The top five position battles to watch in the annual Green vs. Gold Spring Game on Saturday:
- 1. Running back. Sam Ojuri and his 1,105 yards from last year is the undisputed No. 1 back. But NDSU has always tried to rely on at least two guys and this spring, freshman Matt Jones has shown some promise to be the top backup. And the top backup, in the case of Ojuri last year, can sometimes be the season rushing leader. Jones has shown some good change in direction and has shown an ability to run between the tackles. Junior Derrick Lang is dependable and that is never a bad thing in the backfield. Also, in the fall, NDSU is expecting 2010 recruit John Crockett and junior college transfer Deveon Dinwiddie.
- 2. Tight end. A valuable receiving position in the West Coast offense. Landon Smith had a fine senior season in 2010 and Matt Veldman saved his best for last in 2011. There’s no absence of candidates for next fall starting with senior Garrett Bruhn who averaged 13.2 yards on 11 receptions last year. Junior Taylor Nelson has been in the program long enough to start contributing and the coaches say junior Kevin Vaadeland is beginning to make big strides now that he’s healthy. Freshman Luke Albers caught a touchdown pass in the last scrimmage and freshman Derek Lee was a big recruit a year ago.
- 3. Quarterback. Junior Brock Jensen will wear a red shirt and not be able to get hit, but he and the No. 1 offense could use a good performance after last Saturday’s so-so day. Sophomore Esley Thorton will have control of the other team now that freshman Carson Wentz most likely won’t play because of an ankle sprain. Head coach Craig Bohl said today there’s a 99.9 percent he won’t go. This could be a chance for Thorton to solidify his top backup status.
- 4. Wide receiver. The only proven performer is junior Ryan Smith. Somebody needs to be the breakout guy opposite Smith and the top candidates are Cooper Wahlo or Trevor Gebhart. It will be the first spring games for Andrew Oakland and Nate Moody, a chance for them to shine. If nobody surges forward, and this may happen anyway, then one of the incoming freshmen — DeSean Warren, Dee Gray and Carey Woods — will probably play right away.
- 5. Free safety. There are not many question marks on defense, but free safety will have a new starter — even if the players are not new to being on the field. Sophomore Christian Dudzik and junior Bryan Shepherd are locked in a tight battle to replace Danny Eaves and/or John Pike. Dudzik was solid at cornerback last year and Shepherd came on to provide valuable minutes.
DOM’S NOTES: (Couple players/positions to watch on Saturday)
- Specialists: Ben LeCompte and Adam Keller each will have the spotlight on them for the first time on Saturday. These are two guys that were recruited for their specific positions, Keller as placekicker and LeCompte at punter. Keller has battled hamstring/leg injuries since he arrived in Fargo, we finally got to see him kick last Saturday at the 2nd scrimmage. He has some big shoes to follow, Ryan Jastram was sensational last year, his 53 yard FG against James Madison I believe won the game against the Dukes in the playoffs. As for LeCompte, he inherits a positon that NDSU has shone at over the last few years, Mike Dragosavich got NFL looks, John Prelvitz was an All-American and Matt Voigtlander did a nice job. Really curious to see how they step up.
- DeShawn Dinwiddie: The 6’2 sophomore linebacker from Kansas saw some brief playing time on special teams last year and is being counted on for a big year. When asked who in the linebacker core could be special, former captain Preston Evans told me, “Dinwiddie”. Last spring we saw the emergence of Carlton Littlejohn and Travis Beck, NDSU is counting on seeing the same type of progression out of number 51.
- Brian Schaetz: If you follow the blog regularly, this is a walk-on from small Denmark, Wisconsin; who has really impressed the coaching staff with his toughness and his play making ability. He traveled in a backup role last year to Western Illinois. He manhandled Esley Thorton in the first scrimmage. In a already loaded position, Schaetz may emerge to get some PT depending on the game Saturday and fall camp.
- Mike Hardie: The Sioux Falls product has exploded this spring, in terms of size (now 6’5, 244) and in terms of production. His high school coach told me when he verballed he was the best prospect in South Dakota, and call me crazy but he can be the next Coulter Boyer. Hardie has the speed and size to be a QB’s worst nightmare and has shown flashes of it this spring. Look for him on Saturday to make an impact.
- Jason Pomerenke/Anthony Lavoy: The concerns on the offensive line have been addressed several times, NDSU brings back three solid starters up front in Turner, Lund and Gimmestad. Replacing two guys that seven years of starting experience will be tough, but NDSU is super high on Lavoy and Pomerenke. Scott Fuchs has been a busy man this spring trying to get this unit ready for the Green and Gold game, I’m curious to see how these guys, along with Jesse Hinz (who started in the playoff stretch of 2010 after Lund broke his leg) will perform on Saturday.
It’s going to be a fun day Saturday, the presentation of the championship rings, we’ll have full coverage on the blog and our Spring Game Video PostGame Show that day as well, looking forward to it!