Dome sweet dome?

After Kyle Emanuel went in the fifth round to the Chargers, the other Bison in the mix got into the free agent frenzy. I thought John Crockett going to the Green Bay Packers was a good fit, in that the Packers seem to use those tougher, West Coast offense-style runners with the penchant for getting a 10-yard burst. Crockett has shown the ability to catch the ball, which fits with the Aaron Rodgers scheme, and is decent at pass protection.

The interesting no-signing was kicker Adam Keller getting invited to mini-camps with the Vikings and Saints. They are both dome teams and NDSU sports information director Ryan Perreault tweeted out a stat that would make the Izzo Nerd Stat collection jealous: Keller was 42 or 51 on field goals booted indoors with a long of 50. Maybe Keller can find the right fit, also.

Writing a book: if dad could do it, I guess I can, too

It was over a year ago when my two older brothers started seriously pinging me about writing the sequel to dad’s book, which is a historical perspective of Bison football from the mid 1960s to the early 1990s. My standard answer was this: If they win four in a row, then I’ll do it, not thinking NDSU would win four FCS titles in a row.

Well, they did.

So a week later, after returning from Frisco, I held my word and started it. The goal was simple: try to do something every day, whether it was one sentence or a couple of hours. Just go with it. I did not research or Google “how to write a book.” I went into it with no preconceived ideas; just start writing. At the time, a college friend of mine sent me the following quote from Winston Churchill:

“Writing a book is an adventure. To begin with it is a toy and an amusement. Then it becomes a mistress, then it becomes a master, then it becomes a tyrant. The last phase is that just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster and fling him to the public.”

Where am I on this journey? Probably somewhere between master and tyrant — I’m about 55,000 words into it. I can’t wait for the monster phase. My first call was to Joe Chapman and it was returned within a day. I called Gene Taylor not long after hoping he had plans to return to Fargo sometime this spring, since his daughter still goes to school here. He didn’t, so we decided to set up a phone conversation at some point. So what happens? NDSU makes the NCAA basketball regional in Seattle, the same bracket as the University of Iowa, where Taylor is deputy athletic director. Gene’s hotel was two blocks from mine. Some things are just meant to be. I still have yet to contact the architect of the dynasty, Craig Bohl, but let this serve as a public notice that I’ll be calling.

The genesis of the story is the Division I years, although it seems the Montana win in 2003 is the general starting point. I’m not sure what the finish line is, but I’ll know when I’ve reached it — hopefully it will be in the next couple months. I don’t have a firm plan in publishing it, either, but that’s not the goal. The goal is to write dad’s sequel  and keep me financially out of the picture as much as possible. I don’t want to be peddling books. Maybe strictly Kindle is the way to go; I don’t know. Somebody asked if dad’s book was still available; I believe they can be found on Amazon but not sure how many. His title was “Bison Football: Three Decades of Excellence.” I still haven’t really put much thought into what I’m going to call this monster, although the thought right now is “Horns Up,” and then some sort of dynasty subhed. I’m taking suggestions so please don’t hesitate to comment.

Over a decade ago, I had a nice conversation with Christina Baker Kline, the best-selling author who married my high school classmate. We talked about books and writing and all that and I essentially left thinking I could do a project within a year or two. Well, Christina, it took a lot longer but here it goes.

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.

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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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.

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.”