MISSOULA — When Montana redshirt sophomore Braydon Deming was terrifying offenses at Billings West, he’d walk up to the line of scrimmage, get in his stance and proceed to dominate.
Deming learned last year that wouldn’t immediately be the case in college after being hit by larger offensive linemen in his first year playing against the Big Sky Conference. He realized that to take the next step in his maturation as a player he'd have to be in even better physical shape while continuing to sharpen his mental aptitude.
So Deming went to work by first dropping weight to lose fat. Then he hit the weight room to add on muscle, gaining about 10-12 pounds and getting up to 285 pounds at 6-foot-4.
“I learned that I needed to get bigger and faster and stronger,” Deming said after Wednesday’s practice, the eighth of 15 open practices this fall camp.
“You just need toughness and relentlessness," he added. "You got to be able to get off the blocks and you got to be able to run and take off. I am for sure better with that.”
Deming could be in line for starting time to help fill the holes left by graduated players David Shaw and Reggie Tilleman. He’s coming off a season in which he saw playing time in all 11 games and started once, collecting 20 tackles, four tackles for loss, two sacks and one forced fumble.
Deming started practicing with the first-team defense during spring camp. That’s carried over to fall camp, where he’s been practicing with that first-team group each day while continuing to fine-tune his technique with defensive line coach Barry Sacks.
“He’s a good athlete,” Hauck said. “He’s worked hard in the offseason. Braydon’s a guy, like all of them, needs to continue to improve his technical ability and playing with his hands. They all need improvement. We’re certainly not a veteran group in there.”
The Griz have a veteran presence at least in senior defensive tackles Jesse Sims, a guy Deming said the group relies upon for leadership by example.
Deming’s physical stature is the main thing that’s stood out Sims compared to last season.
“Physically, I think he’s more ready than he’s ever been,” Sims said. “Mentally, he’s a super smart football player. He’s always been a super smart player out there and understands the defense and understands what the offense is doing. I think this is going to be a big year for him.”
Deming also feels he’s improved the mental aspect of his game by having the benefit of college-level film study. He thinks he’s better able to recognize what opposing offenses are doing, which has led him to be more confident and talkative at the line of scrimmage as a vocal presence.
“It’s just knowing and calling out offenses’ tendencies,” Deming said. “Basically how they line up with a tight end or a running back, we can pick out what kind of play they’re going to run or what we think they’re going to run. If we see it, just call it out.
“At least let the offense know we know what they know. Kind of playing a chess game with them in their mind.”
Those physical and mental improvements could suit him well in Hauck's offense.
"We need guys that will get off the ball and get into the backfield both run and pass and create some havoc," Hauck said.
Defensive lineman Alex Gubner showed glimpses of his potential as spring camp progressed by making plays just months after his redshirt season ended.
Now heading into this first season of competition, he’s continued to see reps with the first-team defense and has made a good impression on Hauck in just his one year in the program.
“He’s a different guy than he was 12 months ago today in terms of just work ethic, strength, quickness, fitness level, knowledge of the game,” Hauck said. “He’s a young guy who’s in the mix, which is fun to see. It probably wouldn’t have been what I would’ve predicted a year ago. He’s had a nice transition from high school kid into college football player. Like all those guys, the more plays he can make, the better we can be.”
Gubner feels his biggest improvement since last year is his understanding of the defensive scheme and his adaptation to the speed of the college game. He feels he’s coming to practice knowing more of the plays and his assignments, which in turn allows him to play faster.
He’s also been helped out by dropping from 295 pounds at the start of last year to 285 this year in his 6-foot-3 frame.
“I feel good. I feel faster. I feel more explosive,” Gubner said. “Everything is more simple just because I don’t have to worry about plays as much. I kind of know more what I’m doing.”
Sims has noticed Gubner’s improved physical capabilities along with his evolving understanding of what he’s asked to do on the field.
“Physical-wise, Alex is more than ready,” Sims said. “He’s big, he’s strong. He moves real well. I think the biggest thing for him is getting down the defensive calls and getting down the cues from the offense and what sets they’re in and where the running back is. He’s already improved a ton on that throughout fall camp.”
Sims has embraced playing on the interior of the defensive line, packing on 10 pounds since last year to get up to 280 pounds of muscle in his 6-foot-4 frame.
“I really like playing on the inside, so yeah, I’m excited to be back in there with a little bit different defense and see how it goes,” Sims said, before adding what he liked about it. “More hitting. More blocks. I feel like it’s where the tough stuff of the game happens. There’s some big, strong O-lineman that play inside. It’s fun to go against them.”
Sims focused on eating more calories that allowed him to put on good weight. He continued to work out but added some more flexibility exercises to keep him limber as he got bigger.
“Just tried to stay as strong and explosive as I could, keep working on flexibility,” Sims said. “When you put weight on, that’s one of the first things that’ll go is flexibility and mobility moving around on the field. Coach Nicholson helped out a lot with that. Just a lot of stretching, mobility exercises he knows of.”
Sims is coming off a season in which he tallied 42 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, one sack and one forced fumble. At his new weight, he feels he’ll be better able to take on offensive linemen.
“I can feel that little bit more weight behind me on taking on double teams or even just base blocks,” Sims said. “It’s easier to hold my spot and not lose ground.”
Returning starting quarterback Dalton Sneed started strong in 11-on-11 action, connecting on his first four passes, two of which went for touchdowns to Samori Toure on deep passes.
Senior walk-on Kadeem Hemphill intercepted a pass intended for receiver Mitch Roberts when Sneed rolled out to his right and left the pass too short. He added a pass breakup.
Gubner had a touch sack of Sneed.
Backup quarterback Cam Humphrey had a touchdown pass to Jerry Louie-McGee during 7-on-7 work.
True freshman receiver Keelan White made a leaping catch in between two freshman defenders on a ball from quarterback Kris Brown. True freshman Jesse Owens also had a touchdown pass from Brown in which he broke tackles on his way to the end zone.