Observations and quotes from Montana State's football media day, held Thursday morning at Bobcat Stadium in Bozeman:
• The competition for the placekicking job remains open -- and remains underrated
You never think about the importance of a field goal kicker “until the first time a game is depending on a field goal,” Bobcats coach Rob Ash said. “It’s going to be huge.”
Ash has had solid kickers throughout his coaching career, be it Billy Cundiff at Drake or Jason Cunningham and Rory Perez at MSU. But as camp moves foward the placekicking duties are still up for grabs between three Montanans -- Luke Daly from Billings Central, Trevor Bolton from Great Falls High and Trevin Thompson from Helena High. The fact that nobody has taken the lead in the competition might be a bit disconcerting, but there’s still time.
“It’s a very big decision and the guys have been battling hard,” Ash said. “There’s been a lot of tension because they’re trying to figure out who’s going to get the job. At some point I have a feeling one of them is going to take a deep breath and relax and just start making field goals, and that will settle it. We’d like to pick one guy, get him the confidence and move forward. But we really don’t know for sure which way it’s going to go yet.
“I’m not worried about how far the guy can kick it, I’m not worried about form charts or any of that, I just want a guy that can be cool under pressure and make the key kicks.”
• New ‘Bandit’ end Odin Coe isn’t concerned about expectations
Coe, a junior, is facing higher expectations than most players at MSU because he’s taking over the ‘Bandit’ defensive end position that has produced that past two Buck Buchanan Award winners. Brad Daly last year and Caleb Schreibeis in 2012 each dominated at that position and each went on to be named the top defensive player in the FCS.
Coe, who has battled ankle and shoulder injuries in the past, acknowledged that being able to stay on the field is his main focus. And he’s not trying to be Schreibeis or Daly. He’s just trying to be himself.
Still, Coe knows he’ll be under a microscope. Schreibeis and Daly, after all, had senior seasons that added up to a combined 26½ sacks and 35½ tackles for loss. Ridiculous numbers.
“As you move up and as you get older you kind of inherit that position,” Coe said. “I’m really good friends with both of those guys, Brad and Caleb. One thing they’ve told me is that you’ve got to be your own player. It’s not about comparing yourself to things that they did, but about what you can do. And who knows what that can be?
"I don't really play football for myself. I play it for the other guys that are out here. When I come off the field (with an injury) I feel bad, like I'm letting them down. That's what keeps me driving to stay on the field."
• Koni Dole is thankful -- but not satisfied -- with his opportunity
Dole, who had his right leg amputated below the knee during his junior year at Huntley Project High School, became the first true freshman to answer questions from reporters during Rob Ash’s tenure at MSU. Dole spoke about his prosthetic giving him trouble during last month’s Shrine Game, about adjusting to the speed of the college game, and about not yet being 100 percent. But the most poignant comments were his thoughts on putting on a Division I uniform and what that means for him as he continues to fight back from his catastrophic injury.
“It’s always been a dream of mine to play for the Bobcats, and that’s still my goal -- to get on the field,” he said. “I’m still just a freshman, just a young guy. But I had something taken away from me, so the feeling of being out on the field, even for practice, is just a blessing. I never take anything for granted out there. I do my best and work as hard as I can.”
• Shawn Johnson is ready for the top running back job
Running back depth is not an issue. With Johnson, Chad Newell, Gunnar Brekke, and Nevada transfer Anthony Knight et al, there aren’t enough footballs to go around. But if Johnson (who now wears No. 4) has his way, there will be even fewer.
One of the big questions of fall camp is whether Johnson can handle the workload of a No. 1 running back. Is he strong enough? Is he durable enough? Can he handle 200 or more carries? Johnson is one of the top playmakers in the Big Sky Conference, and can go the distance each time he touches the ball. But can he be a methodic, every-down back? If you ask him, the answer is yes.
“I’ve got to be the best that I possibly can be,” Johnson said. “There are doubters that say I can’t run behind my pads because I’m too small or whatever the case may be. But I think I worked hard this summer with coach (Alex) Wilcox and his amazing strength and conditioning program and I think I’ll be fine. I think I’m going to do well.”
• Jake Bleskin is counting on opponents to underestimate his athleticism
This year, MSU’s offense should have all the bells and whistles of a true “spread” system. Which means there will be more reads in the running game. Which means there will be more movement from the quarterback.
Jake Bleskin, who continues to compete against dual-threat QBs Dakota Prukop and Quinn McQueary for the starting job, is built more in the mold of a traditional pocket passer due to his size and cannon for an arm. But if Bleskin wins the QB job, he’ll be asked to run the ball on zone-read plays. Is he up to it? More than you might suspect.
“I want everyone to think that I can’t move and that I’m just a drop-back guy,” Bleskin said. “I think I’m a lot more athletic than people give me credit for. It’s not like I can’t move. I think that plays to my advantage. And as far as our new system, it’s not really that new. (Offensive coordinator Tim) Cramsey was here last year, and we tried to run that stuff. So the spread was implemented. But we had guys that needed to get the ball, the Cody Kirks and guys like that. But as far as me running more, I’m fine with that. Like I said, I don’t think teams expect me to run, so that’s fine.”
Bleskin made two starts last season when DeNarius McGhee was injured. He finished the season with 733 passing yards and six TDs, but rushed for only 26 yards.