NDSU will conclude spring football for 2016 on Saturday with the annual Green and Gold game, but this whole month seems seemingly dwarfed by the Carson Wentz hype machine and the potential of being a high draft pick. That doesn’t seem fair to the guys grinding away for 14 practices, but for the most part it’s been a pretty nondescript month for the five time champs. Some small injuries, nothing too major; some players stepping to the forefront, others still needing some more reps. Here are five players I’ve watched during spring practice that you should keep an eye on come Saturday afternoon.
- Colin Conner – Left Tackle. It may be a hard position to keep an eye on, but it’s certainly worth watching. Conner, a redshirt sophomore has had a great camp by all accounts. Offensive line coach Conor Riley said he has rolled with everything they have thrown at him, and will get every opportunity come fall camp to earn that starting spot. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that NDSU may move Landon Lechler over there from right tackle, but as of now Conner has earned the first licks. My TV story from earlier in spring ball.
- Stanley Jones – Defensive End. The sophomore from Bismarck has had an outstanding spring. Jones missed spring ball last year with a broken foot and wasn’t able to advance as fast as the coaching staff was hoping. Jones played in eleven games in 2015 and showed flashes of his speed and strength, finishing with 2.5 sacks. (Go back and watch the 2nd Montana game, Jones was tremendous, had 4 tackles, 2 for loss and a sack) He’s looked stronger and quicker this spring, he told me on Wednesday he’s been watching Greg Menard to try and replicate some of his techniques. Jones is a big key for that position group to give some much needed depth to Menard and Brad Ambrosius. Throw in the Tuszka brothers and Caleb Butler, there’s real potential at that spot.
- Dimitri Williams – Wide Receiver. One of the few true freshmen to play in 2015, Williams has had a big month. Because of the lack of depth at wide receiver, he and RJ Urzendowski have received a ton of reps this month and it’s benefited Williams. He played in 12 games last year, but had just two catches, many will remember his touchdown run against Missouri State and showing off some of that tremendous speed he possesses. He told me earlier this week, he doesn’t mean playing the slot or being split out wide. Look for him to have a big game on Saturday and potentially launch him into the fall.
- Tanner Volson – Center. The pride of Drake-Anamoose High School, Volson has really emerged up front. So much so that the coaching staff tells me they have no qualms about Volson getting reps at center in the first two games of the season. Volson has really progressed also to the point where the staff is contemplating moving Austin Kuhnert back to guard, that’s how pleased they are with Volson. This is his third year in the program after redshirting and that’s been the timeline all along for both Volson and his 9-man colleague; Luke Bacon. Each will be in what NDSU hopes to have a seven or eight man offensive line rotation.
- Jake Brinkman – Linebacker. Brinkman wraps up his first spring ball still with plenty to learn, but defensive coordinator Matt Entz seems to like where things are heading. This a position while not as much in need as cornerback, it’s not that far behind. NDSU can’t rely for a second straight year on Stumpf, DeLuca and Tucker not getting hurt. That’s why players like Brinkman, Aaron Mercadel and Matt Plank are so huge. Dan Marlette and Levi Jordheim are also in the mix, but Marlette hurt his knee and is likely out for Saturday, while Jordheim is still working his way back from injury. Keep an eye on Brinkman and the other linebackers on Saturday.
- Two bonus picks – Blake Williams and Dallas Freeman. Williams, who was a high profile recruit out of Michigan, seems now to be grasping things on defense and Freeman has really excelled with more reps at wide receiver. Could be big players come Saturday.
Reminder, our usual routine returns on Saturday, Kolpack and Izzo will be live from the tailgate lot at 9 am on 970 WDAY, our pregame and postgame shows can be found here. The ring ceremony guarantees to be a loud and emotional day with the seniors returning.