It was a subtle few plays, but when Jackson Hankey came in at linebacker in the first half last week against Illinois State, it was a major statement from the Bison coaching staff on their redshirt freshman from Park River, N.D. They trust the kid. You don’t play linebacker at North Dakota State unless you know your stuff.
The reason was the personnel Illinois State had in the game, said Bison head coach Chris Klieman. The Redbirds went to a power-based offensive package and Hankey’s strength is his physical style of play. Look for Hankey to play more when teams go to a two-tight end set or a two-running back look. Plus, it gave the Bison a chance to rest starting middle linebacker Dan Marlette.
Marlette had to play more on special teams against Illinois State because of the injury to running back Bruce Anderson, who also plays on special teams. Marlette was on the punt coverage team.
“That’s a special team that you want to make sure you have not only the best guys on it but your most reliable guys,” Klieman said. “Guys that have experience. When Bruce left that team, we had to have Dan step up there so we wanted to get him a couple snaps off on defense.”
It’s doubtful Hankey will get many plays on Saturday against South Dakota. The Coyotes have a spread offense with multiple receivers. Instead of Hankey, it’s probaby more of a game for junior Jaxon Brown as a primary backup at linebacker.