” Delaney said. “The younger kids are going to struggle a little bit with schemes and that stuff because you throw a ton at them.
“Man I love the energy we’ve got. And how hard they’re working. Nobody is complaining, everybody is focused. That’s so important. The other stuff will all come along if we can keep that real high energy.”
The Griz will hold their first practice inside Washington-Grizzly Stadium on Thursday afternoon.