Week 1 Preview – San Jose State Spartans

The UND Football team opens the 2014 season this Thursday, August 28th out at San Jose State, an FBS program from the Mountain West Conference.  Game time is set for 9pm central time.  The Spartans were picked 5th in the MWC-West Preseason Poll and were 6-6 last season.

TV:  ESPN3  Radio:  All UND Radio Affiliates.

UND Defense vs. SJSU Offense

UND is going to see an offense that is typical of most collegiate offense’s these days: shotgun, spread look with 3 receivers, maybe 4, and alot of read-handoff zone running plays.  They like to employ one running back and a tight end to with those three receivers.  Hog (balanced) and Tom (trips) formations with the tight end in the game.   SJSU runs a no-huddle offense but does not operate at a frantic pace, like Baylor or Oregon.  They will usually setup and take 15-20 seconds of the play-clock trying to read the defense before snapping ball.

SJSU only has 5 returning starters on offense and lost some of their heavy hitters from last season in QB David Fales, WR Chandler Jones and WR Kyle Nunn.

QB Blake Jurich won the fall camp battle vs. Joe Gray to be the starter vs. UND.  Jurich has backed up current NFL QB David Fales for the past two seasons and has not seen much action at all.  He attempted six passes last season total.  At 6’4″ he will have the ability to survey the field in the passing game and does have a past history of being able to run the ball.  Jurich was in a camp-long battle with soph. Joe Gray but won the position after the second scrimmage.  Gray is the runner of the two and UND must be aware when he enters the game, which is inevitable being it was such a tight QB race.

SJSU’s main RB, Jarrod Lawson has been suspended for the first two games of the season, vs. UND and Auburn.  He was their leading rusher last season with 788 yards and 4 TD’s.  The man to take his place is #3 sophomore Thomas Tucker (5’10-195).  He ran for 338 yards last season.  We fully believe that SJSU will run the ball much more than they did last season now that Fales is gone.

WR #15 Tyler Winston is their go-to-guy at wide receiver.  The 6’2-190 sophomore had a huge freshman season for the Spartans with 58 receptions for 858 yards and 5 TD’s.  Winston is a big-play threat every time he touches the ball and will need full attention from the UND secondary.  A guy who has blown up in fall camp is converted RB #7 Tyler Ervin.  He is apparently their speed guy and has made multiple long receptions in fall camp.  If Ervin is in the slot that could present problems for the UND safeties.

The weakest part of the SJSU offense appears to be the offensive line.  They only have two players back that actually started a game in their careers in junior Wes Schweitzer and senior David Peterson, who is their best OL and a Rimington candidate.  This bodes well for the UND defense as they must get a good effort from their defensive line to try and slow down Tucker and the SJSU run game.

Expect to see at least four true freshman playing for the UND defense vs. SJSU.  Corner Chris Carter, Corner Deion Harris, DE Drew Greely, and DE Brandon Dranka will all get some playing time in the game.  We believe Harris to be the nickel/dime defensive back.

Keys to the game for UND Defense:

  1. Defend the long ball.  SJSU is going to take their shots deep.  They have deep threats to do it and if UND is able to defend the majority of them, using the much-improved technique and overall play that we have seen through fall camp, they will have a shot.
  2. Slow down the run.  They won’t stop it but they need to tackle well from the LB and S spots to make them snap it again.  Made/missed tackles will once again be the difference for this UND defense.
  3. Get off the field on third down.  Give the UND offense as many reps as they can to try and get their own running game going and control the clock.  There are going to be multiple three and outs by the UND offense, we know that.  The UND defense needs to return the favor and get a few of their own.
  4. Recognize the screens early.  SJSU is going to run alot of screens – bubble, quick, slip, etc.  UND needs to recognize these as they are developing and react up to stop them.  If they don’t they will continue to see them throughout the game.  Screens are a tough play to defend on a consistent basis.

UND Offense vs SJSU Defense

The UND offense has a lot of questions marks entering the first game of 2014.  Joe Mollberg is under the spotlight as the sophomore QB will be counted on to make big strides this year under center.  This first game against the Spartans could be a big indicator on the direction of his development under 1st year coordinator Paul Rudolph and his new offense.  In addition to that, there is an unknown element on the right side of the offensive line and how effective they can and will be in the run game.  The wide receiver group also has something to prove with graduation, attrition and youth at that position since last season.

We expect to see a ball control offense early on, more so than last year.  The running game needs to be the catalyst for the tempo of the offense.  Even if it’s tough sledding early on, we think there will be persistence there to help Joe Mollberg feel more comfortable when dropping back to pass by keeping SJSU guessing in defensive playcalling.  Having said that, it’s really unknown by us as to how UND will want to try attack the SJSU defense and what their game plan will be.  There are so many unknowns right now regarding the Spartans defense.

One big reason for this uncertainty is that the Spartans have a new defensive coordinator in Greg Robinson.  Robinson was the D-coordinator for the Denver Broncos during their back-to-back Super Bowl runs with John Elway in 1998 and 1999.  He has since held defensive coordinator positions with the Kansas City Chiefs , Texas Longhorns (twice), Michigan Wolverines and was head coach for Syracuse from 2005-2008 – quite the resume to say the least.  Robinson ran a 4-3 at Syracuse as the head coach, but in his latest stint as DC with the Longhorns in 2013, he ran a “stack” look in a 3-4 similar to what UND runs.  This just adds to the uncertainty on what we believe UND will see tonight.  We’re betting UND has had a tough time prepping for his defense because of this.

A couple things we think might be imminent:  a blitzing SJSU defense given the inexperience of the UND offensive line and the problems UND showed on film last season picking up pressure; SJSU cornerbacks challenging the UND wideouts in press coverage on the line of scrimmage, specifically on the backside of 3 by 1 sets.  When in zone coverage, we think SJSU could potentially play a lot of cover 4 in balanced sets when they aren’t blitzing.  It will be interesting to see if the young UND WR corps will be able to get off the line in press-man situations.  That could be a big factor in the success of the UND passing game.

Keys to the game for UND Offense:

1.  Control the tempo of the game early on.  Weather the storm in the run game and any other potential shortcomings including early turnovers.  Do not abandon the running game unless absolutely necessary.  We expect to see a minimum of 12-15 carries by the UND RB stable in the first half.
2.  Ease Joe Mollberg into the passing game.  Build his confidence by using his athletic ability with boot and rollout looks to give him easy reads and possible run/pass options on the edge early on.
3.  Execute screen and draw game to slow down the defensive pressures we believe SJSU will use early and often.  They cannot become comfortable pinning their ears back by sending 5 and 6 man pressures, specifically on 3rd down early in the game.
4.  Play the field position grudge match.  Even with the youth on special teams and defense, UND needs to rely on making the field longer and make the Spartan offense have to drive the ball on long drives.
5.  Turnovers.  Any more than 2 for the UND offense spells trouble.

Prediction

It’s going to be a battle of which staff can adjust when the unknown’s become known’s.  Obviously, SJSU has the better overall athletes on the field.  Can UND come together on offense enough to sustain drives and get points?  Can the UND defense hold up in the back end with all their youth and inexperience?  Will the two true freshman kickers be able to perform under the bright lights out in San Jose?  Too many question marks and peach fuzz in all three phases tonight, in our opinion.  We’d love to be wrong.

San Jose State   27

UND   14

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Presser Notes – Defections, etc.

  • According to Head Coach Bubba Schweigert, WR Aeron Carr has left the program.  Carr was a highly recruited member of the 2013 recruiting class out of Mesa, AZ.  He was an outstanding track athlete in high school and many had hoped he would be the next Greg Hardin or Weston Dressler.  That didn’t materialize as the track speed never quite translated to the football field.  Carr found himself passed up by true freshmen Brandon Walker and Dev Ferguson on the depth chart and probably would never have gotten back on top.   
  • We have also heard that walk-on juco safety Aaron Rogers has quit the team.  He was not in the two-deep and don’t quite understand why he would be quitting but good luck to him in the future.   
  • To say this year’s Junior College signing class turned out to be a disappointment is putting it mildly.  They signed 7 players and had one walk-on.  Only five of the eight are left on the team (Simmons, Boas, Flowers, Blackmon, and Cerriteno) and of those five only two are in the two-deep depth chart (Simmons and Boas).  Cerriteno has been hurt the entire fall camp.  The biggest losses were the two who didn’t qualify in Brendan Slaight and Chris Hannible.  We see Blackmon contributing on multiple special teams but do not know if Flowers will play this year or redshirt.  We will know more after Thursdays game.  
  • What we are seeing is similar to what we saw last season.  There will be a few true freshman who can play just well as the late juco transfers that UND will find.  Last season Cam Kuksa ended up being one of their best defensive players as a true freshman.  The problem is not knowing how good they will be until August 1st rolls around.  
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UND Depth Chart Released

The UND Football Week 1 Depth Chart was finally released this past week and to say there were some surprises is an understatement.  We have given our thoughts in the past on who we thought would be the starters at certain positions, but it appears we were off on a few.

 

Offense

  1. UND will have two true freshman receivers in the Top 4.  It appears true freshman Brandon Walker will be starting opposite senior RJ McGill.  Fellow true freshman Dev Ferguson will be backing up McGill.
  2. The left side of the offensive line with Devin Barton at tackle and Brandon Anderson at guard will be solid.  We were surprised to see juco transfer Colton Boas earn the starting nod at center.  We know true freshman Jake Francis has impressed thus far so we are assuming he will still get in at either center or right guard.  The right side of OL seems a bit unsettled with Sean Meehan moving out to right tackle and Ben Henson, who played DL is first four years on campus, starting at right guard.  Will have to see how it works out after a few weeks.
  3. Multiple running backs will be playing on Thursday.  That position on the depth chart at this point doesn’t mean much in our opinion.  The committee approach will be shown all season until someone grabs it and runs.
  4. As has been stated everywhere, Joe Mollberg has beaten out Ryan Bartels at QB to take over the reigns for the season opener.  Mollberg has played OK in camp but still needs some seasoning to get this offense where it needs to be.  Game 1 in San Jose will give us an idea where Mollberg is mentally in comparison to last year.  Has he improved in that department?  We know he has the physical ability.

Defense

  1. One glaring omission from the defensive line two-deep is sophomore Marcus Cheatom.   Being he isn’t in the two-deep tells us he is not even traveling.
  2. Sophomore Taj Rich has beat out senior Ben Peters at weakside ILB.  We assume they both will play but that is a significant move by the defensive staff.
  3. Junior Chris Brown is starting at cornerback, opposite senior transfer Alex Tillman.  Brown is a guy who has evolved greatly under the new staff and will be a better player this year.  A shocker is that juco transfer Charles Flowers did not make the two-deep.  That makes us wonder if he is even traveling.
  4. True freshman Joe Montague has earned the backup free safety spot in a major shocker.  We know they moved transfer Dom Blackmon over to safety part way through camp but to have Montague ahead of him is very interesting.
  5. Freshman Jake Disterhaupt and junior Garrett Reineke have beaten out Alex Hickel and Javen Butler for the backup OLB spots.  That is a quite a surprise.  Although all of them will probably play special teams, it is still an interesting development.

Special Teams

  1. Here is where the biggest shocker of them all has developed.  Sophomore punter Mitch Meindel is going to suspended for several games to start the season.  What is weird is he was taking full reps at punter halfway through camp.  Tells us they must have just found out.  Not good for the team at all.  That leaves true freshman Connor Bolduc to take over the punting duties.
  2. To make things worse, part way through camp Meindel was also being looked at to be the kicker.  Now, UND must start another true freshman in kicker Reid Taubenheim.  Yep, another true freshman starter on special teams.
  3. To make things even more interesting, true freshman snapper Jacob Holmen was in a dogfight with Brandon Larson for the snapping duties.  Could we possibly see THREE true freshman at the three special teams positions?
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Fall Camp Update – 8-19-14

The UND Football team is now only nine days away from their opening night game vs. San Jose State out in California.  (The game will only be televised on ESPN3, so plan accordingly).   The team has held one full scrimmage and another handful of short, live sessions to try and sort out what they really have.  What is becoming apparent to me after talking to people around camp and observing practices is that the coaches definitely like their first/only recruiting class.

Here are the freshmen that we think are going to get their redshirt pulled and be on the plane to San Jose:

  1. Chris Carter – CB – Carter is currently in a fight to be the starting corner opposite Alex Tillman.  It will come down to Carter or Chris Brown with the other being the backup.
  2. Jacob Francis – C – Francis has been switched to center and shown great feet and athleticism.  He may be a bit undersized (270 range) but makes up for it with the ability to angle out on defenders and pull quickly.
  3. Dev Ferguson – WR – The only clear cut starter in the WR group is RJ McGill.  After that anyone could be slotted and Ferguson, if healthy, could definitely help the team.
  4. Drew Greely – DL – The defensive line has numbers but not enough playmakers and Greely has that ability.  Maybe not right away but he will develop.
  5. Deion Harris – CB – SHOCKER #1.  Harris has been running with the 1′s and 2′s and based on need we see them keeping him in the mix as a backup and special teams guy.
  6. Tank Harris – NG – If Harris can stay healthy and his leg is not injured, he will definitely be on the field this fall.  He is a big bodied (280 lbs) NG with quick feet and explosion.  Harris has been practicing recently.
  7. Josiah Montague – S – SHOCKER #2.  Montague has looked pretty good in this camp and while he might not play alot of reps at safety, he will most definitely play all special teams.
  8. Brandon Walker – WR – Walker will most definitely be on the field next Thursday.  He is already a polished route runner with good speed and good hands.  Really like what he brings to the table.
SHOCKER #3:  If it happens, you heard it here first folks:  Don’t be surprised if true freshman QB Keaton Studsrud gets his shirt pulled.  I know UND has two sophomore QB’s in Joe Mollberg and Ryan Bartels, but neither has done anything to separate themselves from each other.  Therein lies the problem.  How can the coaches be 100% confident heading into the season if neither can definitively pull away?  Studsrud has looked pretty good for a freshman in camp thus far and has the tools to be a good one.  We will keep an eye on it as it might not happen game #1, but could further into the season if things are not progressing at the QB position.  
-OL AJ Stockwell appeared to be injured in a recent practice.  Don’t know the severity of it but he may be out for a short period.  Offensive line is arguably the thinnest position on the team and this does not help.  
-WR/TE Luke Stanley was trending towards potentially seeing the field this year, but an injury sustained during 1 on 1′s the other day looks like he could be out for a while and ultimately redshirted.  True freshman TE Luke Fiedler could be a candidate from here on out to get on the field as well.
-Look for sophomore punter Mitch Meindel to handle the kicking duties as well.  
-Cole Reyes is locked in at the strong safety position.  Baylee Carr and William James are battling for the free safety starting nod.  
-The battle at the weak ILB position is between senior Ben Peters and sophomore Taj Rich.  Kansas transfer Marcus Jenkins-Moore is not quite ready yet and will be brought along slowly.  
-The play of the secondary so far in camp has been completely different than anything we have seen in the past few years.  Their technique is so much better, along with their aggressiveness.  They are not looking up to early after getting beat, they are matching hips with the receivers, playing the ball at it’s highest point, etc.  All things they should do but were not in the past.  Their jam technique at the line is much improved.  The defensive backs will get beat at times this year, no doubt about it.  Every DB does.  But it won’t be for lack of technique and effort.  
 
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Verbal Commit 2015 – Zack Williams

Name:  ZACK WILLIAMS

School: Murdoch MacKay High School – Winnipeg, MB (Coach T.J. Lange)

Vitals:  OT (#67).  6’6″ – 260.

UND Football recently received their fourth commitment to the Class of 2015 and their first from north of the border in offensive lineman Zack Williams.  Williams is the second offensive lineman in the class (Elijah Grady) and shows that new coach Bubba Schweigert is going to dip back into the Canada, like UND used to do when he coached there previously.  Some standout former UND offensive lineman that hailed from Canada are Kevin Robson, Tim Prinsen, Greg Lotysz, and Grant Everett.

Williams was chosen as a 2014 Canada Cup All-Star as well as being selected for the Canadian National Team that will play the USA All-Stars in Arlington, TX later this year.

Williams is only around 260 right now but is it quite obvious he has the frame to get up around the 300 pound range.  He is an athletic looking tackle and appears to move his feet pretty well and also lock out the defender.  Offensive line is a major position of need and getting Williams is a great start.

Williams also apparently plays/played hockey for the Clansman.  That is a big hockey player.

Hudl Highlights

 

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Verbal Commit 2015 – John Santiago

Name:  JOHN SANTIAGO

School: St. Francis High School – St. Francis, MN (Coach Chris Lindquist)

Vitals:  RB/WR (#24).  5’9″ – 170.

The UND Football program recently received their third commitment to the Class of 2015 in RB/WR John Santiago.  Santiago attended UND’s Elite Camp and was offered shortly after, much like fellow WR commit Carter Blackwell.

Santiago was a standout tailback and big-play threat last season for Coach Lindquist’s Saints.  In 2013 he ran the ball 86 times for 663 yards and 6 TD’s.  A tidy 7.7 yds/attempt.

On tape Santiago shows above average speed and excellent quickness/lateral movement, which he is going to need at the next level being an undersized RB.  What surprised us was his toughness when running the ball, multiple times he was bottled up and came out of the pack to gain extra yards.  It appears that Santiago is also a very dangerous punt returner, which is a great way to get yourself on the field early in your career.

In other sports, Santiago was a standout hurdler for the Saints track team.  This past spring he finished 3rd in the 300 meter hurdles at the Minnesota 2A State Track Meet.  He also finished 7th in the 110 meter hurdles.

Hudl Highlights

 

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Fall Camp / Scrimmage #1 Review

If you want to do some reading about the UND Football team, have we got a treat for you. Buckle up:

Offensively – QB spot is still very unsettled.  Joe Mollberg continues to struggle with his accuracy at times.  He threw a pick 6 on a flat route where the corner was sitting in the flat in a hard cover 2 look.  The WR went up the field on what looked to be a conversion route and Mollberg threw it right to the corner for a TD.  That absolutely cannot happen this year.   On another instance, Mollberg tried hitting freshman TE Zach Fiedler on a quick seam route.  Fiedler had position on the safety but the ball was thrown to the backside shoulder instead of leading him to his upfield shoulder.  It was the difference between the ball being knocked down incomplete and being a big gainer.  On the plus side, Mollberg hit a couple intermediate routes over the middle in the scrimmage when he stepped up in the pocket and stuck the ball where it needed to be.  It’s time for Joe Mollberg to step up and be consistent with his throwing and decision making – now.

-Ryan Bartels also continues to struggle and made some bad decisions and reads by throwing the ball to covered WR, with others open.  His first couple passes were dropped by the defender and could have easily been picked off.   Bartels is not too far behind Mollberg but in our opinion he is definitely #2 right now.

- Freshman Keaton Studsrud does not look like a freshman and is probably way further ahead that Kurt Palandech was at his age.  Studsrud showed nice poise in the pocket when he waited for his #3 WR (Walker) to clear on a corner route to the field side, and put the ball right on the WR for a big gainer.  Studsrud just appears to have the intangibles and “it” factor so far as a young pup.  He still will almost definitely redshirt, barring injuries.  Jake Hanson had a tough day and still has a long ways to go.

- At RB, injuries have kept anyone from claiming stake to anything.  Once again, you can’t play if you aren’t on the field.  Nicks and bruises are part of the deal and everyone has them in fall camp.  The difference is who is tough enough to deal with them mentally while still practicing smart.  So far, nobody has showed this, in our opinion.  Jer Garman has been out recently along with Cedric Simmons missing a couple days.  We like Patrick Sharp a lot still and think he can be a difference maker eventually, but he still needs to prove he can do it mentally and hold up in pass protection before he can be counted on for 3rd down.

- Adam Shaugabay is probably your #1 guy at this point.  He had a long TD run in the scrimmage and has the most experience in the backfield.  After that, you probably could  ”slash” Simmons/Garman/Sharp at the #2 spot.  All four backs are in line to get playing time this fall.  It’s just a matter of someone taking the bull by the horns and stepping up to stake their claim.  We will be waiting for that to happen.

- The fullback position is led by Dwayne Pecosky and Dustin Iverson.  Pecosky has been a big surprise since moving to FB last season and will definitely be in the mix with Iverson as a 2-headed option blocking for the RB’s.  Tanner Vesledahl will provide depth and freshman Tyler Coyne has shown that his future could be bright as the big, string, physical fullback made some good blocks this spring in his limited reps.

- The WR position has similar issues with staying healthy.  Nagging injuries have made Miguel Cerriteno, Aeron Carr and Pat Brown all miss extensive time thus far. Freshman Dev Ferguson had missed a day or two as well but is back on the field now while the others remain out.  Carr specifically is becoming a concern as he has spent a large amount of time sitting out practice last spring and this fall.  Hopefully, he can keep progressing towards a football players mentality and stay on the field.  Freshman Brandon Walker continues to impress and work his way up the depth chart as well, if nothing else because of injuries.  RJ McGill will be the leader of this group and has shown that he is back from the knee injury sustained last year.   He is by far the most polished of the group.  Wide receiver is a position group that needs to show they can make plays in this year’s new offense.

- By far the biggest surprise of the offense to date is the advancement of the TE position.  Kyle Ruhe has shown that he can be a factor in the passing game with his size and pass catching ability.  He threw a very nice peelback block on a cornerback that led to a long TD in the scrimmage.  Zach Adler looks ready to be the guy in regular 21 personnel sets as the every down TE and has been impressive.  Luke Mathewson and Tucker Nordby took a ton of reps in the scrimmage and need to be counted on for depth during the season.  As we mentioned in an earlier post, true freshman Luke Fiedler has a chance to be a special player in the coming years but is not ready yet.  Look for Ruhe to be the pass-catcher of the group with the others being the blockers.

- The left side of the offensive line is set with Devin Barton at LT and Brandon Anderson at LG.  Both of those guys are rock solid and should be counted on heavily by offensive coordinator Paul Rudolph.

- The right guard and right tackle spots need to be shored up in our opinion.  Ben Henson, while being in a new spot, has done admirably so far but needs to be more consistent and eliminate the mental mistakes.  Sean Meehan remains the #1 RT but we would like to see him become more dependable than he has so far.  Again, both guys are playing new spots, so growing pains are expected there to a degree.

- At center, the battle is on between JUCO transfer Colton Boas and true freshman Jacob Francis.  Boas is a bulldog with a good motor. Once he’s engaged, more often than not you see him driving back the interior defensive lineman.  Francis is more technically sound and has the better feet for a big guy.  Probably a dead heat at this point between those two.  With Jace Hellman being moved to right guard, it appears that it’s almost a certainty that Francis will not redshirt.

- AJ Stockwell is gigantic at the backup LT spot and is learning his way through a new position.  His technique is still flawed right now but he definitely has the tools the be a starter next year.  He just needs more time to develop.

- True freshman Demon Taylor has the potential to be a special player.  On a screen play out on the perimeter, Taylor released from his left guard spot and showed good feet before throwing his body and a huge block on the edge that laid out the linebacker.

- Mat Cox has been a pleasant surprise after being moved to RT and should be a nice addition to the depth this fall.

Defensively – Cole Reyes needs to be starting now.  He is the difference maker on the 2014 UND defense and needs to be on the field for every down, even as a freshman.  He goes 6’2″-215 and looks like a linebacker but runs like a safety.  His breaks are smooth and he can matchup with bigger TE’s across the middle.  When he triggers on a play it is quick and immediate.

- Transfer Jordan Hinojosa will not be a superstar for UND.  What he will be, however, is a lunchpail lineman who absolutely works his ass off every play.  He has an intensity that almost makes you laugh, one of those guys that gets worked up during a walk-through drill.  We love it.  This team needs more of that and we think Hinojosa will be a nice addition to the team.  He has the athletic ability to make plays on his own in UND’s 3-4 scheme but won’t dominate a game.  He will bring is 100% effort every down, though.

We are waiting for the other defensive lineman to step up and take over the defensive end starting roles.  Sophomore Alec Carrothers has looked decent in fall camp thus far and will most certainly be a starter at left end.  Senior Spencer Cummings has been steady and should start opposite Carrothers.  UND is lacking horsepower on the defensive line right now.  They need some players to show they can make plays and not just take up a blocker.

Sophomore Marcus Cheatom is an intriguing player in that he shows flashes where he can dominate but then gets handled on the next play.  Cheatom has quick feet and hands and can be explosive off the ball.  Consistency is his biggest issue.  He can be a disruptive force from the NG spot but it is not there on an every down basis right now.

Ben Peters made a couple really nice open field tackles for no gain/loss in the scrimmage, sniffing out a RB screen to make the play and also bring down a RB in the flat one-on-one.  While Peters will now be battling Marcus Jenkins-Moore (Kansas) for playing time, beside Dylan Bakker and Kyle Norberg.

Bakker had a nice scrimmage also.  He is a fast linebacker who relies on quick reads and triggering on the ball to make his plays, which he did a few times in the scrimmage.  Bakker is a prototypical weakside ILB in that he can run sideline to sideline to make plays.

Dayo Idowu and Brian Labat have a stranglehold on the OLB starting spots.  Both are just better than their backup and show it with size and athleticism.  Labat is a guy who has also been playing the strongside and weakside ILB spots, making him all the more valuable.  The coaches appear to want to have him ready to go at more than one spots incase another player jumps up and is ready to contribute.

Even though true freshman Chris Carter dropped a wide open INT during the scrimmage, we feel he may be starting on August 28th.  He will need to shore up his understanding of the defenses as there were times in Cover 2 where he let the receiver run by him but was not threatened by any other receivers in the flat.  That cannot happen.  UND’s safeties are not to the point where they can cover a seam receiver and still get to the sideline receiver while the ball is in the air.  Having said that, Carter has only practiced for a couple weeks and he will learn alot in the next two weeks with repetition.

Alex Tillman is solid all-around, as one would expect from the transfer senior.  He should be starting at one corner spot, IMO.  Charles Flowers hasn’t shown the pop in his breaks that we saw on tape from last season at Citrus College. There is still time to contribute but he will need to adjust as camp progresses.

 

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Verbal Commit 2015 – Carter Blackwell

Name:  CARTER BLACKWELL

School: Dickinson High School – Dickinson, ND (Coach John Tuchscherer)

Vitals:  WR/DB (#8).  6’2″ – 160.

The UND Football program recently received their second commitment to the Class of 2015 from WR/DB Carter Blackwell of Dickinson High School (ND).  Blackwell is the second North Dakota commitment, the other being Elijah Grady of New Town.

Blackwell, 6’2-160, moved to Dickinson in 2013 from Cypress, TX.  He came up to UND’s Elite Camp in June and received an offer shortly, thereafter from the UND coaching staff.  In 2013, Blackwell had 12 catches for 115 yards and 1 TD.  He is obviously a very good overall athlete as he also ran the 300 meter hurdles for the Midgets, placing 6th at the state meet.

Per the Dickinson Press article referenced above, it appears UND is getting a high-quality kid, as stated by his Coach John Tuchscherer:  “He’s a great kid,” he said. “Since the first day he moved here, he has worked his tail off. He’s done everything that’s been asked of him. It doesn’t happen often that you get a kid that hasn’t been with a group for four years and they are looking up to him as a leader on this football team. It didn’t take him very long to become one of the go-to guys — not only on the field, but off the field for the younger guys. That’s just the type of guy that he is.”

Highlights

 

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Freshman Who May Not Redshirt

The UND Football team has five practices under their belts.  Even though they just put pads on for the first time yesterday, one thing is becoming clear:  multiple true freshman are going to need to play in 2014.

Here are the names that we think have a chance to have their red-shirts pulled and potentially make the travel roster for the opener vs. San Jose State August 28th.

DISCLAIMER:  We are only going off the physical talent we can see on the field.  We have no idea on each player’s mental capacity for learning the playbook, overall maturity, physical toughness and whether or not they can handle the academic and athletic requirements it takes to be successful as a true freshman, which are all huge variables.

  • #64 OL Jake Francis As we wrote back in February, Francis’ versatility is of significant value.  That versatility has already come into play as he has been recently moved to center to help out a position of need.  There is depth there, however, with transfer Colton Boas and former Red River standout Jace Hellman.  But Francis has really impressed the coaches with his footwork and work ethic.  He is on the lighter side for an OL (270-280) so center makes sense.  Francis would be able to pull and get out on the edge.  Making the protection calls will be his biggest hurdle.
  • #18 CB Chris Carter – Carter is as hard-nosed of a competitor as we have seen in years for a true freshman.  Kid loves to compete and get after it, which is probably his best attribute – great traits for a cornerback.  He is a bit undersized at a little over 5’9″ and has what we would call decent speed, but he has been taught how to play DB extremely well by the Brother Rice coaching staff.  Technique can be a cure-all for any deficiencies in height and/or speed.  He also has excellent fundamentals while the ball is in the air and doesn’t shy away from contact.  Carter will more than likely take some lumps early but has the ability to be a good rotational player for UND on defense and will more than likely be a big contributor on special teams if the staff decides to pull his redshirt.
  • #43 DE Drew Greely – UND needs more playmakers at the defensive end position and Greely could bring that ability.  He is still a bit undersized weight-wise at 240+ but he has the twitch to make plays and be disruptive in the backfield.  Fellow freshman Brandon Dranka brings these same traits and could also be a candidate.
  • #5 WR Dev Ferguson – The WR position needs to be re-tooled after last season’s mass exodus.  All indications are that Ferguson has the most raw talent of the freshman WR’s and could be a guy to help bring it back to where it was talent-wise.  At 6’3″ he would bring much needed height but he is also very good at going up and getting the ball at it’s highest point.  He does have a lower body injury right now and is sitting out, which will not help his cause.  In college you need to be on the field to play.  Coaches go with whoever they can rely on and Ferguson will need to get back on the field for the rest of fall camp if he wants to play this fall.  The big question is can Ferguson learn the offense to the point where the coaching staff is confident to get him on the field early and often.
  • #10 WR Brandon Walker – Nipping at the heels of Ferguson in the talent category is Walker, who much like Ferguson, brings good size (6’1″-185) and very good route running/hands to the table when discussing who can help out the WR position.  He has already turned some heads with his overall play and we could easily see him getting his shirt pulled and being on the travel roster to San Jose.  The UND WR situation is unsettled to the say the least on the depth chart.  There is plenty of jockeying for position going on in this group and this battle will go down to the end of fall camp.

—>>  A few freshman who are really looking good, but won’t probably have their redshirts pulled are #81 TE/WR Luke Stanley, #34 TE Luke Fiedler and #19 DB Deion Harris.  We are in wait and see mode on Stanley to see how and where he ultimately fits best on the field.  Right now, he’s a hybrid; undersized at TE and not fast enough to play WR.  However, he could be a poential difference maker starting in 2015.  Fiedler looks the part of the tall, rangy, pass-catching TE.  He needs to put on 15-20 pounds but when he does he will be real weapon in this offense.  Harris wears #19 and I swore I was looking at Kenny Golladay.  Harris is very tall cornerback (all of 6’3″) and has quite the wingspan.  After a year in the weight room, along with working on his fundamentals, Harris is going to be a unique corner that UND has never really had before.

 

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Position Group Preview – Secondary

Cornerbacks

#25 Alex Tillman – CB  5-10 190  Sr. Houston, Texas (Houston)

#21 Chris Brown – CB  5-8 165  Jr. Culver City, Calif. (Culver City High School)

#17 Charles Flowers – CB  5-11 180  So. Chino Hills, Calif. (Citrus College)

#13 Dominique Blackmon – CB  6-0 190  Jr. Avon, Ind. (Arizona Western College)

#23 Josh Seibel – CB  5-11 170  RFr. Bismarck, N.D. (Bismarck High School)

#18 Chris Carter (Redshirt) – CB  5-10 190  Fr. Bloomfield Hills, Mich. (Brother Rice High School)

#24 Maverick Edmunds – CB  5-10 175  So. Chanhassen, Minn. (Chanhassen High School)

#19 Deion Harris (Redshirt) – CB  6-3 180  Fr. Hibbing, Minn. (Hibbing High School)

Safeties

#40 Baylee Carr – S  5-10 195  Sr. Hazen, N.D. (Hazen High School)

#8 Cole Reyes – S  6-2 205  RFr. Schaumburg, Ill. (Schaumburg High School)

#38 William James – S  5-11 190  Jr. Sollentuna, Sweden (Sigrid Rudbeck High School)

#9 Dillon Olson S  6-0 200  Jr. Grygla, Minn. (Goodridge/Grygla-Gatzke HS)

#23 Aaron Rogers – S  5-11 185 Jr. Los Angeles, CA (Santa Monica College)

#33 Devin Coyle – S  5-11 195  So. Mandan, N.D. (Mandan High School)

#20 Joe Montague (Redshirt) – S  5-11 180  Fr. Minnetonka, Minn. (Minnetonka High School)

#34 Garrett Bollant (Redshirt) – S  5’11 175  Fr.  Lodi, Wisc. (Lodi High School)

Depth Chart (As we see it at the start of camp):

Right Cornerback:  1.  Charles Flowers  2.  Maverick Edmunds  3.  Chris Carter

Left Cornerback:  1.  Alex Tillman 2.  Chris Brown  3.  Dominique Blackmon

Free Safety:  1.  Cole Reyes  2.  William James  3.  Aaron Rogers

Strong Safety:  1.  Baylee Carr  2.  Devin Coyle  3.  Dillon Olson

Charles Flowers will be a good one for UND at the corner position, which was by far their weakest position on the team.  Flowers, who has three years of eligibility left, was a standout corner last year for Citrus College.  He shows great footwork and instincts to go along with great hips.  We were surprised he left after one year of Juco ball because he could have gotten some big offers after having another stellar year for the Owls.

Opposite Flowers we see senior transfer Alex Tillman taking over that starting job.  By all accounts Tillman came up to Grand Forks this summer and worked his tail off and really impressed during summer 7-on-7 drills.  He has good experience from his playing days at Houston and should be bigtime contributor for UND not only on defense, but special teams also.

The real battle will be to see who backs up Flowers and Tillman.  Juco transfer Dom Blackmon shows good fundamentals and instincts at the DB position and we are anxious to see him on the field.  He should be a backup at one of the corner spots.  The other battle will be between junior Chris Brown, soph. Maverick Edmunds and possibly true freshman Chris Carter.  Brown has played off and on the past few season for UND so he does bring experience to the table.  Carter is the guy that the coaches need to decide on based on the fact he really turned heads in summer workouts.  His greatest asset might be his competitiveness.

Baylee Carr will be the starting strong safety when camp breaks and they head into game week vs. San Jose State.  The senior from Hazen, ND has been a steady contributor over his career and is the hard-working lunch pail type of player that Coach Schweigert wants out on field representing his team.  In 2013, Carr had 44 tackles and 3 pass breakups.  We expect Carr to be the leader of the 2014 UND defense.

Heralded redshirt freshman Cole Reyes should take over the free safety position as camp grinds on.  Reyes is very smooth back there in his running style and breaks, etc.  He has the size (6’2-205) to cover bigger receivers or tight ends, also.  Reyes is a player that can defend the backend of Eric Schmidt’s defense for the next four years.

It will be interesting to see who takes over the backup duties behind Reyes and Carr.  Junior William James, who is a strong, extremely physical type of safety, showed flashes in spring ball and should compete for playing time.  He is a prototypical strong safety.

Junior Dillon Olson, sophomore Devin Coyle, and Juco transfer Aaron Rogers will be duking it out for the other backup safety spot.  We admittedly do not know much about any of them being they haven’t really played yet for UND.  These will be guys to watch during fall camp.

—>>  This group will get whipped into shape, we can guarantee that.  When your head coach is also your defensive backs coach, the group will get maximum attention.  Good DB’s can make a defensive coordinator look pretty good by cleaning up any mistakes that were made up front.  We saw that last season when freshman Cam Kuksa stepped in and started making open field tackles, thus preventing the big plays that plagued this defense over the past couple years.  Guys like Carr and Reyes are going to need to step up and be playmakers on the 2014 UND defense.  We are more concerned about cleaning up the open field tackling than we are about interceptions, which UND only 5 of all last season (very poor).

 

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