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Rocky's Mason Melby

Mason Melby of Baker has been one of Rocky Mountain College's primary running backs this spring.

The season opener remains four months away, but that has not prevented Jason Petrino from planning ahead.

The Rocky Mountain College football team will open the 2017 season this August with a night game at Dickinson State in North Dakota.

In another piece of preparation, Petrino is having the Battlin’ Bears wrap up spring drills with an evening scrimmage at Herb Klindt Field on Friday.

“It just has a little different feel to it. You want to see how the kids respond,” said the head coach of playing later in the day. “You want to see how the kids compete.”

The scrimmage will begin at 5:45 p.m. It is free to the public.

Petrino said the length of the scrimmage will be fluid.

“I control the whistle,” he joked. “If things go well it will be short. If things aren’t going so well … we might go a little longer.”

Like the first scrimmage on April 8, it will pit the offense against the defense in different situations. No score will be kept.

“You’ll see a lot of situations,” Petrino said. “We’ll do some red zone, we’ll back them (the offense up) and we’ll do some special teams work. The last scrimmage went about 80 plays. This one won’t be as long.”

In the first scrimmage, running backs Sam Sparks, Mason Melby and Sam Jamal each rushed for a touchdown, while quarterbacks Jacob Bakken and Gage Seekins threw for scores. Bakken, who has established himself as the No. 1 quarterback on the depth chart, finished 7 of 13 passing for 88 yards.

Sparks finished with 56 yards on six carries, including a 25-yard touchdown run to the left side.

“The big thing was our running game,” said Petrino of one of the positives. “We have three really good running backs.

“And our tight ends played well. Zane (Guse) and Brandon’s (Moseley) blocking has improved dramatically. They have put the time in the weight room and it has shown. They're understanding defensive reads better and will be nice targets for our QBs.”

Guse is 6-foot-7, 252 pounds, while Moseley is listed at 6-4, 230.

The backfield will get some added depth this fall when Jade Olson returns from a knee injury. The senior from Malta suffered a torn ACL in the season opener last August against Montana State-Northern.

The defense had six quarterback sacks in the first scrimmage, including two by Jake Tuivaive, while Dayton Cogdill had two of the group’s four pass break-ups.

Petrino cautioned there are still some concerns.

“The lines on both sides of the ball. We’re still evaluating,” he said. “We’re still moving guys around to where they can have the most success.

“We’ve never been at full strength this spring. We don’t know where we’re at. We lost four seniors from our defensive line last year. The defense, there is still a lot of uncertainty up front.”

And Petrino sees a difference with the coaches and players being together for a full year.

“Our kids know us better and we know our kids better,” he said. “Last year, we spent February and March recruiting. This year, we did our recruiting in the fall and some in January.

“We were able to spend February talking about schemes, having walk-throughs and do more installing of what we want. If the kids feel more comfortable, it will get them to play faster and play smarter.”

The Guardian Cap

Along with moving some players around to different positions, the coaching staff has had to make some other adjustments.

Many of the Battlin’ Bears are wearing The Guardian Cap, a soft, padded device that fits over their helmets. The Cap is designed for impact reduction and reduces impact up to 33 percent.

It was designed by a husband-and-wife team out of Georgia.

The Cap is being marketed to football and lacrosse teams.

“I’ve been watching other teams used them the past few years,” said Petrino. “You’re always looking for a way to protect your players. You don’t feel bad about putting together a drill that involves contact.”

Players on the offensive and defensive lines have been wearing them, along with selected linebackers and running backs.

“The offensive and defensive lines, there is a lot of hitting. There is contact on every play,” said Petrino. “And I heard one coach say it also protects the quarterback. The quarterback, his arm comes down hard after releasing a pass and sometimes hits their hand on that hard plastic. This helps prevent those injuries.”

And while the game looks the same on the field, there is a subtle change.

“One thing is the game sounds completely different,” said Petrino. “You don’t have that hard smack of the plastic hitting. You want to hear the physicality of your team. It just sounds different now. It’s first thing you have to get used to.”

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High School Sports, Rodeo Reporter

Sports writer for The Billings Gazette.