MISSOULA — The Montana Grizzlies are in the second-to-last week of spring football, as their latest session winds to a close.
One area fans are watching closely as an early storyline with this team is the quarterback battle, with last year's backup Kris Brown and San Diego State transfer Lucas Johnson as the headlining candidates for the job.
Brown, of course, has been here before with the Griz.
The Bozeman High grad and redshirt sophomore at Montana was in a quarterback battle with former starter Cam Humphrey a year ago, and now draws from that experience as he vies for the starting gig.
"It's nice having a guy like Lucas where it's like, you can joke around, you can give each other a hard time and at the end of the day just making each other better and going through that with Cam was huge," Brown said. "It was my first time doing that in college and now being able to do it this year has been good."
While he didn't win the starting job to begin the year, Brown was called on midway through the season when Humphrey went down with injury.
Brown made four starts in his absence as he saw his first real game experience in college and dealt with the growing pains and ups-and-downs in the process. He finished his season completing 99 of 152 passes for 1,029 yards with three touchdowns and four interceptions. He also ran for five scores as he led UM to a 3-1 record as a starter while Humphrey recovered.
However, when Humphrey got injured again in UM's FCS quarterfinal game against James Madison early in the second quarter, Brown finished out the first half under center before the coaches opted to go with then-redshirt sophomore Robbie Patterson in the second half. Patterson has since left the team.
"I feel like I've kind of grown (to) understanding the offense for sure and understanding it better and better," Brown said. "Each time you go out there and go against certain looks on defense and I would also say just seeing all of the different looks that our defense gives. We have a very challenging, very competitive defense and just seeing everything they give is helpful because you know there's probably not much else you can see out there on any given Saturday.
"I think going through adversity is a huge part of any sport you play and I think that's the part of the game that helps you grow as a person. Just being able to battle through the lows and enjoying the highs is huge and its easier to enjoy the highs when you've gone through the lows."
Johnson, a seventh-year senior, comes to UM after stops at Georgia Tech and San Diego State.
Last year for the Aztecs, Johnson had his best year in college with nine starts in 13 games, 1,424 yards passing and 12 scores, and he led SDSU to a bowl win in the Frisco Bowl over University of Texas San Antonio, a game where Johnson threw for 333 yards and three scores and ran for another in the win.
"I think I'm a dynamic quarterback," Johnson said when asked to describe his style. "I can come in, I can run, I can throw, I think I'm a pretty good leader and I think that's where my experience comes to the table. I can help these guys out with the stuff that I know so I just come out here and do anything I can to help us win."
Now in Missoula, it's about learning Montana's systems and getting acclimated to his new team.
"Everybody here has been really helpful with the coaches and the players reminding me of stuff and helping me remember plays," Johnson said. "I think I've been getting a lot more comfortable over these last few weeks and we just have to keep building every day."
"There's always going to be a competition. That's the way it is here and most good places," UM head coach Bobby Hauck added. "Anytime you get a chance to play, in particular at that position, because you don't roll them through very often, so anytime you get a chance to play and play in real games its a benefit."
Like Brown, Johnson has been here before with QB competition, and knows that while he's competing with his teammates, it's about making everyone else better at the same time. UM's QB competition will wrap up spring ball next Friday at the spring game before restarting in the fall to determine who the starter will be come Sept. 3 in Montana's opener against Northwestern State.
"You just have to have a mindset that you have to come out every day and bring your best game because if not, if the other guy is having a good day you might get in your head but at the end of the day everybody wants to see each other do well," Johnson said. "Everywhere I've been, I think the best teams I've been on, the QB room has been really tight and whoever is playing, everybody is helping him out.
"These guys love to get after it. Everybody here is competitive every practice, defense and offense get after it and I love that. And I love being in a culture like this and these guys are really good and I think we're going to be really good this year."