Return of Johnson adds to class consistency of offensive line

Contrary to some opinions, NDSU isn’t scheduling spring football practices at 7:15 a.m. to keep the night-owl TV folks from not sleeping much. It just happens to be the best time where the most players don’t have class. Head coach Chris Klieman said a lot of players have class from 3 to 6 p.m., so the football team had to adjust. Chalk another victory up for the bubble, which makes 7:15 a.m. not such a chilly morning practicing outside.

On the field, junior Zack Johnson was trying to get back into football shape after missing all of last season rehabilitating a microfracture injury in his knee. (Story on Zack going in Tuesday’s Forum). Johnson is part of a unit that looks to be a strength of the team next season; the Bison will return six starters who have starting experience in left tackle Joe Haeg, left guard Johnson, center Austin Kuhnert (moved from guard), right guard Jeremy Kelly and right tackles Landon Lechler and Jack Plankers. “That improves a lot of the competition that we have,” said offensive line coach Conor Riley, “and you also have guys who are veterans.”

The key for offensive line consistency from year to year is recruiting and spacing the classes out. For instance, in the current two deep chart, NDSU has two seniors (Haeg and Kelly), three juniors (Johnson, Lechler, Plankers), four sophomores (LT Erik Olson, Kuhnert, C Max Polson, RG Zack Ziemer) and one redshirt freshman (LG Tanner Volson). Moreover, Riley said freshman Colin Conner has made strides early in camp.

“We don’t want to overload where we have a class of five guys and behind them a class of no guys,” Riley said. “Our goal in recruiting is to sign, minimally and in an ideal world if coach Klieman will let me, about three guys a year. That spaces it out pretty well for us.”

Bison Video Blog: Spring Football Preview Part Three with Chris Klieman

NDSU began spring football yesterday at the Dacotah Field bubble, they have some crazy early start times today and Wednesday at 7:15 AM (the TV sports guy in me has a hard time getting up that early, but will be at practice Wednesday). Here’s part three of my conversation with Klieman discussing Zach Vraa’s return, emerging wide receivers and the impact of true freshmen.


Bison Video Blog: Chris Klieman Spring Preview Part 1

Spring practice begins on Sunday for NDSU, this is the first session in at least three years that I can remember where actual positions are up for grabs and genuine competition can be held for linebacker, safety and defensive end. I asked head coach Chris Klieman about a variety of topics, part one topics about the transition to a much younger team.


Pro Day 2015

North Dakota State’s 2015 Pro Day had a different feeling than the past six that I’ve covered: ESPN. The Worldwide Leader was in Fargo following John Crockett, as they have been since the FCS Championship Game against Illinois State Crockett will be featured as part of ESPN’s Draft Academy, along with Jameis Winston, Melvin Gordon and Todd Gurley. The first episode will run on Tuesday, April 14th.

John Crockett in action at NDSU Pro Day.

John Crockett in action at NDSU Pro Day.

Crockett did not participate in most of the drills since he did them all at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis, he did do the 60 yard shuttle, the one event he did not do at the Combine. He told me afterwards, “Any time you get a chance to show  what you can do and show your skill set it’s always a plus, thing about it I haven’t run the 60 yard shuttle yet, so to get that out there, get everything done, done all I can do to be an NFL Draft pick.”

Kyle Emanuel also did some limited work, mostly working on defensive drills, he did however catch some passes, raising eyebrows about potential in an offensive role. Emanuel says “he’s shone the ability to play linebacker and the goal isn’t being drafted, it’s making a team.” My money is the Buchanan award winner gets drafted sometime on Saturday (Rds 4-7).

Christian Dudzik, Cole Jirik, Zach Colvin, Jeremy Gordon and Carlton Littlejohn all worked out for the scouts. Philadelphia, Minnesota and Jacksonville were on hand. Jirik told me he was nervous, that he’s been waiting a year to get back to this spot after rehabbing, Jirik believes linebacker may be the best spot for him as well.

Adam Keller participated in drills before the media was allowed in and he told me he connected on 11 of 13 field goals, including a long of 58 yards. His career long was 50 yards against Indiana State. He’s healthy and showing off a strong leg, I think a free agent deal may be in his future.

It’s always hard to predict how these days went, especially without getting official times on 40’s and things like that. All I can say the crowds continue to get larger at NDSU pro day. For Bison fans if 2015 goes as they hope, pro day next March could be very interesting with Carson Wentz, Joe Haeg and Ben LeCompte.

Welcome to the Spring

I hope everyone enjoyed that six week break from college football as the sport returns to our radars on Sunday. First a thank you to Jody Norstedt from doing a great job of covering the Bison basketball team at the Summit League Tournament and NCAA Tournament while I was doing the play by play on the North Dakota state tournaments.

Harvey native M.J. Stumpf has a chance to step up this spring ball.

Harvey native M.J. Stumpf has a chance to step up this spring ball.

I visited with head coach Chris Klieman to preview the upcoming month of spring football, the interview will air later this week on WDAY and in its entirety here on the blog, we’ll give you plenty of heads up on that. Some of the highlights here before the first practice, which comes on Sunday at 2:30.

  • The team is relatively healthy heading into the spring. There are a few notable injuries; first starting right guard Jeremy Kelly will miss the entire spring after having surgery on his back, but will be ready for fall camp. Wide receiver Nate Moody, back for his fifth year, after sitting out last year with a redshirt will miss the spring as well recovering from a knee injury. Defensive tackle Austin Farnlof who injured his knee again during the season will also miss the spring. Zach Vraa is healthy, but will see limited reps over the next month, likely working in drills but not participating in the scrimmages.
  • There are a couple of positions that Klieman will be keeping a close eye on this spring; linebacker and safety. Klieman says Harvey native M.J. Stumpf will get the first crack at outside linebacker. Klieman said he likes what Stumpf has brought to special teams over the last two years and knows “he won’t be handed that position.” Klieman added that redshirt freshman Dan Marlette and Levi Jordheim will be pushing for playing time and finding the right six linebackers is important heading into the fall.
  • Couple of other position changes, Austin Kuhnert will be moving to center from left guard, a spot he started at in 11 games during his redshirt freshman season. Tre Dempsey will move from cornerback to free safety.
  • There was one other player that left the team besides the departures of Derek McGinnis, DeSean Warren and Dee Gray, tight end Marcus Collins. Most fans will remember Collins enrolled early last spring, but redshirted this past season. Klieman says a health issue will prevent Collins from playing football, but is still enrolled in school.

Those are just some of the talking points from our interview, more coming in the next few days as spring football gets going! Klieman will also be on Kolpack and Izzo Saturday morning at 10:05.

Saturday’s hot links

bisontoday

  • The No. 15 Bison never let No. 2 Gonzaga out of their sights. A early lead evaporated into a 12-0 Gonzaga run and despite a surge in the second half, NDSU falls by 10 in Seattle’s Key Arena. PHOTOS.
  • Kevin Schnepf writes about why NDSU should be pleased for a grand showing on the big stage. The expectations surely weren’t to make a return trip the Big Dance, but it happened.
  • Dexter Werner’s 22-point night highlighted by an off-balanced, feet-moving-everywhere, bank shot during a second-half Bison run had the Bismarck big man trending on Twitter.
  • From the Spokesman-Review, the Zags wouldn’t mind taking Werner along. Gonzaga impressed with the Bison big man. And read the gamer here.
  • Bison wrestlers advance to medal round.

Friday’s hot links

bisontoday

NCAA men’s basketball tournament coverage

No. 15 NDSU vs. No. 2 Gonzaga

When: Second round, 8:50 tonight  Where: Seattle  TV: TNT  Radio: 790-AM

Other NDSU sports