A large contingent from Montana State's athletic department made a swing through Billings on Tuesday, football coach Rob Ash among them. I was able to catch the coach for a few minutes to ask him about the Bobcats' quarterback situation, offensive continuity going into their second year under coordinator Tim Cramsey, Brian Flotkoetter's health and ability to become the No. 1 receiver, special teams decisions, building on an identity as a team, and a lot more.
I've parsed part of our conversation down to five components. Here is what Ash had to say:
• When the coaches pick a quarterback, he'll be THE guy: Ash said he's not into shuffling quarterbacks, or using one during the first quarter and another in the second, etc. He affirmed that when MSU decides on a starter -- be it Jake Bleskin, Dakota Prukop, Tanner Roderick or Quinn McQueary -- the coaches will stick with the pick. But the competition will be open when fall camp starts, so we're still two months away from knowing who it'll be.
“I’m not so worried about it because we have talent there," Ash said. "We are going to pick a quarterback and we’re going to go with him, and we’re not going to mess around with it. The passing game is big for this offense. One thing that I like about (Tim) Cramsey’s offense is that we can use lots of different types of people. We can use (Gunnar) Brekke and (Chad) Newell and Shawn Johnson out of the backfield, we can use tight ends, lots of different guys. You don’t have to have that prototype drop-back pass game. You can use all kinds of different methods to throw the football, and I think that will end up being the right way to go.”
• The Bobcats have "flushed" last year, opting instead to create the concept of a "new team" for 2014: Yeah, last year's ending was forgettable. Before floundering down the stretch and losing their final three games, the Cats were in great position to again make the playoffs. But it all vanished in November. Ash said the disappointment lingered during the winter, but was replaced with a fresh approach once spring ball began.
“The finish to last season really bothered everybody and it stuck in our craw all through January and February. We analyzed it and looked at video and talked about it and assessed it and had meetings, and we got our ideas about what happened. But when we got to spring ball and really got into the process of building for the 2014 season, we decided to flush it and get rid of it. We want to try to create a new identity for this team.
"There was so much tradition and so much experience on last year’s team, all those guys that were fourth-year guys, career-best guys. Quarterback (DeNarius McGhee), running back (Cody Kirk), the defensive line tradition with the two Buchanan awards (Brad Daly and Caleb Schreibeis) … but we just decided to put all that on the shelf and we’re going to create a new football team in 2014. I mean we have 18 seniors, but a lot of them have flown under the radar because they’ve been behind really good players. It’s going to be exciting. It’ll be different, fun, there will be new heroes. And we’re not going to look back at all. This is a real positive time.”
• Remember the Travis Lulay roll punt? It might make a comeback: Ash wasn't around during the Travis Lulay era, when the star quarterback doubled as a roll punter -- and a very effective one. Lulay was a natural at roll punting, and even converted a few fourth downs throwing the ball down the field or running on those punt plays. Ash said QB Jake Bleskin showed flashes as a punter this spring, and could be another punting option, along with freshman Matt Stewart. And that could open up new tricks.
"Jake Bleskin did a really good job of punting in the spring," Ash said. "So we’re throwing that (job) open, because if Jake Bleskin can be a quality punter, and he’s a quarterback back there? That causes some teams some challenges in terms of how to defend that play.”
Ash also said Luke Daly is ahead of Trevor Bolton on the depth chart for field goal duties for next year, although Bolton will handle kickoffs. Trevin Thompson, a freshman, is also in the mix.
• Brian Flotkoetter needs to play a huge role in 2014: As Ash noted, Flotkoetter needs to get back to 100 percent from the shoulder injury he suffered against Stephen F. Austin last season, which forced him to miss a lot of spring practice. After the injury, Flotkoetter was never really the same guy. But with 63 career catches, 848 yards and five TDs, the 6-foot-2, 211-pound Flotkoetter is the team's most experienced receiver coming back. He's an important factor for the upcoming season, especially with Tanner Bleskin graduated.
“The first thing he’s got to do is get over this shoulder thing," Ash said. "He missed some time, came back, battled through it, but it was very touchy. He missed most of spring with that too. So he’s got to get healthy. But we’re really counting on him. I am really counting on him. He needs to be a guy. He needs to be a Tanner Bleskin, be a big receiver for us, a guy who can make all those plays. I think he clearly has the talent for that. He’s faster than people realize, and he’s got really good hands. He’s a competitor. I’m counting on him to have a huge senior season.”
• This season, it's Tim Cramsey's offense ... and no one else's: As the head coach, Ash admitted to limiting Cramsey in his offensive coordinator role last season, instead instructing him to build a hybrid of Cramsey's ideas mixed with the leftovers from Kevin McGiven's schemes to best acclimate all the talent that was coming back from the prior season. But it'll be different in Year 2 under Cramsey.
“When Cramsey came in and we had DeNarius and Cody and Tanner and all that experience on offense," Ash said, "I basically put the handcuffs on him and said, ‘Hey, we have some things that we do that we want to keep doing that we really like. So keep our terminology, keep some of our plays, do some of our things' … that was part of the deal. He was the one new piece and everything else was returning. So it was like, ‘Why don’t you adapt to us?’
"Looking back on it, it kind of made for this odd mixture of his schemes and our schemes, his ideas and our ideas. So this year one of things we decided to do is just take the wraps off, and now it’s just Tim Cramsey’s offense. Spring was so much better. He is so comfortable. The whole thing is his, the whole package, and all the ways that it all fits together. It’s not a dramatic change from last year -- he has kept our terminology because he’s used to it now -- but he just feels more comfortable with the whole package, and he’ll be in a much better place just running his offense. And he’s very excited about that.”