As we get closer to the start of Fall Camp 2015 (Aug. 6th), now might be a good time to look at the team by positions groups. UND has added a handful of transfers since Christmas break, which changed the look of a few groups. I didn’t address every position group as some need to be viewed in fall camp before anybody could possibly get an idea of where they are at (QB & RB).
Most Improved: Safety
- The safety position was arguably the weakest or most inconsistent last season. This was a major reason why UND gave up a 38% conversion rate on third down. They played tough on 1st and 2nd downs but then would give up a third and long that would keep them on the field.
- With that being said, I am a huge fan of safety Cole Reyes. The sophomore from Illinois is built like a linebacker (6’2″-220) but had the some of the best testing numbers on the entire team. He has a year under his belt and we looking for big things from Reyes this fall.
- To go with Reyes, UND added transfer safeties Jawon Johnson and Zach Arnell. They go 6’2″ & 6’3″, respectively, and add much needed height on the back end. Johnson showed very good play-making ability this past spring, while Arnell was injured. A huge positive for UND is that both of them were able to learn the defense and should be ready to fly come August 8th (first practice).
- When UND goes to a dime package, it is possible Arnell, Johnson and Reyes will be on the field at the same time. That will look pretty.
- Improved safety play, which in my opinion is a given, will make the UND defense much better this season. They still need more depth at the position but they are starting to look the right way when it comes to the eye test.
Biggest Question Mark: Cornerback
- True sophomore Deion Harris will be a starter at one corner, that much is known. At 6’4″, he brings so many unique traits that I have never seen at the corner position before. He actually has pretty fluid hips and good speed to go with that frame. Playing as a true freshman will be a huge boost for him in 2015. If his technique has developed like we think it should have, he could be in line for a big year.
- The other side of the field is big question mark. Senior Chris Brown and sophomore Chris Carter will be duking it out with newly signed transfer Jahmere Irvin-Sills (Mississippi State). Brown played much better in 2014 than he did his previous two seasons at UND, including a huge Pick 6 vs. the Griz at the Alerus Center. The downfall of both Brown and Carter are they only go about 5’9″ so matchups in the Big Sky become an issue, where teams like to pick on small corners with their big WR’s.
- Sophomore Charles Flowers is a wildcard at the corner position. He was injured in the spring after redshirting in 2014. I was told he made huge gains in the strength and conditioning department but we still don’t know what they’ve got in Flowers yet.
- It appears UND will be signing CB/S Vashon Tucker from Eastern Christian Academy in Maryland. Tucker is close with Irvin-Sills and that is what brought him to Grand Forks. He reclassified to the Class of 2015 but it seems as if he needed to graduate before he was eligible or something along those lines. He had many FBS offers in 2014 which means he is definitely a threat to play immediately.
- UND has 5 cornerbacks that can play but they don’t know which one’s can be counted on yet. This is the reason for the ‘question mark’ tag.
Wait and See What We Got: Defensive Line
- The defensive line won’t be the most talented group on the field for UND this fall but they won’t be far behind. This is what I would describe as a lunch pail group that has a player or two that will show star tendencies. UND is building depth along the defensive line and certainly isn’t where they need to be but it’s starting to look better. Coach Jordan Gigli has done a superb job with them since his arrival in Grand Forks and we see that continuing this fall.
- Sophomore Brandon Dranka is the war daddy of the group. He has best been described as having the “horsepower” under the hood that is needed to make big, explosive plays from the defensive end position in UND’s 3-4 scheme. As a true freshman last season, Dranka played extremely well, logging 10.5 TFL’s and 3.5 sacks while playing consistent reps. Not bad for a 6’2″-230 pounder right out of high school.
- His classmate Drew Greely also showed nice promise in 2014 as a true freshman. Greely is similar in size to Dranka and notched 3 sacks himself to go along with 3.5 TFL’s. At times last season, Greely showed some stiffness that we hope was remedied with off-season training, which could improve his play at the position dramatically.
- Senior Kyle Woodsmall is coming off an injury and will be counted on for depth. We are assuming he will be ready to go come fall camp. Junior Alec Carrothers will also be counted on for depth at the defensive end position.
- Two redshirt freshman that will be need to come up big for UND this fall are Tank Harris and Austin Cieslak. Harris will be a nose guard in UND’s 3-4 scheme and consistent, strong play from that position is vital to UND’s success. He has the size (6’3″-300) but will need a lot of reps and understanding of the system to become a force at this position. Cieslak is a big, physical type of defensive end that will need to grow up in a hurry to spell the starters as games wear on.
- UND did pick up a transfer in DE Noah Johnson from City College of San Francisco. Johnson, 6’2″-275, will be another depth guy at defensive end and will need to produce when give the chance. We could also see him as a candidate to move down inside to give more depth at nose.
- We just learned this week that Jordan Hinojosa decided to move back home for family reasons. This hurts UND’s depth at nose guard but is not insurmountable. Hinojosa’s motor and intensity on the line will be misssed, no doubt.
- There is a chance that true freshman Steve Greer plays this fall for UND. He has the physical size at (6’1-285) and aggressiveness to play the nose guard position if the need arises. With Hinojosa gone, the likelihood that Greer plays just became greater.
- We know UND is currently looking for defensive line help through the FBS transfer world and it could go on even after camp starts.
- This group has the ability to own the line and shut down an opponent’s run game. But, it will depend on the development of some of the younger players along with them staying healthy for it to happen. They know what they got with Dranka, Greely, Woodsmall and Carrothers. After that it’s a guessing game and we won’t know much until 3-4 games into the season.
Deepest/Most Reliable Group: Linebacker
- UND is nowhere near what they want to be as far as a roster of players go but this years linebackers are certainly beginning to look the part of a solid FCS unit. There is depth and talent to go along with size and speed.
- There is no doubt in anyone’s mind who leads this group: senior ILB Will Ratelle. The St. Thomas Academy product led UND in tackles last year with 106 to go along with 5.5 TFL’s and 2 sacks. Ratelle is a workhorse in the weight room and is the prototypical leader by example. I am obviously expecting another big year out of Will.
- The second leading tackler on the 2014 team was Ratelle’s battery mate at ILB, Taj Rich. The 6’1″-230 junior notched 86 tackles and an impressive 11 TFL’s. He had a breakout year in 2014 but definitely has a lot of room for improvement. We did love to see how well he developed his “trigger” to see a play develop and react immeditely.
- A guy who will be pushing Rich hard for the starting spot is freshman transfer DaQuan Baker (New Mexico). Baker, 6’0″-240, shows good speed on tape for his size and obviously has the size to hold up on the inside. I am excited to see what he can do come fall camp.
- Junior Dylan Bakker is the wildcard at ILB. He redshirted last fall after transferring in from West Hills CC. The Amsterdam native spent the fall getting stronger while also learning the UND defense. Much like Charles Flowers who did the same thing, this move could pay off big for Bakker in 2015. He is a rangy type of linebacker that can make plays on the perimeter.
- OLB is also a position of solid depth and play-making ability. UND returns it’s top 3 OLB’s from 2014 in senior Dayo Idowu, junior Brian Labat, and sophomore Jake Disterhaupt.
- Idowu is the incumbent starter at the weakside OLB position in UND’s 3-4 scheme. He had a solid 2014 in which he made a number of big plays on his way to 9 TFL’s and 3.5 sacks, while also adding an interception.
- Even though Idowu was the starter for most of 2014, he is certainly going to be pushed hard by Disterhaupt. Disterhaupt is a funny story. The kid came to UND as the typical tweener, kind of a safety, kind of a linebacker but not sure he could be great at either. Well, he found a home at OLB. In limited playing time, Disterhaupt notched 7 TFL’s and 2 sacks last season and was very noticeable as the season went on. He will be one to watch in a few weeks.
- Labat could be the starter at the strongside OLB position, as he was in 2014. At 6’3″-230, Labat has the size to be a force on the end but needs to get much more consistent with his play. By all accounts he is a very smart player, much like Idowu, but needs to step it up this year and become a leader on the defense.
- Redshirt freshman Dylan Harmston is the wildcard at OLB. He has the size, 6’2″-210, and speed to make big plays off the edge for UND. He has never played before so it will take time but he could be a playmaker type, like Disterhaupt became last season.
Group With Most To Prove: Wide Receiver
- The WR group added the likes of Arizona transfer Clive Georges and Iowa Western transfer Alex Reed to a group of unproven, young talent. Georges will be a home-run hitter type, while Reed will be the typical smaller slot guy. Both were brought in to make plays and log reps. Bottom line is both need to produce for the UND offense in 2015 if they have any hopes of improving from their pedestrian 2014 numbers.
- Bismarck product and former walk-on Josh Seibel came out of nowhere last year to become UND’s best WR at the end of the year. He ended the season with 25 catches for 215 yards and 1 TD. I see Seibel as the “Mr. Reliable” of the UND offense. If you need a first down, find Seibel. He had a knack for getting open in those situations last season, including the game vs. Portland State where he converted four first downs himself on intermediate catches.
- I need to see more out of sophomore Brandon Walker, who played as a true freshman last fall. He had 7 catches for 105 yards in 2014 but played sparingly at the end of the season.
- There are two wildcards in the group that could change things for the better with breakout seasons. Senior Miguel Cerriteno now has a year under his belt after transferring in from Feather River College last fall. He struggled mightily with drops in 2014 but really seemed to settle in this past spring. At 6’2″-200, Cerriteno provides a nice sized possession type of receiver for the UND offense.
- The second wildcard of the group is freshman Luke Stanley. At 6’4″-215, Stanley gives UND the size they need to create mismatches and allow for quick audibles at the line if 1-on-1 is there. Stanley had a great spring session as well and should be in the mix for consistent reps this fall.
Group With Most To Prove II: Offensive Line
- The UND offensive line is the most important group on the entire team. The staff has said since day one that they are going to run the ball as much as they possibly can and get back to a physical style of football. I believe they are on the right track with offensive line coach Luke Knauf. He has been consistently instilling a tough-minded mentality that he brought with him from his playing days in Wisconsin.
- For a good part of the year last season, the UND offensive line was not able to get done what needed to be done. In fact, there was a five game stretch from Missouri State to Portland State (games 3-7) where they failed to gain 100 yards rushing in any of the games. Then, as the offense started to gel things got better. The culmination was a 297 yard steamrolling of Northern Arizona at the Alerus Center that showed what UND ultimately wants to do on offense.
- The leader of the offensive line is senior Brandon Anderson (6’6″-310). He has been the rock at left guard in his 3 years at UND, starting an impressive 30+ games. Anderson will be relied upon heavily this fall the lead the run game and also mentor the numerous young offensive lineman that are the future of the program. Anderson has a chance for post-season honors.
- Senior Sean Meehan has made a smooth transition to right tackle and I am expecting a big year out of him. We preferred to see Meehan down at guard, but last spring he looked good out on the edge. He has shown the footwork and form to be able to pick up edge rushers and is known as a very intelligent football player.
- After Anderson and Meehan things start to look a bit murkier. I assume that senior Colton Boas is going to start at center. Boas struggled at times in 2014 with everything from protection to errant shotgun snaps. He is a bit undersized at 6’1″, which led to issues vs. bigger, physical nose guards. Boas is a guy to watch in the fall to see how he is progressing.
- Look for sophomore Mat Cox to battle it out at center with Boas. Cox goes 6’5″-285 and would bring a completely different dimension to the center position (ability to reach the nose guard). Cox also plays left tackle and could be moved to right tackle based on need. His movement will be something to track.
- Right guard is a position that is 100% up for grabs. Sophomore Brandon Miller is going to be the starter, at least initially. Miller had a nice spring but has very little experience (even though he did spell an injured Brandon Anderson quite well vs. Montana). He will be in a battle with freshman Demon Taylor, who also progressed last spring but has a ways to go. Taylor has all the tools to be a good one but needs time and reps to become a collegiate offensive lineman. That battle could go all the way up to game week.
- Sophomore Dan Bell is also in their at the left guard position. He, like Miller, showed flashes in the spring but needs reps and maturity. Bell will more than likely back up Anderson. Junior transfer Kevin Camy could be moving down to guard after starting at tackle last spring. Guard may be a better fit at having some struggles out on the edge.
- UND needs sophomore left tackle AJ Stockwell to stay healthy and own that position. Stockwell has been hurt off and on during his two years on campus and hopefully can get the injury bug behind him. He has shown flashes of ability and has the size/athletic ability that every OL coach wants in a LT (6′-6″-295). Time for it to show.
- The wildcard of the group is true freshman Elijah Grady of New Town, ND. By all accounts, Grady is a very intelligent football player and picks up on things quickly. He obviously has the size (6’5″-295) and very good footwork to be a good offensive lineman for UND. Now, taking a step back, things change in a hurry once the ball is snapped and 19-22 year old college kids are coming at you instead of 16-18 year old high schooler’s. Look for Grady to have a chance to play at guard but possibly play some tackle as well once camp wears on.