With the first week of practice, first “two a days” and first scrimmage in the rearview mirror, we’ve now had a chance to report on what we have seen and heard from both sides of the ball.
The offense has definitely gravitated back to the style that was used throughout the 2000′s under Coach Mussman’s guidance. We are seeing a pro-style offense with the QB under center much more than in the shotgun. Running game is power, counter, inside zone, etc. Passing game is quick stuff with play action being the conduit for the long yardage plays. The pistol is still a part of the package but is not the main set anymore. Fans should see much more power running with quick passes and play action mixed in.
Offensively, sophomore Joey Bradley and senior Brent Goska seem to be having a good battle thus far for the #1 QB spot. Both have made good throws and looked good leading their huddles. However, based on what we have seen and heard, Bradley has the early edge and is looking comfortable in the pocket. It’s nice to see Bradley progress this fast under center after being in the gun all the time at his JUCO. Marcus Hendrickson still shows flashes now and then, but has been a little inconsistent. Freshman Chris Comes looks to have put on some weight since last spring but is capable of making all the throws. He is coming off a knee injury that kept him out of some spring ball practices. Hopefully, he progresses throughout the year to give a push to whoever is the #2 QB on the depth chart. Overall, it seems as though the offense is in much better shape at the QB position than it was at the end of last season.
The running backs have your usual suspects with junior Mitch Sutton once again leading the way. As expected, Sutton has looked great in practice and will carry the load between the tackles on Saturdays. Nothing too flashy, but definitely does everything asked of him well. Sophomore Jake Miller still has the speed that we saw last season and has been a playmaker catching the ball out of the backfield in practice. Ethan Magstadt, Adam Shaugabay and Spencer Bickel have been providing solid depth as well. Shaugabay stood out at the last scrimmage and ran the ball with some good success. Jer Garman and PJ Sparks have looked great for true freshman. Because of his punt return capabilities, we figure Jer Garman is the leading candidate for the freshman class to have his redshirt pulled, regardless of depth and injuries. The kid just looks like a playmaker already. According to Ryan Powell’s recent report on fightingsioux.com, Garman was seen catching punts during the punt return session of special teams practice. Now he needs to learn the art of ball security as he has put the ball on the turf a few times, which is normal for a true freshman.
Wide receiver is looking to be a hugely improved position this year with much more quality depth. This position was absolutely devastated by injuries last year in fall camp. I believe Jon Heimler and Blair Townsend were both out by this time last year. Greg Hardin, RJ McGill and Blair Townsend seem to be the top 3 right now. Townsend has been noticeably making plays in the passing game, which is desperately needed. At 6-3, Townsend brings some size to a somewhat diminutive group and could potentially present some matchup problems in the red zone. We’ve heard good things about Tyrhe Ivery, but haven’t seen him practice much. We aren’t sure if he’s injured or out for another reason. Ivery’s athleticism will hopefully get him on the field in 4 and 5 wide receiver sets. Jon Heimler, Drew Daggett and Chris Anderson are the upperclassmen who will provide good depth and leadership. There is a freshman wildcard in this group – Jameer Jackson – who physically looks like he could potentially be considered for playing time this fall. Jackson is an absolute monster out there for a freshman at 6-3, 215 lbs and has been impressing teammates and coaches. We only expect him to have his shirt pulled if injuries hit this group at some time this season. Romon Bridges and Casey Young also have bright futures ahead of them. It would be nice to stockpile these WRs for the future of The Big Sky Conference schedule and redshirt them all.
Tight end is a much-improved position this season because of talent and depth. With the switch of junior Seth Nichols from QB to TE last spring, the offense has a serious threat from the TE spot and his capability of also being a threat in the slot on the hashes will be a welcome new addition to this offense as he could present potential matchup problems. As we said last spring, he had to learn how to block in order to be on the field in all situations, and it looks as though he has already come a long way with that. Nichols went down with an injury in practice and hasn’t been back since. Hopefully he’s ready for the Drake game. Experienced junior Seth Wisthoff is the returning “rock” to this position group and will definitely be counted on for leadership there as well. Sophomore Joe Kingery will provide some depth and freshman Taylor Grant is also still developing and hopefully will be pushing for playing time by mid-season.
The overall theme this year on offense is better depth – and it should be. The fruits of the recruiting classes in the past few years at this position are starting to show. The starting offensive line is far from being decided for the home opener against Drake as Coach Mussman has been shuffling guys in and out of different spots to find the best cohesion of 5 guys on the field. Junior and Fargo native Ian McGurran will more than likely quarterback the offensive line for the 3rd season in a row this year at the center position again, although Shea Walker has shown promise this fall and will hopefully at least push McGurran. On media day, McGurran got a lot of praise from his teammates on both sides of the ball as being the hardest worker this summer in the weight room. Sophomore Joe Kleason and junior Emmett Lynch both return to probably fill the guard spots and are having good camps so far. Senior Brandon Quesenberry is probably a starter again. The only question is where? He has been taking reps at left and right tackle but also has the capability to move around on the line. Our guess is that whoever steps up between sophomore Darren Deneui, junior Caleb Gillson and senior Connor McKendry will take the final spot on the starting o-line, with Deneui being the leader at LT. There will definitely be some rearranging throughout the year and injuries will no doubt happen. We don’t know much else about the younger depth guys or the true freshman.
This offense is much further ahead of where they were last year at this time because of depth and getting some more talent at all positions. Having Joey Bradley step up is a promising sign. Brent Goska will still be there fighting for the spot and will no doubt be playing at some time or another. Lets remember that if Bradley does get the nod, he is still a true sophomore who has only played 1 year at a JUCO. It is going to take time to adjust to the offensive verbage, etc. Hopefully whoever it is will be able to progress as the season goes on.