IRVING, TX - MAY 5: Caleb McSurdy #56 of the Dallas Cowboys works out during rookie mini camp on May 5, 2012 at the Valley Ranch Complex in Irving, Texas. (Photo by Layne Murdoch/Getty Images)
The sixth in a series of Q&A's about the Cowboys draft class of 2012 with the people who knew them best: the writers who covered them in college.
An interview with Fritz Neighbor, a staff writer over at the Missoulian whose covered Montana football since 2004.
1) How is the level of competition at the FCS level? How many guys typically move on to the NFL in a given year and what type of an adjustment process will McSurdy face?
Across the board the FCS isn't as deep or talented as the Bowl Subdivision, but I like to think there are 5-10 players on the Griz who could play at the FBS level. I figure 3-8 Big Sky players, through the draft and free agency, head to the NFL each season. It'll be more now, since we can count Cal Poly (which had cornerback Asa Jackson selected in the NFL Draft).
McSurdy's biggest adjustment will be the speed of the game. He's got the smarts and the physicalness, but he also sat behind an almost-every down player for the Griz (Shawn Lebsock) for two seasons. McSurdy's speed/quickness really seemed to take a jump from his junior to seniors seasons. That's a credit to him, and tells me he can adjust again.
2) In general, how big a deal is FCS football in the Northwest? How popular is Montana football in the state?
In Montana and Eastern Washington it's a pretty big deal, but many times Montana goes on the road the Griz have had nearly as many -- if not more -- fans than the host team. This goes for Portland State and Idaho State, though Eastern Washington has certainly become a big rival with large home crowds. With Boise State, Oregon and Oregon State, Washington and Washington State, Utah ... the FBS is bigger.
That said, Griz football is a huge deal in the state and outside it. I personally know people who drive 9 hours one way for a game, then turn around and back to Sidney or Plentywood on Sunday. The popularity of the Griz makes a huge impact on the local business community. For the better part of 15 years, with few exceptions, every game has been televised live state-wide. For a long time I included satellite coordinates in my game previews so people around the country could go to a local bar and get the game. Just in case people had trouble working a satellite transponder, I included the number of a troubleshooter: Bob Bonner, the proprietor of the Torrey Pines Pub in Las Vegas, where fans show up to watch the Griz every game day.
3) What type of defense did the Grizzlies run last year and what were McSurdy's responsibilities?
McSurdy played for two years under defensive coordinator Mike Breske, who has since become the DC at Washington State. Breske liked to run the 3-4 as well as the 4-3 and blitzed a ton, and McSurdy did it all: one-on-one coverage in the slot, zone coverage, blitzing, gap fills. Montana certainly had a tough time with Sam Houston State in the FCS semifinals, the linebackers in particular. But the play McSurdy made before halftime was so good: He ran a delayed blitz, then jumped and batted the pass from Brian Bell. Then he caught it and ran 61 yards past an offense with a ton of speed.
4) Can he step in and contribute on special teams right away?
Absolutely, and in fact that's what he's shooting for. He's a bright, smart, strong and fast football player. I think he could be a major factor on special teams.
5) What would you say is his ceiling as an NFL player?
Well, two years ago I would not have predicted Caleb McSurdy would get drafted, so maybe I'm not the best guy to ask. But given what I've seen since, I predict his smarts and work ethic can make him an impact player on defense in 2 or 3 seasons.