NCAA Showcases Bobcats in All-Access Feature; Ash Updates Team’s Progress

By Beacon Staff

Montana State running back Cody Kirk is introducing the greater world of the NCAA to the Bobcats with a short video snippet.

The senior from Frenchtown made his debut this week on NCAA.com’s All-Access series. Kirk submitted several video clips from MSU road trips and time spent in other football-related activities during the early weeks of the season, and the first episode is available to watch here.

The videos, shot by Kirk, are produced by Turner Sports for NCAA.com.

In other Bobcat football news, head coach Rob Ash spoke at length on Tuesday about the team’s progress through the season.

Here’s a transcript of the questions and Ash’s answers, courtesy of William Lamberty with MSU:

What do you hope to accomplish during the bye week?
“Rest is the key word, and that’s what it’s going to be for coaches and players both. It’s a grind from the beginning of August all the way through preseason practices and six consecutive games, three road trips that were very difficult, so we need to rest. Our guys need to heal up, the coaches need to catch up on some sleep and without the evening meetings they’ll get a chance to do that and hopefully we’ll begin next week with an invigorated group of guys.?

How impressed have you been with the special teams this year?
“I think our special teams are as good right now as they’ve ever been. Daniel DaPrato does an awesome job with those units. We’re not maybe as deep from a talent standpoint with upper-class, scholarship guys who are backups on our team right now to play on special teams so he’s had to work with a lot of freshmen, some walk-ons, some scholarship guys that are young guys, and he’s put together really tough, assignment-sound units that play with passion, just like he coaches with energy and passion. I like what he’s doing.”

What are the recruiting plans for this bye week?
“We’re just trying to stay in touch with people now. We’ve got to get out and do our evaluations in-state, so the coaches will get out and go to the high schools around the state. You can’t talk to players right now so it’s just a matter of talking to the coaches and finding out who’s maybe a new player or two that’s rising up as a senior that didn’t project as high back in May when we looked at them as juniors, try to get some video, transcripts, try to check out mainly our in-state guys. Then the guys who are recruiting out-of-state territories will spend a lot of time this week on the phone and on the computer watching video and trying to find out who the top players are. It’s just a matter of having extra time to spend this week on recruiting.”

Where does this victory rank in your time at Montana State?
“There’s really no way to rank this one right now. I mean, it’s a good early-season win, but it’s still so early in the season that it doesn’t really stack up to any great magnitude. If we win a lot more games it will be a big one. If we don’t it won’t be as big. So it all depends on how we do from this point forward. And all we’re thinking about is the next one, which is Weber State.”

When do you start taking a look at Weber State?
“The coordinators are deep into that right now. The interns have already got it all broken down We’re going to have one more game next week that’s going to be important in the game plan that we won’t see until it’s played and that final game comes in next Sunday. But we’re getting ahead on it right now. I haven’t watched it yet, still trying to mop up on last week and catch up on some things, but I’ll watch it this week. By the end of the week we’ll have watched every game they’ve played prior to this week’s game coming up.”

What does Cody Cleveland bring to the special teams?
“Cody has really become one of the leaders of our special teams group. He’s a walk-on, he’s battled and battled to try to get on the field and now he’s finally gotten bigger and stronger through the strength program we have here. He’s running extremely well, and he always has been a physical player. He has all right the attributes to be a great special teams guy, and now he’s playing with good confidence and good technique and good assignments that he’s got from Coach DaPrato and he’s becoming a real leader of that group.”

How important have the tight ends been in the re-emergence of the run game?
“I think Tiai Salanoa, first of all, as a lead blocker is a real weapon for us. He’s 260 pounds, he’s very nimble, very agile, and when he comes through he has to read the block, whether it’s a kick-out or a log block, and he doesn’t know where he’s going to go until after that block occurs, and he has the agility to make that decision and be a real force. And then at the point of attack Lee (Perkins) is a tremendous drive blocker. He has great pad level and great determination. The two of them are really combining to give us some good point-of-attack blocking.”

Why is Cody Kirk being used on special teams?
“We’re pretty thin again on our football team right now in terms of depth and guys we can put on special teams, so our current thought is to try to have every starter on one special team. So if you look around the football field you’ll see Cody Kirk on punt, you’ll see Deonte Flowers on punt, Bethley’s on punt, Bethley’s actually also on kickoff, he volunteered to be on a second unit. Cole Moore is on the kickoff team and also on the punt team. Just about every starter has some kind of role, the only guys that aren’t involved are the offensive linemen and the interior defensive linemen, and everyone ese needs to play on a special team. Cody likes it, he’s been good at it in the past, it’s where he started as a redshirt freshman. We do have backups for him and later in the game we’ll get him out once in a while, but it’s just part of being a team player in this year’s scenario for us in terms of our depth.”

Do you hold your breath on those plays when he’s on special teams?
“You know, a play’s a play, ultimately. He’s not really the focal point when he’s covering a punt like he is when he’s running the football so it’s probably actually a safer play then when he has the ball in his hands.”

Does it feel like this team is starting to come together coming into this bye week?
“You know, I think it kind of does. I like where we are right now. The last two games have been very positive in many respects. The defense is playing well, getting the run game back, DeNarius being back, all of those things are rounding into shape. It’s interesting with the special teams, I was talking to Coach DaPrato two weeks ago and he said, ‘Coach, it usually takes until the fifth game of the season for the special teams to really come together,’ and he said, ‘We’re about to go play game number five,’ and I felt last week our (special) teams were excellent, and this week another step forward, so that prophecy is kind of coming true and I feel really good going into the bye week. Now the thing we have to is sustain our momentum and not get stagnant here by being off for a whole week.”

What does it mean for you guys to beat Northern Arizona after they beat Montana?
“It’s all about how many numbers you have in the loss column. Any time we can have a zero there and other teams have one or more that’s an advantage for us. That’s all I really ever look at is how do we compare in the loss column to the other teams in the league, and right now we’re on schedule.”

After grinding for size weeks now you get a chance to take a breath, how do you keep the momentum going?
“I’m going to approach this year a little differently during the bye week than I have before because we’re so thin and so beat up. We actually are going to take some time off consciously this week for the ones especially and focus our practices on our twos and our freshmen. That will be really good for those guys. We’ll have some good developmental work that goes on this week in practice. I usually try to push our ones through this bye week with a lot of motivation about how other teams are getting better this week and we can’t fall behind them. But I’m not going to take that approach. This week we’re just going to rest up and get healed up. We’ll actually start (next) Sunday instead of Tuesday and get an extra day in for Weber State preparation. We’re getting after it starting Sunday.”

With so many guys getting injured does this bye week come at a good time?
“I think this is the perfect time. We’re going to play three more games in October so I might say (after them) that it would be perfect to have the bye in November. But it always comes at a good time. It’s probably better to have it mid-season or later. I think the early bye after one or two games is never as helpful as a mid-season. I like where this one fell this year.”

Can you update us on some injuries?
“Preston (Gale) is going to continue rehabbing this week and is scheduled to start practice again on Sunday with an eye on playing in the Weber State game. So he’s on schedule to come back. Barnett is still questionable. He’s still getting treatment on his neck so he’s not going to practice this week, but hopefully we’ll get him back. Fe’ao Vunipola should be able to come back. His concussion count has started so hopefully he’ll be able to come back. Having an extra week makes a big difference. And hopefully all the guys that got banged up a little bit in the game on Saturday, which includes DeNarius, Mike Foster, Cody Kirk, Devereux, just nagging things, they’ll be limited this week but they all should be ready to go for practice and the game next week. We’re actually in decent shape.” What about Tanner Roderick? “Roderick has a doctor’s appointment tonight, and he’s still on target. Six weeks would put him on the day of the Weber State game and that was the original prognosis. If he doesn’t practice prior to that time I think it will be hard for him to play against Weber State. The key is if he can get some practice time next week he should be able to come back, he might have some kind of bandage on his hand but he should be able to come back. He’s running now, so he’s on schedule.”

How have you seen Rory Perez grow in his time at MSU?
“I think last year he had a tremendous year as a place kicker, and he’s always been a good punter. I was really happy for him on Saturday to go three-for-three (on field goals). We’ve put him in some tough spots. I think his two misses prior to Saturday were both over 50 yards and very difficult kicks to try and we just haven’t got him some good slow softballs down the middle that he could hit out of the park. He got the first one, got in a groove, and now he’s rolling. And I don’t think it hurt him to kick nine extra points the previous week. He’s on a pretty good string right now if you think about all his kicks, he’s made most of them except the 50-yarders, so he’s in pretty good position.”

Does the extra points have a tangible success on his kicking?
“It’s one of those deals where if you make it it’s supposed to be that way but if you miss it it’s a disaster. Just the fact that he’s making it, getting the snap-hold-and-kick in live competition, with a rush, all that adds up to the confidence level.”

Does that make you re-evaluate the swinging gate stuff?
“I like the fact that he can get his kicks in. It’s a factor I hadn’t really considered when we began the swinging gate idea. I got to thinking early on it was knocking him out of some easy ways to improve his confidence, so we may try the swinging gate a little less moving forward but we’re not going to abandon it completely. I still like a lot of it.”

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