Spring football: defensive ends battling it out



 

Last year, it was Kyle Emanuel and Mike Hardie at defensive end and that was about it — until Hardie was injured and Brad Ambrosius developed into a dependable backup. Later in the season, the Bison brought true freshman Greg Menard up to standards and he contributed in the playoff run. This year? With Emanuel and Hardie gone, it will be back to more of a four-, or possibly a five-, player rotation. Ambrosius and Menard are the starters and that will probably hold serve until the season opener. But a couple of young players have entered the picture in sophomore Jarrod Tuszka and redshirt freshman Caleb Butler. Moreover, the Bison coaches are anxiously awaiting to see Stanley Jones return from an injury and see what he has. The word on Jones is he’s made positive weight gains to go with his athletic frame. Sophomore Alex Hahn, once listed as the backup to Ambrosius, has fallen out of the picture.

Defensive ends coach Jamar Cain said he also would have no problem playing a true freshman if needed, much like the BIson did with Menard last season. NDSU signed Cole Karsz from Germantown, Wis., and Derrek Tuszka, Jarrod’s brother, from Warner, S.D., at that position. Jarrod Tuszka, by the way, has come miles from having to sit out his first season with an Achilles tendon injury suffered in a high school track meet and adapting to the 11-man FCS game from 9-man high school ball.

Also in spring ball:

  • Head coach Chris Klieman said the depth chart didn’t move much after last Saturday’s first scrimmage. The Bison will do it again this Saturday with the final test the annual Spring Game on April 25.
  • Klieman said he’s pleased with the development of sophomore strong safety Chris Board. “He was a concern for me,” he said. “Chris and I talked about it — talked about his knowledge of the game so he can play fast. It never clicked for Chris up until this spring and it’s not all clicked but he’s understanding it much better.” Klieman said Board spent a lot of time over the winter watching cutup clips of departed Bison safeties Colten Heagle and Christian Dudzik.
  • Klieman said he was impressed with his wide receivers, including in drills that didn’t involve catching the ball. Darrius Shepherd, for instance, may see time on special teams. “We wanted some wide outs to portray that role on a kickoff or punt and he came up and stroked some guys,” he said. “We’re trying to find some ways to get some wide receivers on the field even if it’s on a punt, punt defense or kickoff and some of those guys showed up today.”
  • Klieman said the kicker job will go into the fall between junior Tom Barneson, redshirt freshman walkon Ian Gallagher and preferred walkon recruit Cam Pedersen from Eau Claire, Wis. Klieman said punter Ben LeCompte hasn’t been ruled out of doing the kicking, either.

It’s Coming

Monday could go down as a landmark day for mid-major sports. Yesterday we found out that the Horizon League approved the new cost of attendance measure; mandating it in men’s basketball and for at least an equal number of female student-athletes in league sponsored sports. Our friend Joe Scalzo from the Youngstown Vindicator reports that Youngstown State will fund women’s basketball and the eight other schools in the league are expected to do the same. The stipend is projected to cost between 2,000-4,000 dollars.

For those that don’t know “cost of attendance” covers things beyond tuition, room and board, such as transportation for athletes to go home or other academic-related supplies.

Liberty will add cost of attendance to its football program in 2015.

Liberty will add cost of attendance to its football program in 2015.

The second big announcement on cost of attendance came courtesy of FootballScoop.com, which reported that Liberty would start to offer COA to its football team starting this fall. (The measure goes into effect August 1st). The Flames would become the first FCS program to go that route. The move shouldn’t surprise that many that follow FCS football closely, Liberty has been trying the last two years to move up to FBS and this can be viewed by Conference USA or the Sun Belt as a legitimate reason to add them to their league. But it also can serve as a alarm for rival or similar-minded schools at the FCS level that the train is leaving the station and you had better get on board.

That brings me to NDSU. Athletic Director Matt Larsen told me in February that the school was in a “wait and see” approach on how things were going to shake out with COA, but may have their hands forced depending on what other schools went forward with the measure. This is in my mind the first step to having NDSU make a decision on approving COA.

Let’s start with the Horizon League. A basketball-first conference, made up of nine schools, only two of which play football (Valpo and Youngstown), similar to the Summit, a conference of nine schools, where just four play football. This move by the Horizon signals they’re putting their eggs in the supposed basketball basket, which is no surprise, that’s the most recognizable sport in the league. The Summit however, is not in that same spot, the league does not have the television visibility of the Horizon and frankly hasn’t had the postseason success the Horizon has had.

The Missouri Valley Football Conference has bragged and rightfully so in my mind the last two years about being the best league in FCS. Seeing a team from the Big South approve COA is only going to push the issue in the Valley. UNI has to be considering it for basketball, just to stay competitive in that league, but what happens to football? You know the Panthers don’t want to fall behind NDSU if the Bison sign off on COA. Same can be said about SDSU and Youngstown. Perhaps more importantly in this discussion, is how many schools can actually afford to do this? Larsen told me that he believes it would cost 3,400 dollars a year on cost of attendance and if you offer for football at NDSU, what female sports will get it?

You know that if Liberty is moving forward with COA, that Coastal Carolina (its biggest rival) won’t be that far behind. And Bison fans saw first hand how the Chanticleers football program has improved. It’s about keeping up or staying ahead of the Joneses. With these decisions yesterday, expect something by this summer from NDSU about approving COA.

Couple of other basketball notes, Fargo North standout Siman Sem has been offered a scholarship. He’s going to be a junior next year, more on that story, click here. Also Maren Walseth has lost one of her top scorers from this past season in Kahla Becken, who has to quit the game after suffering a third concussion. Leaves NDSU with three open scholarships for next season.

Bison scrimmage: score a victory for the offense

The offense is ahead of the defense, that much is certain of today’s first scrimmage of NDSU spring football. It also was to be expected considering the Bison lost some heavy hitters on defense from last year. “We weren’t as sharp defensively but give credit to the offense,” said head coach Chris Klieman. “I think they’re a step ahead right now.”

Try these stats on for being a step ahead: Quarterback Carson Wentz was 10 of 12 passing for 158 yards and three touchdowns. Running back Lance Dunn had 135 yards on 13 carries including a 98-yard touchdown run when he showed his 100-meter high school track speed. “He’s a home run hitter,” Klieman said. “When he broke outside, I raised my hands up; it was a touchdown. Nobody was going to catch him.”

Four players had touchdown receptions in Andrew Bonnet, Zach Vraa, Tyler Wrice and Khayvon Hawkins. The fact veterans like Vraa are not being held back from contact (unlike the last two springs) is a testament to a more physical approach the Bison are taking with a younger team. Freshman linebacker Levi Jordheim (story in Sunday’s Forum) and freshman safety Isaac Cenescar had five tackles each. Sophomore safety Chris Board had an interception.

“This is the first time since I’ve been here that we had this long of a scrimmage with this much contact,” Klieman said, “where we didn’t hold out like 13 kids who played 55, 60 games. Everybody was live that could go live today with the exception of Carson. It will give us a great evaluation to see where we’re at.”

Klieman said there were no injuries of significance. Defensive tackle Nate Tanguay and offensive tackle Landon Lechler will probably be held out the rest of the spring with sprained ankles. In the backup quarterback battle department, sophomore Cole Davis was 6 for 12 for 82 yards, no touchdowns and an interception and freshman Easton Stick was 4 of 7 for 42 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions.

Even the quarterbacks subject to getting pancaked this spring

The defense will have to lay off Carson Wentz, but everybody else is fair game this spring.

The defense will have to lay off Carson Wentz, but everybody else is fair game this spring.

It was last year in spring football when there seemingly were more starters held out than starters on the field. It was a result of two things: a lot of “maintenance” type surgeries that several players underwent — like bad shoulders — and a group of players that played the equivalent of four seasons worth of games in three years. They almost were approaching NFL-length seasons. So the coaching staff made the decision that even veterans who were somewhat healthy were going to be held out of contact drills.

Here was the inactive list for the 2014 annual Spring Game: C.J. Smith, Adam Keller, Colten Heagle, King Frazier, Jedre Cyr, Carlton Littlejohn, Travis Beck, Alex Hahn, Zack Johnson, Nate Moody, DeSean Warren and Luke Albers. A few other veterans hardly played at all in that game. The inactive list for the 2013 game was worse: Trevor Gebhart, Ryan Smith, Zach Colvin, Cooper Wahlo Jr., Derek McGinnis, Colten Heagle, John Crockett, Joey Blackmore, Darius Anderson, Francisco Hardacker, Tyler Gefroh, Ryan Drevlow, Josh Colville, Jason Pomerenke, DeSean Warren, Kevin Vaadeland, Taylor Nelson, Brett Pierce, Cole Jirik and Austin Farnlof.

I don’t get the sense that is the case this year and evidence of that is the number of players who are not going live in Saturday’s first intrasquad scrimmage. One. And that would be quarterback Carson Wentz, who probably given the choice would prefer to go live but head coach Chris Klieman is not about to mess with his franchise player. “We will not have him live all spring,” he said, with an obvious-statement tone to his voice. Interesting, however, that backup quarterbacks Cole Davis and Easton Stick are going full boat, something that hasn’t happened in recent years. These scrimmages always meant the quarterbacks wore the red jersey (or in the case of the Spring Game a white jersey), meaning two-hand touch on them.

That backup quarterback battle will most likely go into fall camp. If pressed now, Klieman would probably go with Davis because of the number of reps he’s had in the last two years. “But Easton’s athleticism is so intriguing,” Klieman said, “that we want to see him in a scrimmage situation. We’ll have those two quarterbacks in particular live in the spring, which we haven’t done in the past.”

It’s a running back committee of three members now

Chase Morlock

Chase Morlock

a-dunn

Lance Dunn

a-frazier

King Frazier

 

After six practices, it’s becoming obvious the Bison will go with a three-man backfield rotation for the remainder of spring practice and most likely into fall camp. The emergence of freshman Lance Dunn (story in Thursday’s Forum) is the biggest reason for the committee approach to tailback. On that note, it appears there won’t be the John Crockett, one-tailback look to the offense, either.

NDSU is making an emphasis to be multiple in that Chase Morlock has been playing tailback, fullback and some receiver. Not sure there’s more a tailback can do than that but Morlock saw a bit of the tailback-fullback dual role last season. He was the fullback on NDSU’s game-winning driving in the FCS title game against Illinois State. Dunn is the fastest of the three so his role besides special teams next year will probably be that changeup look to a defense from Morlock and Frazier, who are a little more physical. Dunn wasn’t in the best of shape when he came in as a 195-pound true freshman, but is up to 205 now and has embraced the offseason conditioning tutelage of strength and conditioning coach Jim Kramer.

“We’re not looking at it from a standpoint of who is 1, 2 and 3,” offensive coordinator Tim Polasek said of the running back depth chart. “I think it’s going to a unique, fun year.”

Head coach Chris Klieman said there are the usual assortment of minor injuries, especially on the offense and defensive lines that have cut into depth, but nothing significant that will keep a player out more than a week. NDSU has its first intrasquad scrimmage on Saturday, so Klieman said any depth chart changes or position changes will wait until after that. Of the redshirt freshmen, offensive linemen Luke Bacon and Colin Conner have worked some reps with the No. 1 offense and Klieman likes the progress of outside linebackers Dan Marlette and Levi Jordheim and receivers Khayvon Hawkins and Darrius Shepherd as well as Dunn at running back. “But we need to see them in live action,” Klieman said.

Big spring for Bison to establish competency at safety and OLB

It’s been interesting to see the new coaching staff taking shape and the philosophies of new head coach Bob Stitt at the University of Montana. Lately, some NFL teams have been paying attention to what’s going on with the Grizzlies with Minnesota Vikings quarterback coach Scott Turner even traveling to Missoula to pick Stitt’s brain on his spread offense. At the Colorado School of Mines, he instilled life into a program that was once considered unwinnable with an offense that used receivers, motion and a lot of different looks to confuse defenses.

One state over to the east, North Dakota State has entered into its second week of spring football and a position of note will probably come into play next Aug. 30 when the Bison travel to Montana: the defensive backfield. NDSU returns its starting cornerbacks in C.J. Smith and Jordan Champion, but you can bet Stitt will be game planning for the new starting safeties and the new starting outside linebackers, who will probably be playing a lot of pass coverage. This is a big spring for the Bison to establish competence at safety with sophomore Tre Dempsey currently starting at free safety and sophomore Chis Board at strong safety. I’ll be curious to see if freshman Jalen Allison sees the rotation with his speed and athleticism.

It’s not too early to look ahead to the season opener because you can bet NDSU and Montana are. Helping NDSU is the Grizzlies will have a rookie starting quarterback to operate Stitt’s offense. But it remains to be seen if the NDSU defensive backfield will be able to handle the schemes.

 

Kolpack & No-Izzo

The lineup of guests for Kolpack & Izzo Saturday morning from 9-11 a.m. on WDAY AM-970, WDAY.com or the smartphone app. (No Izzo, Big E taking his place and the Beltmaster promises to bring a hard edge):

9:32 a.m.: NDSU offensive line coach Conor Riley. 10:05 a.m.: Lynn Dorn in studio. 10:32: Mark Knutson as the marathon is getting cranked up. 10:47: Brad Schlossman on the upcoming Frozen Four.

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Big day for the Bison and the Big 12

As the college sports world convenes in Indianapolis this weekend for the Final Four, NDSU athletic director Matt Larsen will be brushing shoulders with all of the blue bloods in the NCAA from Kentucky to Kansas. In a short amount of time, his school will be included in a blue blood conference.

News broke on Friday that North Dakota State will be added as an affiliate member to the Big 12 wrestling conference for the 2015-16 season. OSU head coach John Smith told the school’s newspaper that NDSU and the other five Western Wrestling schools (SDSU, Northern Colorado, Air Force, Wyoming and Utah Valley) will join up with Iowa State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and West Virginia.

The significance of this move probably can’t be understated; for NDSU it’s a chance to have its wrestlers go up against the best in the nation. It’s also an opportunity for the Bison to welcome Iowa State, Oklahoma State and OU on a regular basis to Fargo and the brand new SHAC.

As one Twitter follower pointed out to me; “what other scheduling possibility could come from this?” Football may be off the table after NDSU improved to 3-1 against the Big 12 last year. Read Jeff’s story here.

An Added Boost

With spring football underway, there’s another crop of walk-ons that are threatening to get some major time this upcoming fall. Wanted to focus on how impressive NDSU’s walk-on program has been in recent years, here’s the story that ran on WDAY Wednesday night:


The theory of the program’s decline

Katie Lorenz reacts after a buzzer-beating shot against SDSU in 2005

Katie Lorenz reacts after a buzzer-beating shot against SDSU in 2005

The subject of the women’s basketball program came up in my retirement discussion with Lynn Dorn the other day, while over coffee at the Memorial Union. Obviously it was the source of pride at the university for many years with its five Division II national championships in the 1990s. Naturally, the next question was: what happened?

Her theory probably makes the most sense. The Bison entered the Division I transition in 2004 with a mostly-veteran team of seniors Leah Klabo, Amanda Krenz and Lacey Johnson and juniors Katie Lorenz and Amanda Girodat. Add sophomore centers Brandee Gibbs and Danni Heintzelman and freshman guard Lisa Bue and that’s a pretty solid lineup, If the Bison had that kind of rotation this season, they would have had a golden chance to make the NCAA tournament and Maren Walseth would have been hands down the coach of the year. You put those eight against the current rotation of eight and you get a sense of the dropoff.

The problem with going into a transition with a veteran team in 2004 is trying to recruit behind it to a Division I reclassification where you’re not eligible for postseason. This is where South Dakota State put its program in overdrive. By the 2006 and 2007 range of seasons, the Jacks had the veteran team with the likes of Megan Vogel, Andrea Verdegan, Jennifer Warkenthien, Courtney Grimsrud and Ashlea Muckenhirn, The Bison never caught up. Is that what happened? Dorn just shook her head as to say yes.

The Jacks took the lead in recruiting and never let off the gas. NDSU swept the Jackrabbits in the 2004-05 season and that hasn’t happened since. Certainly there were other factors like facilities, poor talent evaluation and other Division I schools recruiting the Dakotas more, but there are oh-so-many women’s basketball Division I players in the Dakotas and Minnesota and if SDSU is beating you to those players time and again, the result is what you see at NDSU.