Bo Beck jokes that every time he looks over his shoulder, his group dwindles.
“We’re running out of dudes,” Montana State’s defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator exclaimed Monday after the first of two scheduled practice sessions.
“We’ve just got to hold on tight and get this voodoo bug off of us right now.”
The season is fast approaching, and Beck’s unit is in flux.
Preseason All-Big Sky selection Brad Daly, nursing an undisclosed back ailment, watched from the sideline Monday and has not practiced in nearly a week. Key backup Hayden Vick was home sick, and redshirt sophomore Odin Coe was back in the middle of the action with his left leg — which kept him out of last week’s scrimmage — wrapped in thick white tape stretching from his ankle to shin.
“It’s just a bruise. Nothing major,” Coe said. “I’m fine; we’re just being cautious.”
Preston Gale was there, too, hobbling up and down the turf with a bulky brace on his right knee less than one week after an unsettling scene unfolded at Bobcat Stadium. The senior was pursuing wide receiver Jon Ellis on a reverse Wednesday, and Ellis and safety James Nelson rolled into Gale’s leg.
While coaches, teammates and onlookers likely braced for the worst, Gale, whose sophomore season was lost because of a knee injury suffered in preseason camp, took to Twitter on Thursday night to announce some favorable news: He suffered a Grade 2 sprain of his MCL, and doctors said he could be back on the field in four to six weeks.
“Preston has worked so hard for this program, … and we all know he’s going to attack (rehabilitation), come right back and be fine,” Coe said. “We’ll hold it down while he’s gone. Now, it’s all about the next guys stepping up.”
Craig Ashworth and Taylor Dees are entrenched in the middle, and Beck and head coach Rob Ash expect Daly to return to anchor the bandit position when the Gold Rush hits Bozeman on Aug. 29. The senior, a two-time second-team All-Big Sky selection, started 12 of 13 games last fall and leads all active FCS players in sacks (18).
In Gale’s absence, the Bobcats will rely on a largely inexperienced group, which includes Coe and redshirt juniors Vick and Connor Verlanic, to man the edge.
Coe missed all of 2012 because of a shoulder injury, Vick played in seven games and logged one tackle — a sack against North Dakota — and Verlanic recorded three tackles in eight appearances, primarily on special teams.
“There’s a lot of unproven people on defense. They’re going to get a great opportunity to prove themselves,” senior running back Cody Kirk said. “We’ve had a tradition of that the last couple of years, of people coming in and people not being perceived to be as good as they are, and they step up.”
Added Beck, “You talk about it constantly: Anybody could go down at any minute, and you have to be ready to go. That’s why we roll twos and threes through practice to get reps. Now they’re the guys. There’s more pressure on them in that way, … but you have to give them confidence that you’re confident in them and tell them to go play fast and limit the mistakes.
“They should be fine. I guess we’ll see Thursday night when the lights are on.”
Verlanic relishes the opportunity.
“This is not the way you want to get reps, but I owe it to the guys that get hurt to play well and step up,” he said. “I can’t replace Preston, but hopefully I can add some depth to the line. … Hopefully he gets back and has a full recovery. We’ll need him down the stretch.”
Jon Maletz can be reached at email@example.com or 582-2601. Follow him on Twitter @jmaletz