BOZEMAN — Hot sun, mid-80s — a typical way to open fall football camp at Montana State. Then dark afternoon clouds rolled in and the team was suddenly ushered to the locker room.
Fourth-year Bobcats coach Jeff Choate described the first outing of fall drills as “disjointed” after Friday’s practice was delayed 30 minutes due to lightning, but in the grand scheme of things was satisfied with the fervor his team displayed during a helmets-only session at the Dyche Fields.
“I think the kids were excited to be out there,” Choate said. “Like I told them, I didn’t have any problem sleeping last night. I’ve been doing this a long time. But then when you walk out and the kids’ energy is there, the music is playing, the field’s set up, it’s like, ‘OK, yeah.’ The hair on the back of your neck starts to stand up.
“Certainly the execution was not as crisp as you’d like it to be, but the effort and the intensity were there.”
The long grind toward the Aug. 31 season opener at Texas Tech is now underway, and true to the offseason narrative Troy Andersen spent Day 1 working with the linebackers as part of a highly publicized position switch.
Andersen, MSU’s starting quarterback last season and a prominent name on the Walter Payton Award watch list as one of the nation’s top offensive weapons this preseason, is still expected to have a role on offense, but defense was his focal point on Friday.
Andersen didn’t hide his happiness being back on the football field.
“I think he was the most excited guy out there today. I really do,” Choate said. “He’s kind of a reserved kid and he’s jumping around and hooting and hollering. It was like Christmas for him.”
Without Andersen, five quarterbacks were in the rotation during a practice that mixed positional fundamental work with team-vs.-team drills. Sophomore Tucker Rovig and redshirt freshmen Casey Bauman and Ruben Beltran were joined in the competition by true freshmen John Knight and Blake Thelen.
Rovig and Bauman are the presumptive favorites to win the job, which Choate said he hopes to make a decision on sooner than later.
Choate said both Rovig and Bauman “had good moments today (and) both of them had some things that they probably want to have back. But that’s the first day of fall camp.
“In a perfect world I’d like to make a decision on the starter after the first scrimmage (Aug. 10). I want to tighten up the timeline. But the competition will play itself out. We’ll evaluate that as a staff and I think it will come together the way it’s supposed to.”
When asked which players stood out on Day 1, Choate mentioned running backs Shane Perry and Logan Jones, receiver Lance McCutcheon and defensive lineman Jason Scrempos, a 300-pound dropdown from the University of Washington.
Choate commended the way Perry ran and noted Jones’ physical shape. Both are part of a deep running back group that returns 1,000-yard rusher Isaiah Ifanse and the fundamentally sound Lane Sumner, and also adds a good-looking true freshman in DeMareus Hosey.
Scrempos, meanwhile, certainly looked the part of a Power 5 player just with his physique alone. And McCutcheon, Choate observed, showed a renewed commitment to using his 6-foot-3 frame to his advantage.
“I kind of challenged Lance McCutcheon at the end of the spring,” Choate said. “I told him, ‘You’re a big receiver that doesn’t play big. You’ve got to go up and be aggressive and play with strong hands and win those 50/50 balls,’ and he did that multiple times today. I thought it was a really good first step for him in fall camp.”
If one thing was obvious during the first practice it’s that MSU has a ton of depth at linebacker, especially now with Andersen playing on the outside.
But the inside guys are who Choate complimented, saying “it’s going to be a heck of a battle” between the likes of Chad Kanow and Michael Jobman, and Callahan O’Reilly, Nolan Askelson, Blake Flovin and veteran Josh Hill.
Hill’s presence at practice was a welcome sight for Choate. Hill, a senior, missed all but one game last season after undergoing another back surgery.
“It’s just so awesome to have him out there. For him and for us,” Choate said. “He’s in a much better place and I’m so happy for him that he gets an opportunity to finish this thing.
“We just have to keep our fingers crossed and be smart with him. We’re not going to have a lot of contact with him. But that presence that he had in that locker room was something that we sorely missed last year.”
The Bobcats are scheduled to resume practice Saturday at 11 a.m.
NOTES: Players were not made available for interviews. … Choate said safety Keaton Anderson, a Billings Senior product, is being held out of camp for now due to an injury. … WR Jabarri Johnson, still rehabbing a knee injury, wasn’t present but has not been ruled out to return sometime this season.