BOZEMAN — First-year offensive coordinator Brian Armstrong has stressed the need to eliminate the self-inflicted wounds that hounded the Montana State football team last season, among them a smattering of procedure penalties in crucial fourth-quarter moments.
Similar mistakes cropped up Thursday at Bobcat Stadium during another of the team’s full-pads practices, which at one point caused Armstrong to cock his head back and look toward the sky in frustration.
It marked the Bobcats eighth consecutive day of work, and both Armstrong and head coach Jeff Choate noticed some tired bodies on the field.
“Fatigue can make dummies of us all if we’re not mentally tough,” said Armstrong, amending a famous quote attributed to Vince Lombardi. “I definitely think that’s fatigue, and that’s something we’ve got to get cleaned up.
“Snap-count stuff ... offensively we know where the ball is going and when it’s going there, and we want to keep those advantages to ourselves. We’re not perfect. We’re far from perfect. But I think we’re making strides. We just need to keep chopping wood and keep working at it.”
When it comes to remedying MSU’s shortcomings from last year in late-game situations, Choate used an appropriate analogy.
“It’s kind of like going to the free-throw line with the game on the line,” he said. “You’ve got to be able to lock in and execute.”
Choate said the Bobcats will conduct a lighter, helmets-only session Friday, one day prior to their first full-contact scrimmage of camp.
Meanwhile, positional evaluations are ongoing. For Armstrong, the offensive line coach-turned-coordinator, the progression of sophomore quarterback Chris Murray has especially piqued an interest.
Murray’s well-documented exertions have produced, in Armstrong’s words, a better-rounded quarterback.
“I don’t want to get too carried away here, but I just think there’s a night-and-day difference with the way he’s throwing the ball,” Armstrong said. “His decisiveness, his confidence in himself, you can see it.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do, but he’s improved. We’re getting there. We’re not as far away as we were.”
Armstrong also talked about the running back situation, which seems in flux with senior Nick LaSane set to serve a four-game suspension when the season starts due to separate arrests during the summer, as well as the ailments Jake Roper (who’s been in a walking boot) and Edward Vander (who’s been in a sling) suffered early in camp — although Vander was back in pads on Thursday.
Armstrong detailed his impressions of Troy Andersen and Tyrel Burgess, freshmen that haven taken advantage of their opportunities.
“They’re each in their own way starting to settle in,” Armstrong said. “Tyrel, he’s got some God-given ability. He’s grinding and working hard.
“Troy is a big, strong, fast guy. You look at him and you think he’s 22 or 23 years old. Sometimes it’s hard to remember he’s just a freshman playing a position he hasn’t played before. But he’s coming along.”
Like any offense, the Bobcats seek balance. It’s something they lacked last season. Armstrong has said that a strong running game is where everything starts.
MSU’s defensive line, as Choate said after the first practice of camp, is bigger, stronger and deeper this year. Armstrong said the heated competition at the line of scrimmage during camp can bolster the running game.
“Our defensive front-seven is pretty salty, and if we can run the ball on those guys I think we’re going to have a good opportunity to run the ball during the season,” he said. “I think our attitude and our effort has been really good, and so that always gives you a chance.
“Are we where we want to be or need to be? No. But I do think we’re making steady progress.”
Bigger, better Sullivan: When asked about the tight end situation, Choate said 6-foot-5, 250-pounder Connor Sullivan is the best bet to create matchup problems for defenses.
Sullivan made the key catch late in a 24-17 upset victory against rival Montana last November, and Choate said the effort Sullivan showed in the offseason is paying off because he’s more versatile.
“I think what boosted his confidence is the work he’s put in the weight room,” Choate said. “I think he’s more physical because he’s more comfortable with it. It’s really the first time coming into the year that he knew exactly what the expectation was going to be.
“I know previously he was kind of a big wide receiver, and now he’s got to embrace the idea that he is a tight end. I think he has. He’s put some weight on and he’s playing with more physicality.”