For the first time since 2010, the NDSU football coaches will be able to think about Christmas presents on Dec. 25 rather than game plans and film of the FCS national title opponent. It also means for the first time since 2010, looking ahead to the next season has already started. At the beginning of the season, which seems like a year ago, there were two veteran units that would have to be addressed after this season: three senior linebackers and three senior offensive linemen.
But the expected medical hardship for injured middle linebacker Nick DeLuca has lessened the who’s-next concern in this group. He’ll return as one of the top players in the FCS and one of the top linebackers in the country in any division. The starting spots for the two outside linebacker spots are expected to be a battle between returning players Levi Jordheim, Dan Marlette, Chris Board, Jake Brinkman, Aaron Mercadel and redshirt freshman Jabril Cox. The other question is this: how will Matt Plank, DeLuca’s replacement, figure into the lineup? Bison head coach Chris Klieman told me this week that decision won’t be addressed until the end of spring football.
DeLuca will not participate in spring drills, but he’s also capable of playing either the middle or strongside linebacker spots. It appears Plank is strictly a middle linebacker. “We’ll see how some of these younger guys progress before we make and decisions,” Klieman said.
Part of the equation, Klieman said, is who the Bison are playing in a particular game. For instance, for a wide receiver-heavy team like Eastern Washington could limit Plank’s reps. With a team that is more power-based in nature, you could see both DeLuca and Plank on the field.