A Different kind of countdown

The countdown to 2015 is underway. (Photo courtesy: Dave Samson)

The countdown to 2015 is underway. (Photo courtesy: Dave Samson)

Avid readers of the blog will remember the daily 100 NerdStat countdown that we did a couple years ago in 2013 in leading up to the Kansas State game, I’ve decided to try it again, with a bit of a tweak, head here for your daily update. New position preview on the linebackers hits the blog tomorrow. Enjoy your holiday weekend!

Bison Video Blog: Softball update, special teams position previews

Join WDAY sports director Dom Izzo and The Forum’s Jeff Kolpack for the latest Bison Video Blog. Jeff and Dom will update you with a few notes about Bison softball, breaking news on Missouri Valley all-star facing a drug-related suspension and finally preview NDSU’s special teams unit.


The Road Ahead

Now with spring football and the NFL Draft in our rearview windows, the football offseason truly is here, but as people that follow this blog know there never really is any down time and the Bison Media Blog won’t be slowing down either. We’ve got some ambitious plans that we’ll be bringing out this summer and some dates to look forward to.

Lucas Albers leads a group of athletic tight ends into 2015.

Lucas Albers leads a group of athletic tight ends into 2015.

Position Group Preview (May 11th – June 29th): Starting Monday, Jeff and I will be breaking down and looking at each position group each week; from special teams to quarterbacks.

Preview Top 10 Games in FCS in 2015 (Mid-May): Pretty self explanatory here, but a look at the can’t miss games this upcoming season.

15 To Watch in ’15 (VIDEO; July 13th-July 31st): The second year of the highly popular series that Jeff and I did last year; where we daily discuss the most important players on the roster for the upcoming season.

Preview Missouri Valley Football Conference teams (VIDEO; August 10th-21st):  An inside look at each of the teams in the top conference in the FCS, and how they’ll shake out this year.

There are some other treats along the way, but those are the biggies that we’re going to be tackling (sorry for the pun) this summer. I understand not everyone is huge on football and we won’t be ignoring the other sports, you can trust me on that.

Jeff and I will be heavy into the Fargo Marathon this week, but our regular coverage will return later this week for the Summit League softball tournament.

The Draftees

The NFL Draft begins tonight in Chicago, it’s highly unlikely any FCS players are selected tonight, the first likely off the board according to most mock drafts I’ve seen is Samford safety Jaquiski Tartt. 18 players from FCS schools were selected last year, I think we’ll see more this season. Here’s a list of players that NDSU has faced in recent years that will likely get picked over the next three days:


Garrett Grayson – Quarterback, Colorado State

Remember Grayson? He was the starting quarterback for the Rams when NDSU when to Fort Collins in 2012, and had a terrific start throwing a 69 yard touchdown pass to Crockett Gillmore, giving CSU a 7-0 lead a 1:30 into the game. That turned out to be on the only touchdown they would score in the game, as Grayson finished 13-24 for 171 yards with an interception (Marcus Williams) as well. He’s been rocketing up draft boards lately, likely a third or fourth round pick.

Tyler Lockett – Wide Receiver, Kansas State

Bison fans will remember Lockett’s speed, he hauled in a 56 yard touchdown pass from Jake Waters early in the third quarter that gave KSU its first lead of the game at 14-7. Lockett finished the game with seven receptions for 113 yards and a touchdown, he was the best player on the field that night for the Wildcats. He has a terrific burst, something teams covet, Lockett we’re hearing is a third round projection.

E.J. Bibbs – Tight End, Iowa State

Bison fans will always needle me for how much I talked/written about Bibbs heading Dinto the game, asking Chris Klieman the week of the game, “How do you stop Bibbs? Klieman: “We don’t have a matchup for him.” Well clearly they found a matchup, holding Bibbs to just one catch for eight yards. Bibbs finished the year with 45 receptions for 382 yards and eight touchdowns. Most projections have Bibbs as day three pick.

Malcom Agnew- Running Back, Southern Illinois

Agnew isn’t the first player on SIU that you think of as being drafted, but has had some solid workouts to raise his value. Agnew was one of the few rushers to go over 100 yards against NDSU in the past couple of years, he ran for 117 yards in the game in Fargo this past season. He was hampered by an ankle injury that cost him the final three games of the season, part of a huge running back class in the Valley.

David Johnson – Running Back, Northern Iowa

He likely will be the first player taken out of the Missouri Valley, Johnson should have never played at UNI, his talent always screamed Big 10 or Big 12. He was dynamic all season long, then had a terrific week at the Senior Bowl. Johnson ran for 138 yards and added another 36 yards receiving this year against NDSU, to go on top of his sensational 80 yard touchdown run against the Bison in 2013. He was nearly unstoppable in that game before he injured his ankle. I think Johnson is a Day 2 selection, he’ll go in the third round.

Zach Zenner – Running Back, South Dakota State

You take away his career games against NDSU and he’s the all-time leading rusher in FCS history. I know you can’t do that, but his body of work speaks for itself. First player to ever run for 2,000 yards in three seasons, he too had a solid week at the East-West Shrine Game. Zenner’s running ability I think translates well to the NFL, I think Zenner gets picked somewhere in the 6th or 7th round.

MyCole Pruitt – Tight End, Southern Illinois

Just look at his touchdown reception against NDSU this past fall and you’ll see why he’s coveted by NFL teams. Pruitt has good size at 6’2, 251 pounds and his receiving ability is unquestioned, the conference record holder in receptions and touchdowns by a tight end. Pruitt had a solid East-West Shrine Game, Bleacher Report has Pruitt going in the 4th round to Baltimore.

Zach Wagenmann – Defensive End, Montana

Wagenmann was the rarity in the Big Sky, a standout defensive player. He had a tremendous career in Missoula, a three-time All-Big Sky player, he was held in check against NDSU back in September with just three tackles, a quarterback hurry and a pass breakup. I watched him though against Wyoming and he was tremendous in that game, consistently in the Cowboys backfield. A broken foot will hurt his draft stock, but still expect him to be drafted.

Xavier Williams – Defensive Tackle, Northern Iowa

Williams is the player that Kolpack believes UNI will have a harder time replacing than Johnson. His game against NDSU screams that. Williams was a man on the defensive line, racking up 7 tackles, a tackle for loss and a sack. He had eight sacks total from D-tackle, which is tremendous. Another guy that will be drafted in day three.

On to the fall

I want to first congratulate my friend and colleague Jeff Kolpack on his writing venture, I have read his dad’s book, a copy resides in my office at WDAY, was mandatory reading when I started in Fargo in 2006. I look forward to reading his version, including the part where I made him and Big E TV stars with the video blog in 2011. Anyway on to today’s post.

Chris Klieman says an updated depth chart will come out later this week, I wanted to focus on five players that helped themselves this spring and five that need to do some more work to get into the regular rotation.

FIVE THAT HELPED THEMSELVES:

1) MJ Stumpf – The junior linebacker by all accounts had a terrific spring. The coaching staff raved about his ability to pick up the playbook and adjust to a full-time role. Stumpf adjusted well to the will linebacker spot, as I wrote at the end of March it was a big month and the Harvey native responded. The big key now is taking this momentum into the fall, but Matt Entz can feel good that two pieces of his linebacker core are ready to go.

2) Lance Dunn – The redshirt freshman running back stood out during the spring game rushing for 76 yards and two touchdowns, but it was the bulk of the spring that impressed me. Dunn showed a tremendous burst and shiftiness that the other two running backs likely don’t possess. Kolpack said on my radio show last night he believes by the third game of the season he could see Dunn getting the majority of carries in a game. One thing’s for certain, Dunn has inserted himself into the conversation at tailback.

3) Jalen Allison – The redshirt freshman corner was pretty close to playing as a true freshman last year.

Jalen Allison has earned more playing time this fall.

Jalen Allison has earned more playing time this fall.

He stepped up in the final week of the spring after CJ Smith injured his knee to get a lot of first team reps, he finished with four tackles on Saturday. Allison’s speed is tremendous, he may take the mantle of “fastest guy on the team” which we have bandied about over the past three years. Allison said he’s picked up the defense and now the game has slowed down. He’ll be on the field August 29th in Missoula.

4) Aaron Steidl – Perhaps the next to step up in the line of great walk-ons is the redshirt freshman from Alexandria. Steidl got rave reviews on the scout team last year on the defensive line and we saw glimpses of it this spring. Saturday he stood out with three tackles, including a big tackle for loss in the first half. His size is good (6’2, 265 pounds); defensive tackle coach Nick Goeser told me on my radio show last night he has all the tools to become another Brian Schaetz. If Steidl can get to that level, NDSU will have hit another home run.

5) Dan Marlette – Marlette was a tackling machine all spring long and showed it on Saturday, leading the team with six, two for loss and a sack. His athleticism was on display all month long, he told the assembled media after the spring game he wasn’t pleased with how he or the defense played, but make no mistake Marlette impressed this spring. He’s listed as the backup at will linebacker to Stumpf, but he’s definitely in the rotation for playing right now, we’ll see how big August is for him and earning more playing time.

FIVE THAT HAVE WORK TO DO:

1) Levi Jordheim – Jordheim had flashes where he impressed at the SAM linebacker spot and you could see the potential to be a big playmaker. He still has some learning to do at that spot, and that’s why I see the fall as being a huge month for him. Don’t count him out from seeing the field this fall.

2) Khayvon Hawkins – Another redshirt freshman, every time I saw Hawkins on the field he made a catch on the sidelines and went over the middle. He scored a touchdown in the spring game, where he took a tough hit right in front of the goal line. I don’t believe he has that much work to do before he’ll be on the field, and after the departure of Carey Woods, he’ll have to produce in the fall.

3) Tanner Volson – The offensive lineman from tiny Balfour, North Dakota had a great spring, according to offensive line coach Conor Riley.

Tanner Volson had a big spring, with a chance to get on the field this fall.

Tanner Volson had a big spring, with a chance to get on the field this fall.

Volson has good size too, at 6’4, 291 pounds and he was starting at left guard for the last couple weeks of the spring with Zack Johnson out with a knee injury. Volson has shown the ability to be a solid lineman and if you saw the spring game, that offensive line was pushing the D-line around. If Johnson’s knee continues to be an issue, watch for Volson to be in the mix in the fall.

4) Stanley Jones – Another North Dakota kid, his spring was hampered by a broken bone in his foot that prohibited him from participating in a majority of the practices. He did return for the final week and for the time I got to see him, he’s certainly bigger and has the build to be a good defensive end. Jones will need to stay healthy during the fall, but he’s already listed as the backup to Brad Ambrosius. With the departure of Alex Hahn at defensive end, the door is open for Jones to grab a spot in the fall.

5) Tyler Wrice – Wrice enters his third year in the program and in my opinion the time is now for him to step up and be a factor in the offense. We’ve seen Wrice get attempts on the jet sweep to mixed success (the fumble against Youngstown was costly last year) but haven’t seen his ability as a pass catcher yet, just two receptions for 20 yards. In an offense that appears to have a bunch of weapons, there’s still a spot for Wrice to be a factor in the old “Ryan Smith” role.

Positions to watch

Football Saturdays return to Fargo tomorrow with the Green and Gold game, Jeff laid out in today’s paper five position battles to keep an eye on, in case you missed them, here’s the link.

Here’s three more that I’ll be watching tomorrow:

  • Linebacker: I’ve written and said plenty on this position and tomorrow is the first real opportunity to see these players in live reps. Nick DeLuca is the known commodity in the middle, but it’s the 4-5 players around him that I’ll be watching. MJ Stumpf has had a terrific spring according to the coaches, it looks like he’s wrapped up a spot. The other spot is occupied by Pierre Gee-Tucker, but his injuries have really stopped him from taking that next step. He was wearing the white injured jersey in practice on Wednesday, I’ll be curious to see how many reps he gets tomorrow.
    Pierre Gee-Tucker is one of the starters listed at linebacker.

    Pierre Gee-Tucker is one of the starters listed at linebacker.

    After that, a group of young players have a great opportunity to impress. Dan Marlette, Levi Jordheim, Matt Plank and Bo Liekhus all figure to get plenty of snaps tomorrow. Head Coach Chris Klieman said that Marlette has had an impressive spring, while Jordheim’s grasping of the defense is still coming along. I’ve been impressed with Plank, who’s shown some nice tackling ability during the scrimmages. We’ll see how it shakes out tomorrow.

  • Offensive Line: We know about what’s coming back up front for NDSU, but thanks to a rash of injuries, there’s a chance for a lot of young guys to get a look tomorrow. Landon Lechler, Zack Johnson, Jack Plankers and Jeremy Kelly will likely not play, on Wednesday Colin Conner and Zack Ziemer were getting reps with the first team. I’d also keep an eye on a couple of North Dakota guys, Tanner Volson and Luke Bacon, offensive line coach Conor Riley told me last week that each have had solid springs and could find their way into the rotation. Austin Kuhnert will also see his first game action at center, a position that he’s transitioned to this spring.
  • Defensive Line: Jeff has written about Caleb Butler and Jarrod Tuszka’s emergence at defensive end, I’m eager to watch those two play tomorrow, each have earned playing time in the starting rotation. On the inside, keep an eye on two players, Grant Morgan and Aaron Steidl. Morgan got limited reps last season, but with injuries to Nate Tanguay and Brian Schaetz this spring, Morgan has played more and done a nice job. I’ve heard rave reviews about Steidl since last year during the fall on the scout team, he’s another walk-on from Alexandria and has impressed the coaching staff this past month.

That’s just a few other guys to watch tomorrow, reminder our radio show will be live from the tailgating lots tomorrow starting at 9am till 11, swing by and say hi! Pregame show here on the blog at 12, postgame show up at 6pm, should be a fun day!