Earlier in spring practice, Montana offensive line coach Scott Gragg had some very high praise for returning left tackle John Schmaing, telling GoGriz.com:
"If you look at just the grades, not necessarily production, John graded out better than our three starters who just left us from last year. He's a really consistent player. As a junior next year he's going to be the next guy that the NFL will have its eyes on. He's just becoming a very good player, and doing some really good things. It's neat to see a Montana kid playing as well as he is, and he's going to move into that leadership role for us on the offensive line. My expectations are super high for him."
That's important for the Griz, because Schmaing, a Billings Senior product, is the only returning offensive lineman entrenched at the same position he played last season. Trevor Poole also returns, but he's being moved from left guard to right tackle, where Gragg says he's more comfortable. Other than that, UM's offensive line will have a different look in 2014 than it did a year ago.
This chart breaks down the difference:
|LT||John Schmaing, So.||John Schmaing, Jr.|
|LG||Trevor Poole, Jr.||Jordan Hines, Sr.|
|C||Kjelby Oiland, Sr.||Logan Hines, Jr.|
|RG||William Poehls, Sr.||Ben Weyer, So.|
|RT||Danny Kistler, Sr.||Trevor Poole, Sr.|
The biggest loss, of course, is right tackle Danny Kistler, a two-time first-team All-Big Sky Conference player. William Poehls, a 6-foot-8, 345-pound behemoth, will also be missed. And Oiland brought consistency and smarts at center that will be tough to replace.
Brothers Logan and Jordan Hines have played quite a bit in their careers, though they've never really been full-time starters. Sophomore Ben Weyer got good experience last year and will be plugged in at right guard. He should be just fine. Others in the fold include sophomore tackles Clint LaRowe and Max Kelly, junior guard Samson Kaleikini, sophomore guard McCauley Todd and sophomore center Devon Dietrich. And Gragg said incoming freshman David Reese, who signed with UM out of the Portland, Ore., area, might have a chance to contribute right away.
For years the Grizzlies have reloaded on the offensive line. When two or three depart, another two or three step in. Gragg knows this from his days as an All-American in Missoula in the 1990s, and it's been a pretty consistent tradition. But that doesn't mean there aren't the usual questions about how it will all come together.
The Grizzlies' offensive front was the machine that produced the third-best rushing offense and the No. 2 scoring offense in the league last season. It also allowed the third-fewest sacks. In all, Montana's offense put up better than 450 yards per game in 2013, and averaged 6.4 yards every time the ball was snapped. Solid numbers. For a system bent on establishing a run-first philosophy, the guys up front were the catalysts.
Spring practice is nearing its end. The Grizzlies' final scrimmage is Thursday. After that, it's a waiting game until fall camp. Montana's offensive line won't unveiled again until Aug. 30 in Laramie, Wyo.